Pastor Dan Jongsma
One of the best loved and most used prayers of the past century is something known as “The Serenity Prayer”. It was originally written by American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr near the end of World War II. The prayer quickly became the familiar mantra of Alcoholics Anonymous and a host of other recovery ministries.
Part of the appeal of this prayer is that it touches on many universal experiences in human life: fear/anxiety, change, acceptance, peace, courage, and wisdom. The prayer pulls all of these elements together into a few sentences that are as simple, as they are deep. The elegant brevity of this prayer acknowledges both the nobility of our human existence as well as its limitations.
“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.”
You’ve heard this statement many times before. You’ve probably even prayed it many times before. That is because this prayer contains some powerful truths. But our familiarity with it can cause us to become blind to its true meaning. It is a bold prayer that can profoundly impact our relationships with God, others, and ourselves.
Our human nature desires authority, autonomy, and control over our lives. But there is so much (probably a large majority) of our life that is out of our control. Many of the mistakes we make come as a result of overstepping our bounds or wanting more than is rightfully ours.
Peace of mind (i.e. serenity) is found by accepting “the hand that has been dealt to us”. But that rarely comes quickly or easily. That’s why we need God’s help.
Having said that, there are significant things we can control and change. These things mainly deal with ourselves. We can change our attitudes, our behavior, our responses, our choices, and our priorities. We have been given power and authority by God, limited though it may be. He wants us to use that power and influence for good.
Yet we all have a tendency to resist change, even when there is evidence that the change would be a good one. As a result, we need courage (i.e. inner fortitude) to tackle the things about us that need to be changed. We also need the help of God’s Spirit which is why we petition Him for it.
Finally, we need wisdom beyond our own to discern what is our responsibility and what is not, what we can and can’t change, what issues need to be personally addressed and what ones need to be placed in God’s hands.
For many years, this was the limit to my understanding of this great prayer. So I was shocked to discover a few years ago that the Serenity Prayer goes far beyond those few opening lines. Here is the rest of the original prayer…
“Living one day at a time; enjoying one moment at a time; accepting hardships as the pathway to peace. Taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it. Trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender His will; that I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with Him forever in the next. Amen”
Whoa! Now that’s a noteworthy prayer! Asking for God to give me this kind of peace means I must fully surrender to His will and His way. It means living moment by moment, day by day with Him. Not getting too far ahead nor lagging too far behind our divine Guide. It means accepting this broken world as our temporary home, but not our eternal home. It means trusting God for the outcome. Believing that one day, He will make right what is now wrong in me and in this world.
Knowing and believing these truths will allow me to be reasonably joyful despite the inevitable delays, defeats, and disappointments of life. But it will also allow me to be eternally joyful when Jesus returns for me.
I encourage you to use this prayer for one week straight. Pray it daily. Reflect on its meaning. Put your soul into it as you express your desires to God and submit to His plans and purposes for you. Discover the paradoxical truth that spiritual surrender is the way to peace and victory.