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The Serenity Prayer: Its Words, Story, and Meaning

serenity prayer

What is the Serenity Prayer?

One of the most popular prayers today is known as the Serenity Prayer. Written by Reinhold Neibuhr (1892-1971), this prayer was widely used in sermons and Sunday school groups, and studies. In the early 1940s, the group Alcoholics Anonymous began to use a shortened version of the Serenity Prayer in their twelve-step program. 

How often have you seen The Serenity Prayer on a card or on a magnet somewhere and simply read the inspirational words without taking a real firm grasp to its message? It's a powerful prayer and we truly need to believe in each phrase of it in order for it to enhance our lives. 

Serenity Prayer – Full Version (composed in the 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.

Shortened Version of the Serenity Prayer

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.

Who Wrote the Serenity Prayer and What Is Its History?

As stated previously, Reinhold Niebuhr is often the attributed author of the Serenity Prayer. It was composed sometime between 1932 and 1933 and grew highly popular in the 30s and 40s across church groups without proper attribution and recognition to Niebuhr. In 1943, Niebuhr used the prayer in a sermon at Heath Evangelical Union Church in Heath, Massachusetts. The serenity prayer first appeared in print as part of a sermon in the 1944 Book of Prayers and Services for the Armed Forces and was officially published by Niebuhr in 1951.

William Griffith Wilson, Alcoholics Anonymous co-founder, liked the prayer so much that he has it printed in its shortened form and distributed to members. The Serenity Prayer has been used in AA's 12 step program ever since. 

3 Biblical Truths We Can Apply to the Serenity Prayer

When we try to change things or people that we shouldn't, or can't, the chaos continues and serenity is the farthest component to our lives. True acceptance of God's plan and His purpose for your life will bring the serenity you seek.  Here are three truths from Scripture about peace and serenity that can be applied to the words of the Serenity Prayer.

1. "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change."

As the prayer acknowledges, when life feels out of 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 continue 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 transcendent 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 the courage to move forward into the full life He has planned for us. As the serenity prayer states, we can ask God for courage!

"Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” - Deuteronomy 31:6

"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. The Serenity prayer acknowledges that God is the ultimate source for wisdom.

“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

serenity prayer, lord grant me serenity

Adapted from: Single Moms & the Serenity Prayer by Donna Stanger
source: Serenity Prayer, Wikipedia
Photo credit: Jack Sharp/Unsplash

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This article is part of our prayer resource meant to inspire and encourage your prayer life when you face uncertain times. Remember, the Holy Spirit intercedes for us and God knows your heart even if you can't find the words to pray.

Prayers from the Bible to Guide Your Prayer Time
Types of Prayers We See in the Bible
What Is the Prayer of Jabez in the Bible?
How to Pray for Your Daily Bread
Prayers for Anxiousness

Related: Listen to our podcast, Teach Us to Pray with Christina Patterson. You can find all the episodes at Here's Episode 1: