Twenty twenty-two is the year to tackle contentment!
The Apostle Paul is our role model as he boldly declared, “I have learned how to be content with whatever I have,” (Philippians 4:11 NLT). He advises to us to imitate him just as he imitates Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1), and so he presents a dependable pattern for us to follow.
He also offers a good working definition of this state of mind as he further explains to the Philippians in verses 12-13 (AMP):
“I know how to get along and live humbly [in difficult times], and I also know how to enjoy abundance and live in prosperity. In any and every circumstance I have learned the secret [of facing life], whether well-fed or going hungry, whether having an abundance or being in need. I can do all things [which He has called me to do] through Him who strengthens and empowers me [to fulfill His purpose—I am self-sufficient in Christ’s sufficiency; I am ready for anything and equal to anything through Him who infuses me with inner strength and confident peace.] “
That’s a tall order! Where to begin the quest for such a blissful state? A clue may be that Paul said he learned to be content. This must mean that he was not always so and that he had followed a path to arrive there. As I struggle with negative influences from “the world, the flesh, and the devil,” it is encouraging to see that Paul was able to overcome this powerful trifecta and live in complete confidence in his ability to tackle any situation in Christ.
The first stumbling block, of course, is change. Most of us are creatures of habit and will continue a tired and unproductive path even if we hate it. The Bible has much to say about change and we will examine that in pursuit of our goal, but science and research have uncovered important steps to permanent change, and it can be helpful to be aware of these.
In the 1970’s psychological researchers, James Prochaska and Carlo DiClimente, described the Stages of Change or Transtheoretical Model. This is a brief overview, but you can read more about it here.
The first stage is precontemplation. In this stage you are unaware of having a problem at all. The past two years with their fear and massive societal change have transported most of us beyond this stage. We recognize that we must move past terror and learn new ways to live. In “Christian-ese”, we would say that God has gotten our attention.
That brings us to the contemplative stage. We know we need to change. We begin to weigh the pros and cons of doing so and want to move forward. It is important at this stage to define the goal in positive terms, underlining what we hope to gain from the effort. It’s impossible to make changes without a firm decision to do so. It is too easy to run back to the security of the familiar when things get rough if you are not committed.
Once the choice is made, the preparation stage begins. In this stage, we uncover how to change, make plans and cement motivation. For help in moving toward contentment, we’ll look to Paul to be our guide. How did he live out this mindset and how can we copy him?
With a firm decision and plan in place, it is time for action. It’s important to be well prepared for this step. Don’t rush in without determination and a clear direction.
Once the knowledge and habits are mastered and contentment becomes our natural state, it’s no time to let up. Maintenance is required and without attention to the thought patterns and actions that brought success, we can relapse into a worried, discontented place.
We don’t like to hear it, but relapse is the expected sixth stage of change. Slipping back into old habits can happen. Jesus isn’t surprised when we backslide. This is why grace and mercy are so important. Christ offers plenty—be sure you extend some to yourself as you climb back up to the top of the change ladder.
Here are some questions to ask yourself as we start the journey toward the contented peace that Paul speaks of:
- Why do I want to change?
- What are the benefits?
- What could stand in my way?
Next time, we’ll look at strategies and tool for success.