Published June 29th, 2016 in Blog | Comments Off on The Serenity Prayer – Courage (part 3 of 9)

3 - Courage

“God, give me grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed (part 2), courage to change the things which should be changed…

(Reader’s Note: For your convenience, I’ll always reference the portion of the prayer we’ve already discussed at the beginning of each article, with links to each of the previous articles.)

The Bible is filled with stories about courage. Interestingly enough, these stories are often as much about courage and faith to trust in God as they are courage to face a tough circumstance or adversary. Sure, sometimes it’s courage to stare down enemy (David), but it could just as likely be courage to look stupid by following a counter-intuitive God plan (Noah) or wait patiently for God to act when everything inside us wants to take charge of it ourselves (Abraham).

This version of the Serenity Prayer focuses on courage to change the things which should be changed. This is different than the more common prayer circulated these days, which says to change what “can be changed”. This begs the question: as Christ followers, is it sufficient motivation to want to change our circumstance simply because we can? Just because something can be changed, doesn’t mean it should be. Change for the sake of change isn’t inherently good. “Don’t change the ancient boundaries”, the Old Testament admonishes believers (Proverbs 22:28). Some principles we’re established for good reasons and shouldn’t be changed for more superficial ones. If we can manipulate someone into giving us what’s theirs, does that mean we should (Jacob)? If I can take an action and experience no temporal consequences in this life, is that sufficient cause for doing it (Psalm 73)?

As believers, our ethic around change should be reflective of a comment made recently by Passion of the Christ actor Jim Caviezel, who said, “Every generation of Americans needs to know that freedom exists not to do what you like, but having the right to do what you ought.”

First Corinthians 6:12 encourages us to think beyond merely what is legal and asks deeper heart questions. Is it beneficial? Will doing it slide me towards becoming enslaved by it? Ultimately for the believer, it’s God’s Word — which is reflective of God’s law and, in turn, reflective of God’s heart — that serves as our plumb line for such decision-making.

Again, consider young David in his confident confrontation with a defiant Goliath, or the three young boys who respectfully (but firmly) told King Nebuchadnezzar they wouldn’t trade their worship of the One True God for bowing down to him. In both cases, something more was at play than merely taking a stand because it could be taken. They are examples of pursuing change because something ought to be. Often, such Biblical examples are taken in response to an injustice against God’s name or God’s people.

While the two previous examples demonstrate how God can miraculously show up when believers take a bold stand, we shouldn’t interpret this as a guaranteed formula for achieving such an outcome. Hebrews 11 is filled with men and women who took a similar stand against injustice and paid for it with either immense suffering or death.

As Christians, we are responsible before God for what we do, not how things ultimately turn out. Therefore, doing what’s right is always more important than achieving a right outcome. As Delta Force and US Army Retired Lt. General Jerry Boykin recently commented about his own recent challenges: “Never cave in when you know that you are standing for what is right and true, for these are the principles that made this nation great. STAND, even if it means you lose your job. STAND, even if it means you lose your life. The founding principles of this nation are worth defending, even if it costs you.”

Having courage to change what should be changed has broad application to many areas of life, whether we’re advocating for legislative change, addressing safety concerns in our neighborhood, repairing relationships within our faith community, applying personal discipline to loosing weight or applying spiritual discipline to surrendering an area of besetting sin.

But what determines “accepting what is” versus pressing for change? As Christians, we can sometimes become paralyzed in the middle unless we have clear wisdom, which we will discuss in more detail next time.

Published June 1st, 2016 in Blog | Comments Off on The Serenity Prayer – Grace (part 2 of 9)

2 - Grace

“God, give me grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed…”

The very first line of this version of the prayer represents the most significant difference between this one and the more popular versions used by most of today’s Twelve-step recovery groups. The more popular version reads, “God, grant me the serenity“, instead of, “God, give me grace“. To some, perhaps this is a subtle difference, amounting to nothing of substance.

But here’s the not-so-subtle difference in my mind. Serenity is an attitude, while grace is the essence of what we need in order to produce a state of serenity. Without grace, we humans aren’t likely to see beyond our own limited, fallen perspective. Instead, we might endlessly struggle to make things turn out the way we think they need to be, without a higher and more objective perspective.

True serenity can only come from possessing abundant grace, and such grace only comes as a gift from God (Ephesians 2:8-9). We don’t have this innately within ourselves as humans, but it is a natural byproduct of being fully surrendered to God. The more fully we are surrendered, the more “naturally” (supernaturally, really) we will be in a state of serenity. Grace is the substance which enables us to respond peacefully to our environment; serenity is the internal attitude and emotional state that results.

What we need, then, is his grace. When we have it, we can “let go and let God” take care of things in ways only he can. In so doing, we accept the Divine perspective on our lives and in our circumstances — including those circumstances that “cannot be changed”. Such abandon to God is the only way we come to “accept with serenity”.

In doing so, we aren’t required call our circumstances “good”. But our good Heavenly Father does work even the bitter circumstances for our good and for his glory (Romans 8:28), sometimes in ways we can see and sometimes in ways we cannot (Hebrews 11:1). The more we see him at work in our lives, the more we come to realize that in both his seen and unseen ways, there is a grace to accept the things that cannot be changed. When we come to know that God is actively superintending them for our good, the natural byproduct of that grace is a peace of mind in the midst of the storm, or what the author calls serenity.

Coming to “accept the things that cannot be changed” is sometimes a long and grueling process. But long or short, most of us don’t let go until we hear a still, small voice that we trust saying, “let it go”. The pathway of such acceptance often travels through the valley of grief, where God’s grace shepherds us like a faithful sheepdog (Psalm 23). Our surrender allows us to be led by grace through our grief and into acceptance, where we we can embrace our reality with serenity.

But what happens when we encounter a circumstance for which we’re convinced the Lord would have us serve as agents of change? More on that next time.