Origin of the Serenity Prayer: Dr. Reinhold Niebuhr
Dr. Reinhold Niebuhr is universally attributed as the author of what we know as “The Serenity Prayer.” Its dissemination was likely from a diary excerpt from Niebuhr’s student and collaborator Winnifred Crane Wygal. Wygal placed the prayer in newspaper articles as early as the 1930’s and then, in a somewhat altered form, in a book of worship in 1940.
Over the years, different versions of the prayer have been published. The Serenity Prayer can be found in either the common shortened form or the longer, full version with portions of language altered. The most popular version 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.
The most well-known version was published in 1951 with the addition of the word “grace.” This full-version reads:
God, give me grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, Courage to change the things which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish the one from the other. Living one day at a time, Enjoying one moment at a time, Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace, Taking, as Jesus did, This sinful world as it is, Not as I would have it, Trusting that You will make all things right,
If I surrender to Your will, So that I may be reasonably happy in this life, And supremely happy with You forever in the next. Amen.
5 Serenity Prayer Principles in the Bible
The Serenity Prayer is a petition to God asking for calmness and peace in all matters of life. It asks for strength and courage to alter the matters within a person’s control and for acceptance in matters which cannot be changed. Ultimately, the prayer requests the ability to identify which circumstances are amenable to change.
1. God directs us.
Proverbs 20:24 teaches us, “A person’s steps are directed by the LORD. How then can anyone understand their own way?”
God’s righteousness and providence controls a person’s paths, steps, and directions. The believer must accept His direction and influence before inner-calmness and peace can be experienced.
2. There are some things we cannot change.
Titus 3:9 teaches us to “avoid foolish questions, and genealogies, and contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and vain.”
Man does not have the ability to change his family tree, science, or factual history. Debating and questioning factual matters are of no helpful consequence and only results in confusion and unrest.
3. We need God’s help to discern wisely.
In Matthew 16:3, it is written, “[a]nd in the morning, ‘Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times.”
From this scripture, we are told it is easy to observe what is readily visible by the eye, but the meaning behind what’s obvious is not always understood. The weather cannot be altered regardless of human attempts to control it. However, one can prepare and make decisions based on clear objective observations.
4. The power to overcome sin comes from God.
“Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness. For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace” (Romans 6:12-14).
The person without the Holy Spirit (the unbeliever) may believe the lie that they are hopelessly unable to control the urges to abuse alcohol because of a genetic predisposition for substance abuse.
The believer with the Holy Spirit would agree that one cannot control sinful urges within their own strength and power (Hebrews 2:17-18). The believer realizes the power to overcome sinful desires of the flesh is only by and through the Spirit of God (Romans 8:12-13).
5. We must surrender to God’s good ways, not continue in our sinful ways.
The Serenity Prayer is in agreement that the ways and desires of men and those of God do not always match.
The prophet Isaiah in 55:8-9, boldly declares “[f]or my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
The Serenity Prayer in Alcoholics Anonymous
The recovery group, Alcoholics Anonymous, incorporates the abridged form of the Serenity Prayer in its 12-step program, viewing the road to full recovery as a spiritual journey. The prayer provides spiritual encouragement to willing participants by breaking down each essential step to recovery. The first being acceptance.
Upon joining Alcoholics Anonymous, the participant accepts the negative presence and power that alcohol has in her or her life. Any damage or harm that has been done in the alcoholic’s life up to the present point cannot be altered or amended. The prayer requests the wisdom to determine what can be changed and what cannot be altered. This knowledge and application force the participant to realize he or she cannot control the urges or the effects of alcohol on his or her body but has the power to control the act of consuming alcoholic beverages in excess or placing oneself in places or circumstances detrimental to sobriety.
Chad is a believer in Christ, attorney at law, wannabe golfer, runner, dog lover, and writer. He enjoys serving his church as a deacon and Sunday School teacher. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, and at his golf devotion par3sixteen.com. He and his wife Brandi reside in Tennessee with their canine son Alistair.
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This article is part of Christianity.com's prayer answers including famous, topical prayers and information about the power of prayer. Find more related articles in the collection of prayers below:
The Serenity Prayer, The Lord's Prayer, Morning Prayers, Prayers for Healing, Thanksgiving Prayers, Advent Prayers, Christmas Prayers, Prayers for Peace, Prayers for Protection, Prayers for Strength, Praying in the Spirit.