Serious About Improvement

Improvement. Doing better. It’s a part of all of us. Coaches work to get every ounce of performance they can out of every player. Coaches, players and fans alike dream of going to the top: the state championship, the Final Four, the Super Bowl. There’s something about J.J. Watt that inspires all of us to be our best.

You hear a lot about it as a New Year cycles across the horizon. Resolutions to eat better, to lose weight, to quit bad habits and to get into shape. The desire to do better gets really cranked up at church. The Rev thunders about the need to better serve the Lord. He trounces dead beat and half-hearted Christianity, and we know he’s right. There’s conviction. We’re at a natural doorstep of new beginnings and opportunities to straighten up and get things right. So with considerable emotion, we go down front and promise God things are going to be different. This time, we’re for real. We’re going to do it. We’re going to do better. We say it in our hearts and out loud to those around us.

History has proven that most of the time our pious promises don’t hold up. But, they make us feel good. We thought about it and have a good heart. Our intentions are good. In well over half a century in the ministry, I have heard lots of promises. My! They really roll out when people think they’re about to die. At a time like that, they’ll promise God just about anything. If He’ll spare their lives and heal them, they will serve Him faithfully forever. I am sad to say that I’ve heard a lot more talk than I’ve seen follow-through.

Someone has wisely said that talk is cheap. It shouldn’t be, but too often it is. I rejoice when people become convicted about where they are in life and when they aspire to do better. I say, “Yes. Do it. That’s God’s way. He wants growth in all of us. It’s not His will that any of us plateau and stalemate.” At the same time I am wondering how the person with the good intentions is going to get it done. Has he taken a serious look in his mirror and diagnosed his situation? Does he really see his weaknesses and where he needs to improve? Is he truly honest about where he is? What is he going to improve: his attitude, his priorities and his integrity? Is he going to become kinder, more caring and competent and a more effective worker? Is he going to treat his mate better? What about the people at work? And, the neighbors? What’s he going to do about that loose tongue, those irresponsible ways and that self-centered approach to life?

I’m also wondering about his game plan. I’m curious to know how he plans to get from point A to point Z (or even B). Is he going to get into the Bible and seek God’s counsel on his issues? Is he going to seek out people with proven track records and let them help him? Is he going to deliberately address his weakness and work to do better in specific areas? I know for sure that until a person gets specific about areas of need, little if any improvement is going to occur.

Change for the better is a wonderful concept, but usually it is nothing more than an empty pipe dream. There must be more than good intentions and empty rhetoric. Vain words and a trip down front won’t cut it. Improvement involves serious intentions followed by lots of hard work. Athletes who win gold medals pay a high price: sweat, endless practice, long hours, dedication and plenty of sacrifice. Everybody wants a great body with a gold medal around the neck. Not very many are willing to pay the price. It is easy to say, I want to improve and be a better person. It is not so easy to get serious about it.