The Serenity Prayer has a long and mysterious history. The first three lines were made popular by Reinhold Niebuhr (1892 -1971), as part of a 1834 lecture. The modern prayer is several lines longer.In 1941 the prayer was noticed and later adopted by Alcoholics Anonymous. Over the past 60 years the prayer has gone far beyond AA boundaries. It is especially instructive for anyone longing to be an apprentice of Jesus. For the next eight Sundays, (November 6 – December 24), this blog will feature one phrase or cluster of phrases from this beautiful prayer. I hope this series will create motivation and direction in the new year.
“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can,”
In the first post on the Serenity Prayer, we asked God to help us accept what we cannot change. Now this second clause reminds us that there are things we can and should influence and change – and that it will take courage to do so. I believe that the Holy Spirit aids us in becoming in tune with things we are called to change, as well as giving us the courage to change them.
First, the Spirit helps us change our behavior and our attitudes by making us aware of our prideful moments, our eagerness to be in control, our temptation to fudge the truth, our fears and anxieties, our prejudices, and so on. Richard Rohr points out in Breathing Under Water, Spirituality and the Twelve Steps, “You cannot heal what you do not acknowledge.” It takes courage to face ourselves, but once we see our un-Christlike behavior, we are poised to choose to change it.
In his book The Serenity Prayer, Trevor Hudson suggest the following steps to see ourselves more clearly:
- Take time to be quiet on a regular basis and ask God to search our hearts.
- Reflect on our instant reactions to others, especially those that are hurtful.
- Look for what we criticize in others in ourselves.
- Recognize contradictions between our public and private selves.
- Ask someone who knows us well for “feed back about how they experience us.”
BECOMING A CHANGE AGENT
Second, the Spirit calls us to act or speak when change is needed. This call to be a change – agent will usually be an encouragement to use our particular gifts or talents. For example, one of my favorite change-agents in the New Testament is a man whose nickname was Barnabas, “Son of Encouragement.” Barnabas played the principal role in encouraging the disciples to accept a much-feared Paul into their group.
“Back in Jerusalem he [Paul] tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him. They didn’t trust him one bit. Then Barnabas took him under his wing. He introduced him to the apostles and stood up for him, told them how Saul had seen and spoken to the Master on the Damascus Road and how in Damascus itself he had laid his life on the line with his bold preaching in Jesus’ name. After that he was accepted as one of them, going in and out of Jerusalem with no questions asked, uninhibited as he preached in the Master’s name” (Acts 9: 16-30; MSG).
His gift of encouragement made supporting Paul the perfect role for Barnabas. However, he was certainly empowered by the Holy Spirit to step out of his comfort zone and stand before the angry and fearful disciples to speak winsomely about Paul’s life-changing experience with Jesus. Imagine the fate of Christianity had Barnabas chosen not to act and the disciples refused to allow Paul to join them in their mission to turn the world upside down!
We can change our behavior and our attitudes. And we can influence our society. At this time in the history of civilization, it is crucial that we are willing to become the best people we can be, strong and faithful apprentices of Jesus, so that we can make our world the best place it can be. God calls us to nothing less.