“God, Grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, and Wisdom to know the difference.” – Introduction to the Serenity Prayer, traditionally attributed to Reinhold Neibuhr
This little prayer has been a mainstay in the American recovery movement for nearly 100 years. The most familiar part of this prayer is quoted above. But if you (like many) have never read the entire prayer, it’s quite effective for re-focusing on Kingdom values as we seek to walk out surrender to Christ in a fallen world.
Here’s the entire prayer, followed by a bit of my own personal commentary:
God grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as a 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 to His will.
That I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him forever in the next.
God grant me the serenity… courage… wisdom. This is in contrast to our striving against the things we can’t change and the fear that often paralyzes us from embracing change and leaning into it. Seeing things from God’s perspective requires being plugged into God, who alone is Wisdom (James 1:5-8).
Living one day at a time. Some people constantly look in the rear-view mirror, either living in or regretting the past. Me, I’m a future oriented guy by nature, but that doesn’t make my default any less problematic. I can be so future-oriented that I have difficulty staying present to the challenges and opportunities of today. “I AM” is present with us in this moment — today — not in the “what-ifs” of our yesterdays or our tomorrows (Exodus 3:13-15).
Enjoying one moment at a time. This one is tough for me. My natural man thinks enjoyment comes from acquiring things, money, opportunity and stuff like that. While God does allow us to have some of the stuff of Earth (as a Rich Mullins used to say), the real gift he gives us is His presence in this very moment. The other thing required to embrace this gift is contentment (1 Timothy 6:6).
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace. I was listing to author Michele Cushatt yesterday, who said, “The best stories are built on suffering.” She’s the author of Undone: The Story of Making Peace with an Unexpected Life. Shortly after the book’s release, her cancer returned for a third time, requiring the removal of two-thirds of her tongue. Even after another round of personal suffering, Michele still stands behind the quote. And she’s not alone. You know as well as I do there are thousands of Christian testimonies just like hers. And if we’re honest, we know it’s the stories of people who’ve been through hell and back that were willing to speak into our lives, not the people we perceive have been living on easy street.
Taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it. Ever since the Fall of mankind in the garden of Eden, this world has been subject to the law of entropy. It’s breaking down and getting worse with time, just as Scripture promised it would (2 Timothy 3:13). So why do we so often expect more from this world than we get? Perhaps we would do well to expect less (not more) from people in the world and expect more (not less) from God in Heaven.
Trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His will. I’ve often said that the Holy Spirit is our Advocate once we stop trying to do His job. I’m convinced that often times when we try to do His job, He backs away, as if to say, “Go ahead, give it a try. Let Me know when you’re done.” There’s no way we can do His job, but you sure wouldn’t know it from how hard I try sometimes! Of course, surrendering doesn’t guarantee that God works everything out quickly or even in this lifetime. But it happens just often enough this side of Heaven for me to know it will eventually come sooner or later — even if it’s not until the life yet to come.
That I may be reasonably happy in this life. This is the one I have to come back to more often than any other part of the prayer. It’s the word reasonably that gets me. Again, I ask: why do we expect perfection (or anything that even closely resembles it) in this life? God didn’t save us for our happiness. He saved us for holiness, to conform us more into the image of Christ every day. The instrument He uses to shape me is often the implement of suffering. At least, that’s my experience — how about you?
And supremely happy with Him forever in the next. Christianity will be poorly understood if only seen in the short run. If we change our expectation to reasonable happiness in this life, it changes our view from trendy consumers to long-term investors. We can put up with an awful lot of inconvenience and suffering if we can make meaning out of it in the long-run. If we can simply reset our time horizon, we’ll not only get less jerked around by the whims of the culture, we’ll begin to think like patient investors who seek long-range growth rather than striving to capitalize on every momentary opportunity.