Dear Friends,

In the 1930’s an American theologian by the name of Reinhold Niebuhr developed a prayer which summarizes much Biblical wisdom. The prayer is commonly seen as being very wise; so much so that secular people will often remove all references to God and share its content with people, as an example of wisdom. I am referring to the famous Serenity Prayer. Niebuhr used the prayer often in sermons, conversations, and in his writings, so there are slight differences “around the edges” of the prayer. Here is a version from 1951, “God, give me the grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed; courage to change the things which can and should be changed; and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.”

I often pray this prayer – it is not just for alcoholics. I encourage you to pray this prayer as well. Here are a couple of reasons.

First, we are often confused about what we can and cannot change. There are things which we think that we can never change, with or without God’s help. But in fact these matters can change by God’s grace. There are other matters that we think we can and should change, but in fact we are confused, we cannot change in this area. So this prayer is asking the Lord to help us to be wise.

Second, we are often confused about what we should change. There are many things we probably can change, but just because we can change them does not mean that we should change them. We are often confused about what is a sin and what is not sin. So in life, we can mistakenly want to develop a habit that is sinful, or stop a habit which is virtuous. So this prayer is asking the Lord to help us to be wise.

Third, we are often “bent-out-of-shape” by matters that we simply cannot or should not change. Sometimes these “changeless” matters are very hard to bear. They lead to bitterness, anger, complaining – I could go on. Early in my ministry I regularly visited two shut-in’s, both women in their 80’s. I must confess I hated visiting one of the women and liked visiting the other. The one I hated to visit had had a long marriage, was well-off, and had children who visited her regularly, and she still lived in her own home. But her conversation was one long and constant complaint. The other woman had been lower working class her whole life, never married, and was living with her brother. Very few visited her and her health issues were significantly worse. A visit with her was a pleasure. She was grateful for my visit and for a host of small mercies and pleasures. She was curious about life and looked beyond herself and her situation to ask questions. She knew what she could not change and she had serenity about it. The serenity prayer is asking the Lord to help us to be wise.

Fourth, we need the Lord’s wisdom all the time to be both more “passive” and more “active”. To walk with Jesus is not to become more and more passive. Neither is it to become some type of technique addicted optimist who believes there are no limits to what we can change. This wonderful prayer asks the Lord to deliver us from either extreme and live with passion, serenity, and wisdom for the good of the world and the glory of the Lord!