Ambition, God’s Sovereignty & Songwriting

I reached out to my good friend, Chad Cates a few weeks ago and asked if he would consider submitting a guest SONGWRITING TIPS blog post for us.  Chad, a dedicated staff writer for Essential Music in Nashville, is one of those guys who diligently drives to the office every single day of the week to write songs.  Like many professionals in this business, he’s learned through experience that every song one writes is not going to be a hit.  It takes hard work, determination, a continual honing of your craft, and a good business head, to make a living as a songwriter.  Chad’s post today is a brief story about ambition and expectations …

A couple of years ago, I was asked again to teach at a conference called, Write About Jesus where  I had taught classes in previous years.  Sue Smith, one of my friends and co-writers, hosts this great conference and she always approaches the clinicians a few months prior to ask what they want to teach.  There is a songwriting competition at Write About Jesus and most people that attend submit a song for the competition.  As you can imagine, competition will quickly shift our focus and goal, if we allow it.  So this particular year, I told Sue that I would like to teach on/encourage attendees regarding their expectations, not only for the song they would submit for competition, but for all of the songs they write.  It is so easy for our expectations to get distorted, so I wanted to help them navigate this.

I showed up that year to teach and Sue had titled my class, Ambition and God’s Sovereignty.  I was terrified.  I felt like I couldn’t deliver something meaningful with the gravity of that title.  I wrestled all weekend with what to teach.  It’s funny…my plan after Sue and I had talked originally, was to teach a light class towards the beginning of the conference on expectations.  Instead, I had a heavy title as one of the last classes of the weekend!  My fears were realized when I showed up to teach the class and it was PACKED.  The only thing that eased my mind a bit was that my friend Dave Clark was there to help teach.  (I could give a laundry list of his accolades … 25 #1’s…  but what I love most about this guy is his heart.  He’s so encouraging to be with.)  We taught the class together and here is some of what came out that day:

  •  To trust God’s sovereignty means to trust that he is leading us…that He has a plan for us…that He has a plan for our songs.  God has a plan for the next season of our life, whether that means writing 100 songs this year, or writing only 1  ….  whether a million people will hear our songs,  or whether only one person.  Ambition in this context can be a healthy thing, but it can be a really unhealthy thing as well.  It all depends on how we navigate it.
  •  When Ambition leads us to make choices that are healthy such as getting better at our craft, building relationships, pressing in to the Heart of God for true relationship, then ambition is a really good thing.  But when Ambition leads us to side-step God’s will for us, to live in pride, to pursue people only to the level of what they can do for us, then it might be time to step back and reevaluate our ambition.
  • Expectations can distort God’s sovereignty.  There is holy invitation to patience when it comes to God’s Sovereignty.  When we allow our expectations to be His expectations, we are able to stand in true patience, which is a huge part of living our lives in any part of the spectrum of songwriting, whether it be commercial or a hobby.
  • Dave finished with a beautiful story about the artist Larnelle Harris.  Years ago, Dave and his wife had Larnelle and his wife over for dinner one night.  Larnelle mentioned in passing that he was thinking about coming off the road.  They are all good friends and Dave’s wife said, “Larnelle, there’s no way you would quit doing music.”  Larnelle said, “Who said anything about quitting music?  There is a church down the street from me that needs a tenor.”

God has gifted each one of us uniquely and calls us to use those gifts for the kingdom.  This can look a million different ways.  There is freedom to bloom where we are planted and see what the Lord does as we allow our ambition to come under His sovereignty.

Notes from Songsphere:  You may be the most talented songwriter in the world and God may still determine that your songs are only for you and him … that NO ONE is ever going to buy a CD from you.  We have to be OK with that.  If we say that we are accepting God’s call, then we must accept ALL that that means – whether fame and fortune or not.  🙂


Award winning songwriter Chad Cates, a Franklin, Tennessee native, writes for Essential Music Publishing.  He has had seven #1 songs and five Dove Award Nominations.  Chad has written songs for artists and groups such as Casting Crowns, Bebo Norman, Red, Matt Wertz, Anthony Evans, Andy Davis, Brandon Heath, Ronnie Freeman, Rebecca St James, Selah, Salvador, Sonic Flood, Mandisa, Mark Lowry, Avalon, and Phil Stacey, including the Dove award winning songs, Everything to Me(Avalon) and Lost(RED).  He’s had songs in Private Practice(ABC), Ghost Whisperer(CBS), and One Tree Hill(CW).  He is married to Sarah.  You can find him at


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