Breaking Down the Serenity Prayer

The serenity prayer was written by the Christian theologian Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971).  It is a very popular prayer that asks God for peace and serenity in our lives.  There are different versions of it depending on the needs.  But, they are all based on the original as follows. (Note: I numbered each line so that I can comment on those statements, by line number, later on in this article.)

  1. God, grant me the serenity
  2. to accept the things I cannot change,
  3. the courage to change the things I can,
  4. and the wisdom to know the difference.
  5. Living one day at a time,
  6. enjoying one moment at a time;
  7. accepting hardship as a pathway to peace;
  8. taking, as Jesus did,
  9. this sinful world as it is,
  10. not as I would have it;
  11. trusting that You will make all things right
  12. if I surrender to Your will;
  13. so that I may be reasonably happy in this life
  14. and supremely happy with You forever in the next

The Serenity Prayer

Generally, the shorter version of the prayer consists of the first four lines, and it is the most popular of the ones I’ve seen.

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

Analyzing the Serenity Prayer

For the most part, the serenity prayer is biblical.  Lines 1 – 4 deal with appealing to God to grant what is necessary to live properly. We know that God grants that we believe (Philippians 1:29) and that he directs our steps (Proverbs 20:24). This because God is sovereign (Ephesians 1:11).  In all of this, we need to ask God for wisdom (James 1:5). So far, so good.

Line 5, living one day at a time, is consistent with Jesus’ prayer when he said, “give us this day our daily bread,” (Matthew 6:11).

Lines 6 – 10, enduring the hardship of life as did Jesus, could be paralleled to Jesus’ words, “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. 34 “So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:33–34).  Also, Paul said it well in Philippians 4:6-7, which says, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Line 11 speaks of trusting in the Lord, which is paralleled in such verses as “You who fear the LORD, trust in the LORD; He is their help and their shield” (Psalm 115:11).  And, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. 6 In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5–6).

Line 12-14 speak of surrendering to the will of God and having peace.  This is reflected in the words of Jesus, who said, “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done” (Luke 22:42).  Jesus is the perfect man, and as He submitted to the will of God the Father. So should we.

Concluding remarks

I’m glad that in line 8, Jesus is specifically mentioned. When the shorter version is used, and this line is omitted, it becomes moralistic and ultimately useless.  Only through Jesus can we have access to God, who will then hear our prayers (John 14:6; 1 Tim. 2:5). So, the full version of the prayer is biblical, especially when Jesus is mentioned.

Published by Intentional Faith

Devoted to a Faith that Thinks

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