The High Calling of Self-Improvement

“What we are is God’s gift to us. What we become is our gift to God.”

(Eleanor Powell)

I’m a big fan of tweaking *or overhauling* my home so it can work best for my family. Could we use more storage space in a particular corner? Is it time to replace some furniture? How about a good old-fashioned deep clean in that closet? Making changes to suit our current needs has proved a fun way to boost functionality. Home is a tool, and the same principle holds for all tools—efficiency is worth the cost of upkeep. This explains why we get our teeth cleaned, vehicles realigned, and septic tanks pumped. Neglect could lead to disaster.

Now think about the tools God uses to carry out His vision for the world. He has intentionally placed you into this moment, this place; you are His chosen instrument for your personal sphere of influence, uniquely positioned to be the hands and feet of Jesus to those around you. In the brilliant words of Dr. Seuss, “Today you are you, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is youer than you!” God means for the ‘youest’ you to be effective. If you budget time and money for top-notch performance of your own equipment, how much more should you prioritize developing yourself for increased usefulness in God’s toolbox?

Admittedly, self-improvement can get a bad rap in Christian circles. The thinking goes like this: Wait—I should invest in… me? Isn’t that a little self-important? Self-absorbed? Selfish?

It very well could be with the wrong heart posture. Considering ourselves God’s gift to the world is ridiculous in light of our Savior. But an accurate sense of the kingdom’s urgent mission allows us to lose our ego, blinders, and greed, freeing us to become the fullest versions of who we really are: self-forgetful servants operating at maximum power.

In case you’re not quite sold on the idea of self-improvement as a holy undertaking, let’s talk Scripture. According to the parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14-30, we will be held accountable for our stewardship of God’s property—including our very selves. If we believe what Jesus says, maximizing our potential matters greatly in God’s economy.

We can take it a step further and apply Luke 10:27, pondering how to improve our hearts, minds, souls, and strength to better love and serve the Lord. Heart work might include becoming emotionally healthy, practicing forgiveness, and feeding ourselves truth and beauty. Mind work could be taking a class or reading a book. Soul work is saturating our lives with Scripture, worship, repentance, and prayer. And strength work may look like finally getting that gym membership or cleaning up our diet.

If God were to give you a progress report for each area of your life (heart, mind, soul, and strength), which would need the most attention? May today be the day you begin faithfully sharpening that piece for the sake of the kingdom. Here are a few pointers as you get started:

  1. Ask for accountability and encouragement from likeminded friends. Whether you’re all on the same journey (e.g., doing a Bible study together) or tackling your own trails and simply checking in once a week, community exponentially increases growth.
  2. Surround yourself with great resources. Request recommendations from people you trust. Brainstorm what’s already available to you and take advantage of the best options; then fill in the gaps as needed.
  3. If you have multiple items that could use some work, try focusing on this particular season. What fundamental change would create the biggest headway in your life right now? Start there.
  4. Make personal development a family rhythm. Discuss your goals, share your victories, and plan time to chase your dreams together.
  5. Put your wiring to work. Figure out how your personality and strengths can lend themselves to forward motion in getting/staying motivated.
  6. Take a well-rounded approach. If you’re only ever addressing your physical health, then the spiritual, intellectual, and emotional aspects of your life will be stunted… and a hammer with no handle isn’t super efficient. One practical way to keep things balanced is to set a mini-goal for each aspect.
  7. Make excuses. Seriously, list them out. Then systematically deal with each one until there are no big obstacles left blocking your path. Imagine you’re encouraging someone else with a similar hangup—what would you tell them?

Ultimately, self-improvement for the Christian is a misnomer because we don’t do any of this by or for ourselves. We simply cooperate with the Spirit in what He longs to do in us, through us, and among us. With a God this good, mission this big, evil this rampant, treasure this lasting, and life this short, too much is at stake for mediocrity to rule even one more minute. Let’s get to work.

Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your strength, for there is no work, planning, knowledge, or wisdom in the grave, where you are heading.

(Ecclesiastes 9:10)

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