Strive to make small improvements every day

I just finished a really excellent book A Flame of Pure Fire: Jack Dempsey and the Roaring ’20s by famed sportswriter Roger Kahn.

In this book on former heavyweight boxing champion Jack Dempsey, Kahn takes us along on a visit to Dempsey by a famed writer of an earlier generation than Kahn, Heywood Broun.

Here is how Kahn describes that visit:

Heywood Broun traveled to Atlantic City and found Dempsey at ease, reading a romantic novel and spending quiet times away from the ring … and the shrieking public, studying French. Dempsey had great devotion to self-improvement. (Like the country, Dempsey was moving toward the philosophy of a small, aggressive native of Nancy, France, who was about to sweep America and vacuum up a significant amount of American riches. Emile Coue established “institutes” in his name where variations of an uplifting sermon flourished. “Day by day,” pronounced Coue and his disciples, “in every way, I am getting better and better.”) Broun described Dempsey as confident and humble and intent on self-improvement (Page 247).

What struck me as I read was the parenthetical comment about Coue. I heard that philosophy before, but where? I pondered for a few moments, and then kept reading. Suddenly I woke at three in the morning laughing out loud as I remembered.

I didn’t hear it from a Frenchman, but a faux-Frenchman. In the movie, “Revenge of the Pink Panther,” Herbert Lom playing Chief Inspector Dreyfus having been driven insane by Peter Seller’s Inspector Clouseau, is released from an asylum. His continued therapy includes his constant repeating of the phrase, “Everyday and in everyway I am getting better and better.” Of course, poor Dreyfus is driven absolutely bananas by the bumbling Clouseau.

I always thought Dreyfus’ often-repeated phrase was the invention of a clever scriptwriter. I never dreamed it was a real self-improvement philosophy from way back in the early part of the 20th century.

As I read the Dempsey book and remembered Herbert Lom’s brilliant comic performance as Dreyfus, I kept thinking, you know that ain’t a bad philosophy for a Christian – to strive to get better every day!

Yes, I know Kahn was skeptical about Coue, and Lom made me laugh saying it over and over again while grimacing, twitching, and a wild look in his eye, but with fear that I am repeating myself, it ain’t a bad philosophy for a Christian.

I am not talking about going out and learning French like the Champ or trying to stay sane in an increasingly frustrating nonsensical world (though our Christian faith is so important here). I am talking about doing our best every day, day after day to follow God, to give Glory to God and to serve God and the People of God. Everyday try to build your Christian integrity and character.

Every day pray. Every day read the Bible. Every day try to help others in need. Every day seek God’s guidance and wisdom as you make decisions. Every day, commit yourself to the Lord anew. Live every day like the Kingdom of God is at hand.

It is interesting I did a key word search on for the word “improve” and the phrases “self-improvement” and “make better.” I struck out. I couldn’t find them.

What I found was the profound message to focus on God and God’s glory and the saving love of Jesus Christ to guide you and lead you every day. If we do that, then daily self-improvement will just happen.

“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment.” – Matthew 22:36-38.

As we work at living out the Great Commandment everyday, we can’t help to live into that slogan: “Everyday and in every way I am getting better and better.”

Jesus says it this way in Matthew 6:33 – “Strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

Steve Nofel is co-pastor at Montezuma Valley Presbyterian Church.