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The Serenity Prayer (part 1 of 9)


The Serenity Prayer has long been a favorite among folks in recovery. Unfortunately, many only know the first line of the prayer which, to me, misses the richness of the full prayer. So, I’m going to spend a number of weeks combing through a complete version of this prayer because I think it has much to teach us, whether or not we are in recovery. All Christians are “in recovery” from sin and will continue to be until Jesus comes back, so I suppose that places all of us on equal footing at the Cross.

The author, Reinhold Niebuhr, was an American theologian in the early to mid 20th century. His first known use of some version of this prayer dates back to the 1930s. The version I’m going to share here is one that Niebuhr’s daughter, publisher Elizabeth Sifton, believes is most consistent with her father’s heart and intent behind the prayer. It directly includes the idea of grace, while also including the second half of the prayer that secular recovery communities truncate – perhaps because it includes a direct reference to Jesus and how God uses suffering to accomplish his purposes.

The modern secular mindset tends to find these (Jesus and suffering) largely unacceptable. Even among many professing Christians, these concepts aren’t very popular. Humility is required to see the truth in Niebuhr’s prayer, just as it is for every prodigal heart to come to genuine saving faith in Jesus in the first place. 

In taking a look at this prayer, it’s important to not elevate such a text above that of Scripture. As Christians, we believe Scripture is God-breathed (2 Timothy 3:16); prayers such as these are not. But that doesn’t mean we can’t benefit greatly from the rich wisdom  another believer penned nearly 100 years ago in a genuine desire to point others to Truth.

My words here are no different. I would never want anyone holding on to anything I say as Gospel. At the end of the day, Christians are imperfect adopted kids helping one another get to know our “good, good father” better and better. I am grateful for Reinhold Niebuhr helping me to do the same for you.

Here’s the full text I’ll be using in the coming weeks:

God, give me grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.
Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
Taking, as Jesus did,
This sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it,
Trusting that You will make all things right,
If I surrender to Your will,
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with You forever in the next.

Next time, we’ll begin with our need for accepting the unchangeable.