My favorite prayers... 2 of 3

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things that should be changed; and the wisdom to know the difference.

So often in life we prioritize.  When people come into my office and say they are seeking God's will in a particular situation, they are really asking a question of priority.  The sooner we know that we are assured success (or failure) the sooner we can commit ourselves in one direction or another.

And who doesn't want to know God's priorities?  With "big picture" type stuff, it's easy to see God's will.  Luke 4 offers exactly Jesus' priorities in his life/ministry.  Faith, hope, love must win out against fear, despair, and hate. We should structure our lives accordingly to live as Jesus lived.

But with "small picture" things, there can be a bit more gray area.  And to help me navigate that gray area, I love this prayer:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things that should be changed; and the wisdom to know the difference.

How much energy do I waste on things that do not need to change?  How hampered are God's desires in my life by fear, doubt, or selfishness?

Three parts.

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change

Serenity.  If there is one word to describe what is lacking in America right now, it's serenity.  Wait, forget America.  This is lacking in my life.  Serenity is the appropriate response to the great illusion of our lives:


Control is the operative concern in this part of the prayer.  A fundamental aspect of being Christian is passing "control" of my burdens from my shoulders to Jesus'.  When you think about the fact that Jesus and the Hebrew Scriptures consider our burdens a "yoke" - the imagery should not be lost on you or me.  They control us.  And this slavery to sin and death is precisely what Jesus came to free us from.  

But hear me out!  We aren't just giving up those things that control US, we also give up those things we think we control!!  We give up these things that control us and instead take on a new master - God.  Which, by the way, you simply cannot control no matter how hard you try.  When you stop and think about it, it then makes a lot of sense why people hesitate to give themselves up to this God.

They lose all control.  And such faith, such devotion, and such risk needs some peace.  The more we trust God the more peace we have.  God, grant us that trust.  Give us that serenity that you can control what we cannot.  And we can be cool with that.  Once we give ourselves over to a new master (God) we discover that very master gives himself for us!  And in a way, placing the control into our OWN hands!  Which means we need...

courage to change the things that should be changed

Okay, so now after talking about the whole illusion of control, the real gut check might come in the fact there God, in his infinite grace and mercy, has given us an amazing amount of control over ourselves.  I really believe one of the greatest gifts God has ever given us is the ability to make choices.  In other words, we have free will.  Or to say it another way, we can participate (or not) with God in creation, stewardship, and care for this world.  The theological notions of "original sin" were never intended to be a scapegoat for our responsibilities.

We do not have the luxury of throwing our hands up in the air and saying the Devil made us do something.  It doesn't work like that - with the capability for our master's joy (in our participation) also comes the incredible risk of disobedience and evil.  Every human... Jesus included... has been tempted to use that power for ill.

Standing up to evil is not easy.  The love of money, sex, and power is strong and powerful and make those who associate with it strong and powerful as well.  In contrast, the love of Jesus Christ does not (on the face) look powerful.  Of course it is, but it is a different kind of power that doesn't manipulate or oppress like these other temptations.  If we are made in God's image (thus, initially good) yet we've made poor choices (thus tainted our goodness), then we need to courage to start setting things right.

Some people have a hard time believing in a God who would let such horrible things happen in the world.  Oil spills, Nazis, cancer, etc.etc.etc.  Personally, I find the greatest condemnation of this God not in the fact these things happen, but in the fact there are Christians running around claiming God wants better things for this world and yet don't have the courage to live that way.

I need courage to change those things that can change.  And yes, there are a ton of things that instantly come to mind in my own life.  I need to not endanger the people around me (or myself) through reckless driving.  I need to give more freely of my abundance to those who don't have such abundance in their lives.  I need to be more gracious to people who think differently than me.  I need to comfort those who have experienced loss in their lives.  I need to challenge those who grow complacent in their faith.  I need to lessen my impact on this earth.  I need to hold politicians accountable.  I need to forgive those who wrong me and love my enemies.  I need to own less stuff and give more stuff away.  I need to be more holy and avoid fear, despair, and hate.

In short, I need to be more like Jesus when I can be.  When can I?  Well... if I have serenity about those things I can't change and courage to change the things I can, then really I guess all I need is these...

and the wisdom to know the difference.

Here is where some would say this gets tricky.  Like I said at the beginning of this post - the big picture stuff is easy enough.  We all, as Christians, know that Jesus wants us to love our enemies, bless those who persecute us, love our neighbors, forgive those who wrong us, etc.etc.etc.

But how does the big picture stuff translate into small picture stuff?  It takes wisdom.  The Bible offers a lot of wisdom.  My parents have offered me a lot of wisdom.  My friends and my job have offered me lots of wisdom.  I really think there is wisdom all over the place!  Sometimes in places you might not have expected it - like from the mouth of babes and all that (kiddos, not hot chicks).  But God's wisdom must be dwelt on.  I have to own it.  There is no shortcut to wisdom.  But when you pray this prayer, you are asking for all of your priorities to fall in line with God's priorities.  You are asking for wisdom.

You are asking God to help you see your place in this amazing thing we call life.

It may not be easy but it is probably a whole lot simpler than I'm trying to make it.

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things that should be changed; and the wisdom to know the difference.

by the way, the first prayer (1 of 3) is here.