The “Serenity Prayer”

Hands crossed in prayer

I came across the Serentity prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971) a little while ago on Facebook. Niebuhr was an American theolgian who commented on politics and religion. His serenity prayer (or at least the first part of it) is used by Alcoholics anonymous as part of their program.the world over. Many of us will be familiar with at least the first part, but will be less so with the next section.

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time; enjoying one moment at a time; accepting hardship 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 to His will;

That I may be reasonably happy in this life, And supremely happy with Him forever in the next.

I know that I have read this several times, assumed that it was fine, usually because of who had posted it, without given it a second thought. Having been caught out a few times, I have started looking a bit more carefully at things before blindly forwarding them. And thats when it all started!!

The more I looked at the prayer, the more I found that there was only really one statement in it that I could fully agree with. Other statements didn’t sit comfortably with me (I’m not going to address them here as I haven’t fully processed my thoughts on them) and others I felt were just plain wrong. I understand that this is just my opinion on this – but it’s my blog and I get to say what I want 🙂

Serenity means tranquility, peace, calmness and stillness. There is no doubt that God can grant us peace. The peace He promises is His peace. Not a worldly peace (which is so often filled with doubt), but a peace that “trancends understanding” (Phil 4:7). I have experienced this peace personally – when the world has been falling in around me, I have felt unexplicably calm and composed. When I say it’s inexplicalble, I really do mean that. I wish I could explain it to you – but I just feel peace.

So the prayer asks God to grant us this peace for a purpose. “To accept things that I cannot change, and courage to change those that I can.”

Whilst I understand the sentiment of this statement, the problem I have with it is that it restricts the truth in scripture that “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” (Phil 4:13). If we can do all things through Christ, that surely means that there is nothing that I cannot change. I can accept that our experience may be different from this, however, I am a firm believer that if we start from a point of accepting that we might fail, we are never going to be dissapointed. I choose to believe that if scripture tells me I can do all things, that means I can do all things. If I find that things aren’t changing, scripture is still truth, and I need to ask God to help me to change them.

The prayer goes on – “accepting hardship as the pathway to peace”. Really? There is clear evidence in scripture that we will experience hardship. Jesus himself warned us that we would experience hardship. We will be laughed at and mocked because we follow Jesus. The apostle Paul’s life was testament to the fact that life will be tough for the sake of the gospel. The only way we are going to be able to survive this sort of persecution is reliance on the one who give perfect peace. The answer to any problem is never found in the problem – it is only ever found in Jesus.

Taking as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it.”. 

Jesus did indeed come to this world as it was. The bible says that “at the right time, Christ died for us“. (Rom 5:6). The world was full of sin (not much has changed has it? , and Jesus came into that world. Jesus came to turn the world on its head. He came to destroy the work that the devil does. And He has told us to do likewise. I am called to be a world changer – not to accept the world as it is. I’m called to love those whom I come in contact with – and to point them to Jesus. The world is messed up, and Jesus has given me (and you if you are a Christian) authority over everything that isn’t good.

That I might be reasonably happy in this life.” Jesus is the example that I want to model my life on. He is the one that I seek to emlulate. Was Jesus reasonably happy? The Psalmist, prophosing about Jesus was “annointed with the oil of gladness beyond His companions.”  Luke 10:21 says that “In that same hour He rejoiced in the Holy Spirit” It doesn’t appear that Jesus was “reasonably happy”, but was someone who was filled with joy.  The key to this was being filled with the Holy Spirit. I suppose it is possible to be reasonably happy without Holy Spirit, but why settle for reasonable, when the Holy Spirit gives us access to “fullness of joy” and “perfect peace”?

One thing we can be sure of however, is that the life we will have with Him will be supremely better than what we experience in this life. 

Stephen Curtis Chapman wrote a song years ago called “More to this life.” He sang the “there is more to this life, than living and dying, more than just trying to make it through the day.”

I think he was right – and God wants to do so much more with and through us – will you let Him??


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