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.
I have memories of a small plaque with those words hanging on a bedroom wall in my home growing up. During my high school and college years, my burgeoning love for the Bible and growing burden for doing ministry right was coupled with naïve enthusiasm, with the result that I wrote off the Serenity Prayer (along with a number of old school approaches to ministry) as cheesy, sentimental leftovers from a Christian culture satisfied with just getting through the basics. I wanted to do more for God than simply endure. I wanted to overcome and make a difference for Christ. The Serenity Prayer sounded like something for those who had fallen off the mission band wagon, allowing themselves to be disillusioned by ministry instead of grabbing it by the horns and wrestling struggles to the ground.
How naïve I was.
The Serenity Prayer is just one thing in a long list of things that I thought were cheesy in my youth and disregarded during my twenties, but which now seem great wisdom each year older I get. Who in their youth wants to believe they are going to counter the exact same kinds of problems that the last generation faced in their homes and ministries? It was easier to think that they talked so much about enduring because they had compromised at some point so that they were only just getting by in ministry. We, of course, would not make those same kinds of mistakes, because we, as new Bible college graduates, had greater insight into their mistakes than they ever had. To quote a college professor of mine, I speak as a fool.
This lesson isn’t particular to the Serenity Prayer. It is a basic Bible principle that transcends time.
I Peter 5:5 Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”
Ecclesiastes 1:9 What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.
I used to think of showing deference to my elders as simply an issue of respect. Like God just wants us to be polite and make old people feel valued. But over the last decade, I’ve become profoundly aware of how this instruction is really for the younger person’s good. Other places in Scripture link a child’s obedience to parents with long life. Is that because God is threatening to kill those who don’t respect their parents? I don’t think so. I think He’s saying that you are more likely to make the kind of wise decisions that extend your life if you value what those who’ve gone before you tell you. They’ve experienced the ebb and flow of life for many more years than you or I. And there is nothing new under the sun – each generation’s conflicts and struggles are just a variation of the previous generation’s, and it is in our best interest to hear what they learned the hard way.
One thing that resonated with the previous generation is the Serenity Prayer. God grant me the wisdom to know what I can change (usually about myself) and what I can not change (often about others). What I can change (about myself) takes courage. Facing what I can’t change (about others) take serenity and peace. Any enduring peace we find will ultimately have it’s source in God Himself (Phil. 4:7). That’s not cheesy. That is hard won wisdom that each of us should hear and pray for ourselves.
When we are on mission for God, there are things that we can and should address with courage. There are also things we can not change that will frustrate us and potentially derail our ministry if we do not trust our Sovereign Father in heaven with the things only He can change. Honestly, both take courage and both take serenity. Ultimately, both rely on the Holy Spirit in us directing us on where we can affect change and where God calls us to wait in confidence in Him. No, the Serenity Prayer is not cheesy at all.