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

Riding On God’s Back

piggy-back

A week ago 16 year-old Hunter Gandee and his younger brother, Braden, walked across an epic finish line at Michigan’s Capitol in the city of Lansing. Together, the two had journeyed 111 miles to raise awareness for cerebral palsy, a condition 9 year-old Braden was diagnosed with at the age of 1.

What is really unique about their 6-day journey is that Hunter carried Braden (approximately 70 lbs.), who has difficulty walking, on his back from their hometown for 110 1/2 miles. The last half-mile Braden courageously finished on his own. Along the way, they enjoyed the company of family, friends, and others they inspired.

Months before embarking, a team of medical and fitness professionals worked with the brothers to ensure their readiness. This is not the first time the two have trained to take on a distance challenge. Their first walk to raise awareness was two years ago and covered 40 miles. And, last year’s walk was 57 miles.

Around town, when Braden is not using his walker, Hunter also routinely carries him on his back. In a Today Show interview for the 111-mile walk Hunter said, “I sometimes think we’re extra close because as his older brother, I want to be there for him when he needs me, and he needs me a little extra, so I’m happy to do it.”

Hunter’s remarks have held my thoughts captive. When someone helps us through something difficult, we often develop a strong bond that would not have otherwise existed. But, what if we never seek or accept help? Is a relationship then less enriched because of that? What if the relationship is the one we have with God?

This past week I spent some time analyzing my relationship with God through a life mapping activity at our church. A life map is a timeline which lists important people, circumstances, and events that have shaped your life. Turning points and painful moments are highlighted within chapters of your life. The results bring insight into your life lessons, gifts, and relationship with God.

Reviewing my life map, while having the Gandee brothers’ story fresh in my mind, helped me realize I have spent most of my life resisting a ride on God’s back.

I did not look to the Bible for wisdom, pray for answers, ask his trusted advisors for help, or even stop to consider what I could learn from my problems. During painful events or turning points, my knee jerk reaction was to fix, control, and worry through things on my own. Have you ever thought this way? Why is looking to God for help seemingly a last resort for so many of us? A few reasons I have come up with:

  • Time – When problems arise, time seems to become more scarce. We often expend all our energy searching for answers and stressing out. Understanding what God and the Bible can offer seems like an overwhelming task. We tell ourselves when life gets easier there will be more time to figure out what we believe.
  • Doubt – Most of us have doubts regarding faith, and stress only increases them. We wonder why God lets bad things happen. We wonder how believing in something intangible can help us. We don’t see faith offering fast, concrete, or measurable results for our problems.
  • Place – For many, God fits nicely into a box labeled church. The contents of this box are explored only on Sundays. Encounters with God are expected to occur at the end of the road, not in the middle of our current mess.

So, I wonder if we do not seek God’s help for various reasons, is he absent from our life until we do?

A closer look at my life map reveals even when I did not ask God for a ride he still walked beside me offering encouragement and helping me learn valuable lessons. In each painful moment and at each turning point, there appears to be strategically placed friends and events. My timeline clearly shows I was never alone.

And, I can pinpoint the exact location on my map when my walking legs gave out. The point when having God as a walking partner would no longer suffice. I sank to the ground, in desperate need of a ride. Then, I started prioritizing time, allowing room for doubt, and expanding his place. Like brothers on a 111-mile journey, he picked me up and we became “extra close” because of it.

I can’t help wondering, how does God feel when we don’t let him carry us through life’s difficulties? When his back is strangely empty? How would things change if we reached beyond our own means for hope?

Riding on God’s back has given me a new perspective on solving problems. I have a strong grip on his shoulders, and I can see farther ahead. People may think it’s strange. People may think, “that’s crazy God talk, and she should come down and do things on her own.” I understand because I’ve said those things before. Now, I’m taking the ride. I think it is where I belong.

Scripture for the Week

About Benjamin he said: “Let the beloved of the LORD rest secure in him, for he shields him all day long, and the one the LORD loves rests between his shoulders.” Deuteronomy 33:12 New International Version (NIV)

Prayer for the Week

Dear God,

Thank you for your constant presence throughout my life, even when I am unaware or doubt you are there. When I am in trouble, you send people, resources, and events which help realign my course with your plans for me. Your Holy Spirit quiets my discontent and teaches me to listen for lessons. When life becomes overwhelming and I feel broken, you graciously offer a lift and carry me. You never tire or insist I make it on my own. Instead, your Word keeps me close and full of hope. For this I offer my endless praise. In Jesus’ Name, Amen

Inspiring Resources

Watch the story about Hunter and Braden on the Today Show right here

More about their story on NBC 24 here