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What is the serenity prayer?

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Question: "What is the serenity prayer?"

The serenity prayer is attributed to a Protestant theologian named Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971). There are various versions of the serenity prayer floating around with minor alterations.

Niebuhr himself did not publish the serenity prayer until 1951, in one of his magazine columns, although it had previously appeared under his name in 1944, when it was included in a Federal Council of Churches book for army chaplains and servicemen.

The text of the entire serenity prayer is as follows:

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;
That I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with Him
Forever in the next. Amen.

The first two lines are most familiar because of their association with Alcoholics Anonymous. The co-founder of AA, William Griffith Wilson, and his staff liked the serenity prayer and had it printed out in modified form and handed around. It has been part of Alcoholics Anonymous ever since and has also been used in other twelve-step programs.

Biblically speaking, there are some excellent thoughts expressed in this prayer and may very well be something Christians can pray and meditate on. The serenity prayer speaks of a life lived in calm, courageous faith in God, reminiscent of Paul’s admonition to “be anxious for nothing” (Philippians 4:6). Fretting and worrying our way through life indicates a lack of faith in our God and an unwillingness to surrender to His will and trust that He has all things under control. At the same time, the serenity prayer says God takes the sinful world as it is. If that were true, He would not have sent His Son to die for sin and reconcile the sinful world to Himself (2 Corinthians 5:19). But He did send Jesus, and those who accept His sacrifice are the only ones who have a real hope of being “reasonably happy” in this life and supremely happy in the next.

Recommended Resource: The Prayer That Turns the World Upside Down: The Lord’s Prayer as a Manifesto for Revolution by R. Albert Mohler Jr.

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