The Serenity Prayer: a Road Map for Peace

Peace is scattered like breadcrumbs up the Oregon coast. Stop at any state visitor center, and the receptionists will enthusiastically circle its varied locations on an area map. They do not specifically tell you serenity resides here and there, but you can see it on their faces as they gesture and describe the points of interest along your route. With a sigh and well wishes, they send you off to discover peace for yourselves along the winding highway.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could hold a road map to peace in our hands at all times? One that told us the way to travel, the turns to avoid, and the attitudes to keep? As I was thinking about this lately, the first few lines of the Serenity Prayer came to mind:

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.

These words of reassurance may ring familiar to your ear as well. Here is the lesser known, second part of the prayer:

Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships 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;
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life
And supremely happy with him forever in the next.
Amen.

The Serenity Prayer, composed in the 1930’s and published in 1951 by Reinhold Niebuhr, exists in several modified versions. Alcoholics Anonymous and other twelve-step program groups use the prayer to bring a sense of peace, acceptance, and purposeful action to their members. It has a long history of helping people find peace by trusting God.

Although the Serenity Prayer is not actually part of the Bible, many Scriptures connect to the prayer and its wisdom:

God grant me the serenity

Right away, the prayer’s first few words highlight a needed reliance on God’s presence in our lives. This prayer acknowledges serenity is not something we can achieve on our own; peace depends on a higher power — God.

For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts. Isaiah 55:9 NLT

To accept the things I cannot change

There are circumstances, events, and people in our lives we cannot change or control. Accepting this fact, instead of wrestling with things we are unable to fix or understand, frees our minds to focus on productive activities and gain a sense of purpose.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7 NIV

Courage to change the things I can

Over time, unhealthy behaviors and attitudes make us feel defeated. They lead us to believe there is no hope for change, but this prayer encourages us to ask God to give us the courage needed to overcome problems within our control.

So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. Isaiah 41:10 NIV

And wisdom to know the difference

Often it is hard to know what we can change and what we cannot. Giving a problem a “time-out” so we can think about it rationally, instead of reacting quickly can grant us wisdom. Sometimes, consulting with others we trust or those with similar experiences helps us too. God’s wisdom comes to us through these things, as well as in Scripture verses, prayer, quiet activities, or stillness.

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. James 1:5 NIV

Living one day at a time; enjoying one moment at a time

Although many of us would like to predict, prepare, or even avert the trouble we face tomorrow, God did not give us supernatural powers. Mark Twain once said, “I’ve had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened.” One day at a time, one moment at a time, one blessing at a time is the way God unfolds life for us.

Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? …Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. Matthew 6:26-34 NIV

Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace

Instead of just handing us peace, God often allows struggles to strengthen faith muscles used to acquire peace. He teaches us to let go of situations we cannot control, to pray, and to trust in him. As we get better at accepting unavoidable hardships and at enduring with faith, we live with more and more of God’s peace by way of the Holy Spirit.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take. Proverbs 3:5-6 NLT

Taking, as he did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it

Jesus came to earth not to rid us of our sinful nature, but to save us from it. When he chose to die on the cross for us, our sins died with him. The eternal life his death grants us is not something we have to earn. It is a free gift, received by believing in him. Through the Bible and the Holy Spirit, he guides us in living an abundant life now. Following Christ’s way of living in a sinful world leads others to see his likeness in us, and hopefully stirs within them a longing for that as well.

My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Galatians 2:20 NLT

Trusting that he will make all things right if I surrender to his Will

Living with faith means learning to trust God’s timing and control. His plans to make things right may not be understood in our lifetimes, but he is always faithful in fulfilling his promises. Surrendering to his Will shows we recognize we will never have all the answers or be able to make everything right on our own.

And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. Romans 8:28 NLT

So that I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with him forever in the next

Jesus’ life and teachings provide a model to follow so that we can live a “reasonably happy” life while here. Although we will face trouble, he tells us to remain courageous in anticipation of the perfectly divine, eternal life which awaits us.

I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world. John 16:33 NLT  

The Serenity Prayer unfolds peace like a road map; its words provide direction and point out areas for rest along the way. It is a good map to keep in our back pockets, in case we get lost. We can refer to it when life sends us on a detour or when the weather looks bad. And, the map maker himself is only a prayer call away. Press on in faith, my friends!

Related Posts:

Seeking Three Kinds of Peace 

While We Wait on God

The Worry Fight