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.

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

Designed for Prayer: the pause of a praying mantis


The first time I found him he was lying upside down on my front porch. His long, spindly legs bicycled through the open air in a concerted effort to turn over.

“Hello, my friend, what a predicament you are in,” I said to him. “Let’s see if together we can make things better.” Grasping him gently around the middle, I turned him right side up and carried him off the porch. I set him carefully back down on the earth. He did not scurry away. Cocking his triangular head to the side and looking at me with bulging eyes, he paused in our stillness as if to say, “thank you and God bless.”

Several days later, he climbed back on the porch, remaining upright this time. My husband and I crouched low for a good look. Upon hearing our voices, he boldly turned and studied us while holding his forearms in a prayerful pose.

Long a symbol of peace, contemplation, and prayer, the word “mantis” in Greek literally means prophet or seer. Although it appears the praying mantis prays, in reality the pose helps him capture prey. Equipped with sharp spikes, his specialized front legs quickly extend and squeeze flies, bees, lizards, frogs, and even birds to eat. The prayers of the praying mantis are actually part of an intricately designed plan for their survival.

In thinking about how God designed the praying mantis to pray, it occurred to me that he designed us in a similar way. Not with spiky arms and an odd diet, of course, but with an appetite for prayer. Like the praying mantis, our prayers feed us. They nourish us with faith, hope, and love. Spiritually, optimal human functioning comes through a relationship with God. Consider this quote from C.S. Lewis:

God designed the human machine to run on Himself. He Himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn, or the food our spirits were designed to feed on. There is no other. -C.S. Lewis

Many of us would agree prayer has benefits, but few pause long enough to reap them. My new friend, the praying mantis, held a prayerful pose for what seemed like an eternity to me this week. In fact, he was still praying as I walked away. What if we paused, prayed, and waited with such intense patience? What nourishment might our spirits gain?

How Prayer Feeds our Spirits:

Prayer opens the door to a relationship with God.

 “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” Jeremiah 29:11-13 NIV

Faith assures us we can be confident in God’s plans for us even when we feel uncertain of what lies ahead. Because we have hope in those plans, our hearts urge us to reach out to him in prayer. Like any other relationship, a close relationship with God requires consistent time and effort. As we draw closer to God through prayer, the meanings and instructions his promises speak to us become clearer.   

Prayer keeps us humble and reminds us who is in control.

Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. James 4:10 NIV

Humility helps us remember we cannot control everything in our lives. While we may boldly ask for what we want, we remember God decides what is best. We may not like what is happening now, but we cannot predict the ways God may use it to impact our life or the lives of others in the future. Even as we pray to exit a difficult season, God gives us strength and equips us to endure through it. He sends people and circumstances which help us. He lights our path and can show us how to find purpose in our pain. Humbly yielding to God’s will opens windows of wisdom in our hearts and minds.   

Prayer puts plans in motion.

He replied, “Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” Matthew 17:20 NIV

In this Scripture, Jesus encourages deeper faith in the disciples who doubt their given authority to heal. Jesus tells them even the tiniest amount of faith in tandem with God’s power can move mountains. As believers trusting in God’s abilities, we too, can move mountains with prayers.

God certainly can get things done without us, but in some situations he calls for prayer. He chooses to use our prayers; he makes them a part of the plan to accomplish his will. Prayer can put God’s plans in motion. He uses prayer to help us believe in his power instead of merely our own abilities. 


Prayer battles darkness.

The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. 2 Corninthians 10:4 NIV

As believers we have an arsenal of spiritual weapons at the ready. God arms us with weapons like his Word, the Holy Spirit, faith, hope, love, and prayer. With these, we are equipped well beyond the confines of mere physical strength and human intelligence. Prayers help battle the world’s darkness by calling upon God’s power to work within us — shining light on our spiritual gifts and inspiring us to serve him and others. The loving actions which flow from our prayers in dark times strengthen the bonds of faith between believers and ignite faith in those who lack it.   

Prayer grants peace.

Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and he brought them out of their distress. He stilled the storm to a whisper; the waves of the sea were hushed. Psalm 107:28-29 NIV

Once we have done what we can in our trouble, prayers allow us to rest and trust the work of God’s hands. Because we know God, we know he will help us. He will help us think through our problems and alert us when we need to move. He will prod us to seek forgiveness, fill us with faith, and restore what is broken in our lives. As we seek him in our struggles, we learn about his lovingkindness and mature in our faith. Prayer grants peace by asking God to take the lead in situations we cannot change.  



Our prayers do not have to be fancy, or long, or even full of requests. Sometimes prayers simply tell God how much we love and appreciate him. When harder days come and life unexpectedly flips us upside down, fear will not overcome us. Because we know we have a trusted friend who rescues us time and time again. He gently turns us right side up and places our feet back down on solid ground. As creatures designed to pray, our faith encourages us to pause and to thank him. Press on in faith, my friends!



He lifted me out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and the mire. He set my feet on solid ground and steadied me as I walked along. Psalm 40:2 NLT


Related Posts:


Serenity Prayer
by Reinhold Neibuhr


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 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 and ever in the next.