Biblical View of Self-Improvement/Personal Development

Does anyone know of any great thinkers, teachers, or resources out there who talk about the place of self-improvement/personal development in the life of a believer, particularly in “non-spiritual” areas? Through my career as a music teacher, I have learned a lot from authors such as Daniel Coyle, Carol Dweck, Anders Ericcson, and others who have been studying the science of expertise. The more I learn, the more I desire to help others learn what science has shown to help us learn and improve ourselves. However, I find there are aspects of this kind of study that conflict with my Christian worldview.

First, the prize that many teachers in this field offer is happiness. They claim that if you learn to overcome your obstacles and obtain your goals in life, you will be happier. Of course, I believe that true happiness (joy) can only be found in Christ.

Second, the pursuit of excellent in any field requires an incredible amount of time and dedication. How does a Christian spend this amount of time on “non-spiritual” activities and keep their affections above rather than on the earth (Col 3:1).

Third, how does the Holy Spirit come into play in this process? Clearly, secular sources do not include supernatural help in meeting your goals. It is all achieved by methods you are able to do in the flesh, but can a Christian approach to self-improvement be solely based on methods that do not acknowledge the working of the Holy Spirit?

I would love to know if anyone is asking or trying to answer these kinds of questions. I hope these questions make sense. I am still turning this all over in my mind.

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@vandzulis I am about to state my firm personal opinion about this matter. It is just an opinion; others will disagree, and that is fine with me.

For me, the only source of wisdom for self-improvement is the Bible. I have tried Tony Robbins, Napoleon Hill, T. D. Jakes, and any number of smiley, happy authors on the science of self-improvement, and have learned that the Bible is the single best source out there for it. In fact, I think that it is very odd that the authors who promote their writings about self-improvement tend to have relatively large incomes. I wonder about that. One common theme among them all is that setting goals and pursuing them with single-minded perseverance makes you successful. Can it be that mammon has become a god in their lives? Are these true prophets?

Physiology is different. There is much to be learned here. The brain and human development need to be studied. This is a different arena, however, and I see no conflict with God’s Word in this area.

Just my opinion.

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@vandzulis. I can totally relate to your questions I have had and still have the problems to an extent. Before my conversion a couple months ago I would remember think and scheming myself crazy with trying to pursue some get rich plan or becoming a better person would literally mess me up and put strain on my people cause was always putting so much pressure on myself. After I found Jesus alot of that has stoped.,like watching all these motivational movies cause also like you found them to be alot about own accomplishments and almost like selfish ambition"you want go get it types of thing "
So we know with Jesus comes peace and contentment so I always try and focus on doing things and learning things that continue to make it feel like I’m doing it at peace but as soon as it feels like its putting to much strain on me and making anxious I would see it as not doing it in the will of the Lord anymore and then try redirect what I’m doing. I do struggle alot with this because it still feels like i want to do something great and need pursue stuff but I’m trying to wait patiently for the Lord to guide me.
People I do watch and listen to from time to time is Craig Groeschel and John C Maxwell cause there leadership podcast and videos focus mainly on what you can do as a leader for other people and not for yourself. You like John C Maxwell and says"to add value to people is the most important thing a leader can do to other people"
And then i also use an story my pastor told me about if you fix yourself the world will fix itself around you and the best way is to work with bible. So looking forward to more comments cause I also want to know and hope it helps and is not off topic.
Still new at all this. :slightly_smiling_face:

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like @bibossard I think the scriptures themselves are the best ultimate source of personal development. Note though that I specifically do not say self-improvement. Basically, because as Christians, our personal development should be driven by the Holy Spirit, not directly by us. The scriptures hold the wisdom we need, and the secrets of becoming more ourselves, but the advice is often quite confusing to interpret alone.

How does “self-improvement” match with “deny yourself, take up your cross daily and follow me?” or “If you seek to save/promote/keep your life you will lose it, but if you lose your life for my sake you will keep it.?” These are not intuitively consistent with “self improvement.”

Recently I was asked to take on a role as a counselor, and very quickly understood that I am not well equipped to understand the issues underlying the “symptoms” that counsellees bring, nor am I very well equipped to give biblically based, practical advice to them. So I started looking for books on Bible-based counselling. I didn’t get far in reading (just two authors) before realizing that they had an awful lot of material that I needed to apply in my own life.

With that in mind, maybe you would find it helpful to read Dr. Larry Crabb’s book “Effective Biblical Counseling - A Model for helping caring Christians become capable counselors.” I suggest that you look at it, not in the first round as an instruction book for helping others, but as a resource for examining your own situation. He does have things to say about the general “self-improvement” movement, including very specifically the common goal of psychologists to make people “feel happy.”

Dr Crabb points out that the goal of the Christian is not to be happy! If happiness is your primary goal, seeking it through Jesus will not work. Happiness is a feeling that is a product of behaviour, and should not a driver of behaviour. If you let feeling happy be the driver of behaviour there is a very high risk of developing a substance dependence. “Seek FIRST the Kingdom (kingship) of God, AND his righteousness, and all these other things will be given you.”

Dr Crabb references some other Christian, Bible-based counselling authors. What I lacked in Crabb’s book is the references to scriptures and their application in our daily lives. In this regard I found Dr. Jay Adam’s “Competent to Counsel” and “The Crhistian Counselor’s Manual” much better. Crabb has some concerns about Adam’s approach, but I really appreciated his constant reference to scriptural texts being applied in particular types of issues.

From the very beginning though, as indicated in the Bible texts given above, one has to ask oneself as a follower of Jesus, in what sense should I be even thinking about determining "my goals in life? Is it my decision, or is it a case of “how do I discover God’s goal for my life?” (Jer. 29:11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.) That brings all kinds of other things into play - such as discovering the gifts/talents etc that He has already given you and wants to see developed and used. And understanding what Paul says in Ephesians 2:10 “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” He has even prepared the good works that you specifically are designed for.

There’s a lot to get excited about here. But the basic principle that Paul taught was that the best way to be fully developed as YOU, is to let Jesus live through you. Let HIM have the control. Which is the opposite of self-development. (Easier said than done … I know it only too well! :slightly_frowning_face:)

God bless!

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I respect your asking this question very much. I have always been a natural self-improver, as in, whether I knew how to or not, I have always looked for ways to better myself. In areas of health, attitude, relationships, organization, etc there is always more to learn. Over the years as I read one book after another my perspective on self-improvement began to change a bit as I realized it isn’t all on my shoulders as I’ve always thought. You see, I was always taught, until I was grown and married, that the Holy Soirit no longer dwells in Christians like they did in New Testament time, so any improvement was definitely on my shoulders. Eventually I learned the truth about the Spirit and over time I realized how much I needed His strength and God’s word to make any real gains in my perfomance. It does sort of change the way we could think of self-improvement to maybe Spirit led improvement? But I think we all go through phases, or processes in our growth, and working on “self-improvement” is just a step we all may take towards better understanding.

So this may be cheating, but I asked my husband his opinion on your question as he has done a good bit of reading when he went through some leadership training in the military. He found some of the reading material very helpful. Here are some of the thoughts he shared with me:
“I think the answers to this man’s question lie in the “Why” and “How” of self improvement. Before every “How” is a “Why”, and the more powerful and meaningful one’s “Why” is, the more likely they are to succeed as they search for “How”. A Christian has the most powerful “Why” - to Love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and Love your neighbor as yourself. To these ends we seek to improve our persons, our body, our station, our character, our usefulness to God and others. With this as our goal then there are no more secular pursuits. All things are by Him and for Him. Without even being weird about it, we’re just asking the “Why” before the “How”, and the answer should be “For His glory”, and not for mine. If it is, then all pursuits, from work to recreation, become Godly, and should be done with maximum effort and to as high as standard as we are capable of. As I write, I think that in addition to the most powerful “Why” there could be, we also have the most powerful “How”. As the fellow suggests, we have Christ in us and the power of the Holy Spirit to draw on to meet our goals, and assuming our goals are aligned with God’s purposes, our efforts are sure to succeed.”

Here are the authors he recommends:
Viktor Frankl (Man’s Search for Meaning)
C.S. Lewis
Coach John Wooden
Zig Zigar
John Maxwell

I agree that our source of improvement in any area ultimately comes from the Spirit, and He can go about speaking to us in many ways. Definitely with the Bible, sometimes with our thoughts and meditations, maybe through the wise words we read in a helpful book, a sermon by a pastor, the words of a friend or the good example someone we know, or through prayer.
As long as we are open to learning from the Spirit then it will come at us in many different forms.

I hope this helps. I understand how it may be difficult in expressing ourselves in words sometimes, especially as we are trying to grasp what it is we even want to know. God bless you as you seek to gain in wisdom. :blush:

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