Jump to Questions

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.  

This prayer was written by a man named Reinhold Niebuhr, in the 1940’s.  There are many uses of these words today as a way of reminding ourselves to find peace in self-help and self-examination.  It became popular in most 12 Step groups for its practical meaning to the person in recovery.  As with all recovery related topics, we will look at the Serenity Prayer with a biblical worldview.

The prayer’s overarching theme is serenity which means “to be in a peaceful/calm state.”  As recovering addicts, we know the feeling all too well of wanting to find peace in the midst of chaos and times when feeling uncomfortable with change, going on in us and around us.  Before recovery we would look to escape these feelings by using.  Now, we know that in the end, that choice will lead us farther away from the peace and serenity we long for, so we ask God for help instead of doing things the old way.

Within these sentences are three items one is asking God for: Serenity, Courage, and Wisdom.

Serenity to accept the things I cannot change

Acceptance is a large part of learning to live life in spite of all the problems that we face either because we caused them ourselves or because of a broken world where stuff doesn’t work together perfectly.  We must learn to be content and ready for whatever life throws our way to understand the idea of acceptance leads to peace.

Philippians 4:11 …for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.

Paul in this letter is telling His friends that He has learned that the secret to joy is being content!  He talks about accepting His circumstances, whether good or bad.  For the addict, we have many circumstances that can seem overwhelming such as relationship problems, legal or financial issues and maybe even health concerns.  Learning to wade through all of this stuff can be a struggle if we don’t learn acceptance.   Things we cannot change refers to everything outside of ourselves.  Persons, places, and things, are what we have to learn that we are not in control of.  Past decisions can’t be changed, the way our family struggles to trust us, or being on probation with the courts is all out of our hands.

The sooner we accept this, the sooner we can work on what can be changed, us.

Courage to change the things I can

We must face reality and understand that the only one we do have the power to change is ourselves.  Remember, we cannot even do this on our own, this is why we are in prayer in the first place.  A favorite verse of many Christians encourages us that we can change and recover from what addiction has done in our lives…

Philippians 4:13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

A few verses after Paul was talking about being content, he goes on to share where his courage and strength come from in the first place, Jesus!  This is good news!  We too can draw strength from God in the times when we wouldn’t normally be able to cope with life’s challenges.  As we learn to trust Him more with the situations out of our control, we can trust Him to work on us as well.  We must be willing to take the steps to change in order for God to truly work.  This does not mean that we have to earn God’s favor in our lives but rather that we make ourselves available for His power to work in us.  Some ways of doing this are seeking out God in prayer, in His word the bible, and building relationships with people who love God and can help you to pursue Him too.

Wisdom to know the difference

Knowing the difference between the things in our power to change (You) and things not in our control (other persons, places, and things) will save us from all the drama and heartache of making a bad situation worse.  If you are at this point of recovery where you are in a group or going through these lessons with someone, it is obvious you want change, you are sick of being sick!  Wisdom will help us to get on the right path to recovery.  Don’t be quick to change everything or make rash decisions based off of feelings.  Use this prayer to get the right perspective.

Philippians 4:6-7 do not be anxious about anything, 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 understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

To help us better understand this early 20th century prayer, let’s look at the entire prayer including the last part which is not usually added to the normal reading of the Serenity Prayer:

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.

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.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Watch the video together or invite someone to summarize the topic.
  2. What is your initial reaction to this video? Do you disagree with any of it? What jumped out at you?
  3. Where is the first place you heard this prayer?
  4. What is your idea of Serenity?  Is this a type of peace you want?
  5. Is Acceptance something you struggle with?  Explain.
  6. Read Philippians 4:10-13.  Do you want this type of contentedness?
  7. What things in your life can you use Philippians 4:13 for?
  8. Do you struggle with or know someone who struggles with control?
  9. Read James 1:5.  Do you believe God will answer your prayer for wisdom?
  10. Write a personal action step based on this conversation.

Ministry Tools: