Prayer For A Greater Serenity Of Heart
The Serenity Prayer
“God, grant me the serenity…” You may have heard the Serenity Prayer while attending a 12-Step meeting as a member or guest, or watching a movie or TV show with a representation of one.
Recited by people of faith and seekers a, the Serenity Prayer is part of our culture. This is due in large part to its adoption by Alcoholics Anonymous, from there spilling over into many recovery and self-improvement activities.
Its genius is its brevity — how it says so much that is important in so few words.
But it can also become meaningless through repetition. So I want to share this wonderful spiritual tool with those who don’t know it, and encourage those who say it regularly to take a moment and look at it fresh. If you can follow this prayer, you are a long way towards living rightly.
I’ll go through the prayer line by line, but first a brief background. As is so often the case with spiritual sayings and prayers, the origins of the Serenity Prayer are slightly clouded. An early A.A. member saw it, unattributed, in a newspaper obituary, brought it to other early members and it spread from there.
Later, it was determined pretty solidly that it came from American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr. Niebuhr himself told a reporter humbly that while he believed he wrote it, it was possible that he’d picked it up from something older.
Once adopted by A.A. and printed along with the Lord’s Prayer and the St. Francis Prayer as an aid to members, it has since been used by church organizations throughout the world, and even distributed to soldiers by the U.S. military.
Now, let’s take a look at it:
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.
God grant me
The Serenity Prayer is unequivocal in its first few words: the serenity and courage we seek comes as a gift from God. (Niebuhr’s original version said “God, give us grace to accept with serenity…”) The bottom line is that rather than seeking to control our life in such a way as to have serenity and courage, we admit our powerlessness and humbly ask for the tools and guidance we need.
The serenity to accept the things I cannot change
To have serenity means to be in an untroubled state. It is derived from a term that means clear skies — and this meaning survives in the phrase, “not a cloud on the horizon.
” This line in the Serenity Prayer is interesting because to accept the things I cannot change will help me experience serenity, and to begin with serenity will help me to accept of things that I cannot change.
So serenity and acceptance can feed each other in an upward spiral, while conversely, to be unaccepting and troubled can feed into each other in a downward spiral.
The concept of radical acceptance is the most important part of the Serenity Prayer because it is the most needed. In our self-help narcissistic culture, we are rarely encouraged to stop striving and fighting but, rather, to accept limits.Things are the way they are and we cannot change this. We can work towards making things better, but we must start by accepting this moment as it is. Also, there are many things in this world that are not within our power to change, ever. We can either accept them, or struggle against them.
For example, if there’s a person at your job who is a real jerk, your being unaccepting of this fact won’t help. He’s around (assuming you don’t have the power to fire him.) Trying to change him is almost certain to fail, and will ly make the situation worse. Your best approach is to accept that he is the way he is, and work from there.
You might decide to avoid him, laugh his behavior off, leave the job, or pray for him because of the suffering he is ly experiencing that he externalizes as being a jerk. Those are all valid responses. But they all start with accepting that he is the way he is right now.
Other things that aren’t in our power to change: death, disease, global imbalance of resources. You get the idea.
Courage to change the things I can
The most misunderstood thing about the Serenity Prayer is that it’s not just about serenity. The name doesn’t help. Too often people use the Serenity Prayer and the concept of acceptance as excuses to avoid action when action is called for. But the prayer gives equal weight to challenging us to change the things we can.
It’s all well and good to say we should live in the now and accept God’s plan as it unfolds, but that doesn’t mean we should be passive. Using the metaphor of the stream of life, there are times to watch the water flow by, and there are times to row the boat. We have to decide which is called for, and the right answer will vary depending on the situation.
In the beatitudes, Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers.” Rick Warren points out:
“Notice Jesus didn’t say, ‘Blessed are the peace lovers,’ because everyone loves peace. Neither did he say, ‘Blessed are the peaceable,’ who are never disturbed by anything. Jesus said, Blessed are those who work for peace — those who actively seek to resolve conflict.” (The Purpose Driven Life, p153)
Once we accept things as they are in this moment, we may be called to action, and when there is action to be taken, or a choice to be made, let us be courageous. Let us do what we know is right, step into the unknown in faith, be brave in standing up for what we believe in.
And, closer to home, change can mean improving our diet, abstaining from drinking, sticking up for ourselves, and dozens of little actions throughout our day.
And wisdom to know the difference
When I’m working with people who are struggling to navigate acceptance and action, the tricky bit is knowing which things you can and should change and which you can’t and shouldn’t try to. Discernment. You already know the answer. Your vision might be so clouded (unserene) that you can’t discern it at the moment, but deep down you know.
Tenth-century monk and favorite of contemplatives, Symeon the New Theologian, used the phrase “serenity of the heart” and said it’s the result of Jesus’s command in Luke 12:31 to seek the Kingdom of God above all else.
He said that by guarding the heart from worldly attachments one can achieve something which is translated, interestingly, as “sobriety.”The way to clear up the cloudiness (lack of serenity) that makes it hard to discern what we can and cannot change is to connect with Truth — to seek the Kingdom of God. This is the spiritual journey.
We must do what we can to make conscious contact with God, and then to sustain that contact on a daily basis.
My patron saint, Augustine said, “Love, and do what you will” — the goal is not to use our willpower to figure out what to do; the goal is to align ourselves with, ground ourselves in, God’s Love. This will give us “wisdom to know the difference.”
If you don’t already use the Serenity Prayer, try it out. Let me know what you think of it. If you do, share your experience — what has it done in your life? Share your thoughts and experiences below in comments.
Serenity Prayer – Applying 3 Truths from the Bible
One of the most popular prayers today is known as the Serenity Prayer. Written by Reinhold Neibuhr (1892-1971), the prayer was widely used in sermons and Sunday school groups and studies. In the early 40s, the group Alcoholics Anonymous began to use a shortened version of the Serenity Prayer in their twelve step program.
Serenity Prayer – Full Version (composed in 1940s)
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.
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; So that I may be reasonably happy in this life And supremely happy with Him Forever and ever in the next.
God grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, the courage to change the things we can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.
3 Biblical Truths We Can Apply to the Serenity Prayer
1. “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.”
When life feels control, it’s easy to try to work harder at controlling everything and everyone around us! Some of us do the opposite and just throw our hands up and give up on the situation or person. Whichever extreme you go to, peace and serenity continues to move further from your life.
Accepting and submitting to God’s control and plan for your life is the only way to find peace in situations you cannot control or change. We may not always know God’s plan but we can let go of trying to orchestrate and manipulate events and people and let God work through us. God promises a supernatural peace when we bring our worries and concerns to Him in prayer.
“And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” – Philippians 4:7
“Be still and know that I am God!” – Psalms 46:10
2. “the courage to change the things I can,”
If you have accepted Jesus Christ as your Savior, you have received the power of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is able to supply you with the courage to follow and act upon God’s plan for your life. Instead of fearfully ignoring hard decisions or running from what seems too difficult, we can call upon the power of God for courage to move forward into the full life He has planned for us.
“For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.” – 2 Timothy 1:7
“Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. – Proverbs 3:5-6
3. “and, the wisdom to know the difference.”
Wisdom is a gift that God promises to give to those who ask for it! You can grow in wisdom each day and make better decisions as you spend time reading the Bible and communicating with God through prayer. God will tell you, through his Word or answers in prayer, when to accept things and when to take courage to change them.
“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” – James 1:5
“and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” – 2 Timothy 3:15-17
Adapted from: Single Moms & the Serenity Prayer by Donna Stanger
Share how the Serenity Prayer has encouraged you and how our large community can pray for courage for you in the comments below!
This article is part of our larger Prayers resource meant to inspire and encourage your prayer life when you face uncertain times. Visit our most popular prayers if you are wondering how to pray or what to pray. Remember, the Holy Spirit intercedes for us and God knows your heart even if you can't find the words to pray.
Prayer for Healing
Prayer for Strength
Prayer for Protection
Good Night Prayers
The Prayer of Jabez
The Lord's Prayer
The Prayer of St Francis
A Birthday Prayer
Prayer for Forgiveness
Prayer for Guidance
Irish Prayers and Blessings
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10 Great Prayers For Courage
There are many great prayers in the Bible that can be read and studied to help you know how to pray for strength. Though one of the stories mentioned below doesn’t contain the text of the prayer the Bible says that they prayed and God heard them.
Do you find yourself in need of courage for situations that come up in your life? Praying and asking God for courage is the first place you should turn.
Read through these ten prayers for courage and let us know in the comments your favorite
Praying and asking God for courage is the first place you should turn.
Jacob When Meeting Esau – Genesis 32
When Jacob was returning to meet Esau after running away several years earlier, he was more than a little scared. He had tricked Esau and fled for his life. As he returned he heard that Esau was looking for him with 400 men at his side. Jacob prayed to God for courage.
Genesis 32:9-12 “And Jacob said, O God of my father Abraham, and God of my father Isaac, the LORD which saidst unto me, Return unto thy country, and to thy kindred, and I will deal well with thee: I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies, and of all the truth, which thou hast shewed unto thy servant; for with my staff I passed over this Jordan; and now I am become two bands. Deliver me, I pray thee, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau: for I fear him, lest he will come and smite me, and the mother with the children. And thou saidst, I will surely do thee good, and make thy seed as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude.”
Hezekiah’s Prayer – 2 Kings 19
A group of kings was preparing to do battle with King Hezekiah and the Israelites. They were kings who had wiped out whole nations. When Hezekiah received the message that Israel was to be invaded, he prayed the following courage prayer.
2 Kings 19:15-19 “And Hezekiah prayed before the LORD, and said, O LORD God of Israel, which dwellest between the cherubims, thou art the God, even thou alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth; thou hast made heaven and earth. LORD, bow down thine ear, and hear: open, LORD, thine eyes, and see: and hear the words of Sennacherib, which hath sent him to reproach the living God.
Of a truth, LORD, the kings of Assyria have destroyed the nations and their lands, And have cast their gods into the fire: for they were no gods, but the work of men’s hands, wood and stone: therefore they have destroyed them. Now therefore, O LORD our God, I beseech thee, save thou us his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that thou art the LORD God, even thou only.
Gideon – Judges 6
Gideon was chosen by God to lead a small army to defeat the Midianites. Through a series of prayers by Gideon and proofs by God, Gideon gained the courage he needed to lead the men.
Here is one exchange between Gideon and the messenger of God. Gideon said he was not brave enough to do the job, but he trusted in the God who promised to lead Israel.
Judges 6:13-16 “And Gideon said unto him, Oh my Lord, if the LORD be with us, why then is all this befallen us? and where be all his miracles which our fathers told us of, saying, Did not the LORD bring us up from Egypt? but now the LORD hath forsaken us, and delivered us into the hands of the Midianites.And the LORD looked upon him, and said, Go in this thy might, and thou shalt save Israel from the hand of the Midianites: have not I sent thee?
And he said unto him, Oh my Lord, wherewith shall I save Israel? behold, my family is poor in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house.
And the LORD said unto him, Surely I will be with thee, and thou shalt smite the Midianites as one man.”
Asa Prayed for Victory – 2 Chronicles 14
After the 12 tribes of Israel were divided into the Northern and Southern Kingdoms (Israel and Judah respectively), there came a king in the south named Asa. He was a descendant of David and Solomon. An Ethiopian ruler by the name of Zerah came to fight against God’s people. Asa asked God for courage and for a victory in the battle.
2 Chronicles 14:11 “And Asa cried unto the LORD his God, and said, LORD, it is nothing with thee to help, whether with many, or with them that have no power: help us, O LORD our God; for we rest on thee, and in thy name we go against this multitude. O LORD, thou art our God; let no man prevail against thee.”
Prayers For Courage From the Psalms
Psalm23 “The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.”
Psalm 27 “The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? the LORD is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?When the wicked, even mine enemies and my foes, came upon me to eat up my flesh, they stumbled and fell.
Though an host should encamp against me, my heart shall not fear: though war should rise against me, in this will I be confident.One thing have I desired of the LORD, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to enquire in his temple.
For in the time of trouble he shall hide me in his pavilion: in the secret of his tabernacle shall he hide me; he shall set me up upon a rock.And now shall mine head be lifted up above mine enemies round about me: therefore will I offer in his tabernacle sacrifices of joy; I will sing, yea, I will sing praises unto the LORD.
Hear, O LORD, when I cry with my voice: have mercy also upon me, and answer me.When thou saidst, Seek ye my face; my heart said unto thee, Thy face, LORD, will I seek.Hide not thy face far from me; put not thy servant away in anger: thou hast been my help; leave me not, neither forsake me, O God of my salvation.
When my father and my mother forsake me, then the LORD will take me up.Teach me thy way, O LORD, and lead me in a plain path, because of mine enemies.Deliver me not over unto the will of mine enemies: for false witnesses are risen up against me, and such as breathe out cruelty.
I had fainted, unless I had believed to see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living.
Wait on the LORD: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the LORD.”
Psalm 31“In thee, O LORD, do I put my trust; let me never be ashamed: deliver me in thy righteousness.Bow down thine ear to me; deliver me speedily: be thou my strong rock, for an house of defence to save me.For thou art my rock and my fortress; therefore for thy name’s sake lead me, and guide me.
Pull me the net that they have laid privily for me: for thou art my strength.Into thine hand I commit my spirit: thou hast redeemed me, O LORD God of truth.I have hated them that regard lying vanities: but I trust in the LORD.I will be glad and rejoice in thy mercy: for thou hast considered my trouble; thou hast known my soul in adversities;And hast not shut me up into the hand of the enemy: thou hast set my feet in a large room.Have mercy upon me, O LORD, for I am in trouble: mine eye is consumed with grief, yea, my soul and my belly.
For my life is spent with grief, and my years with sighing: my strength faileth because of mine iniquity, and my bones are consumed.I was a reproach among all mine enemies, but especially among my neighbours, and a fear to mine acquaintance: they that did see me without fled from me.I am forgotten as a dead man mind: I am a broken vessel.
For I have heard the slander of many: fear was on every side: while they took counsel together against me, they devised to take away my life.But I trusted in thee, O LORD: I said, Thou art my God.My times are in thy hand: deliver me from the hand of mine enemies, and from them that persecute me.
Make thy face to shine upon thy servant: save me for thy mercies’ sake.Let me not be ashamed, O LORD; for I have called upon thee: let the wicked be ashamed, and let them be silent in the grave.Let the lying lips be put to silence; which speak grievous things proudly and contemptuously against the righteous.
Oh how great is thy goodness, which thou hast laid up for them that fear thee; which thou hast wrought for them that trust in thee before the sons of men!Thou shalt hide them in the secret of thy presence from the pride of man: thou shalt keep them secretly in a pavilion from the strife of tongues.
Blessed be the LORD: for he hath shewed me his marvellous kindness in a strong city.For I said in my haste, I am cut off from before thine eyes: nevertheless thou heardest the voice of my supplications when I cried unto thee.O love the LORD, all ye his saints: for the LORD preserveth the faithful, and plentifully rewardeth the proud doer.
Be of good courage, and he shall strengthen your heart, all ye that hope in the LORD.”
Micah’s Prayer – Micah 7
Part of Micah’s prophecy (which was to warn the nation of Israel of coming judgment) was a prayer to God asking for protection and courage to face the enemy.
Micah 7:7, 8 “Therefore I will look unto the LORD; I will wait for the God of my salvation: my God will hear me. Rejoice not against me, O mine enemy: when I fall, I shall arise; when I sit in darkness, the LORD shall be a light unto me.”
Peter’s Prayer for Boldness – Acts 4
When Peter and the other disciples were on trial in Acts 4 they boldly proclaimed the Gospel. At the end of his sermon, Peter still prayed for courage and boldness to continue to preach God’s Word. When they finished praying the Bible says that the place was shaken and the Holy Ghost came upon them with power and they were able to boldly preach as they had prayed.
Acts 4:29-31 “And now, Lord, behold their threatenings: and grant unto thy servants, that with all boldness they may speak thy word, By stretching forth thine hand to heal; and that signs and wonders may be done by the name of thy holy child Jesus. And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spake the word of God with boldness.”
The Serenity Prayer
A well-known prayer called the Serenity Prayer talks about having courage to make wise choices and act upon them.
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.
Were these prayers for courage helpful? If so, you might also enjoy reading this one:
20 Bible Verses About Courage
The Holy Bible, King James Version (KJV)
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as: Prayers for Courage, Serenity Prayer
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