Let me start this blog with a confession. I am writing this as much to myself as to you. I am struggling to find God’s promised “peace that passes all understanding.” I am fighting a spirit of discouragement over the affairs of our world. I am trying to find my place, my voice, and my role in the cultural collapse we are witnessing.
Borrowing from a ‘Seinfeld’ episode, I want serenity and I want it now.
I think we may all be searching for ways to rise above the current chaos and know our role in the midst of it. My search led me to a familiar quote. I admit I have too easily overlooked it for its familiarity. In around 1923, German theologian Reinhold Niebuhr penned this prayer:
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.
These three short phrases are loaded with challenge and encouragement for these times. Here’s a quick look at each.
The first line reminds us of all that we cannot change, of how much of what happens in our world is outside our control. Given the bizarre circumstances of the last few months in our country, perhaps we don’t need to be reminded of how much seems beyond us. Yet there is a gnawing anxiety that can overwhelm us if we allow the chaos and cultural dysphoria to dominate our thoughts and charge our emotions.
How much anger, anxiety and discouragement have you experienced while watching the news, checking posts on social media or even talking to friends and relatives? Pharmaceutical companies are recording record sales of anti-depressants, anti-anxiety and insomnia drugs. Surveys uncover a nation at the tipping point of fear and frustration. It seems that confusion and deception are having their day and there is little hope of stopping them.
How do we, as followers of Jesus, respond? If Niebuhr is right, we must not only recognize the things we cannot change, but we must accept that we are powerless to change them. We must consciously concede that there is a realm of reality that will always be beyond our reach.
But that’s not the hard part. Niebuhr’s prayer is that the product of our acquiescence is serenity. He is right to put this as a petition to God, because only with God’s help can we even consider such a thing. At the core of this prayer is an assumption about our trust in God. It’s not enough to acknowledge that we are not in control. We are to find peace in that confession, and that requires an unequivocal trust that our God reigns.
That really is the question here. Do we believe, do we really believe that God is sovereign, that He reigns supreme over all that is happening in the world? Do we rest secure that wherever we find ourselves with no power to affect change, God is more than enough to handle it? Is God great enough in our faith that we can actually find serenity in the recognition that so much of the madness we see around us has not and will not escape His providential hand? Do we rest in the certainty that His will is being done on earth as it is in heaven?
The enemy wants to keep us in a perpetual state of anxiousness, anger and fear. He does so first by not letting us gain perspective about the things we cannot change. Should we once attain such a vantage point, he moves in to erode our faith. Instead of serenity we have resignation, in place of peace we have despair.
Where are you today? Can you accept the things you cannot change, be set free from their bondage and find peace in an absolute trust in God to handle it all?
The second line challenges us to engage where God has called us and step out in faith. To move with courage where He has opened the door. There is much we can change through the power of the Holy Spirit. However, two things keep us from being used by God to affect such a change. The first is our preoccupation with all we cannot change. If we allow ourselves to be pulled down by what only God can do, we will have little left to be His hands and feet in those campaigns where He has uniquely called and gifted us to bring about change. The second is the cynicism that relegates every good-intentioned act to the ash heap of futility. “Why even try?” “What can I do?” We are defeated before we start unless we proclaim with Paul that Christ’s power is made perfect in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).
Here is the truth that Niebuhr relied on for his prayer. You were born, prepared, called and equipped for this very moment in our nation’s history. You were placed in your role to affect change at this precise time, to be salt and light, to proclaim the good news of the kingdom and to work for justice and peace. God put you here to affect the changes He envisioned to bring about through your life and leadership. How are you identifying those opportunities and stepping into them with faith?
Finally, Niebuhr’s prayer is for wisdom, a prayer God loves to answer. The master of confusion is deceiving so many in our culture and within the church. It’s time for us as faithful stewards to pray daily for God’s guidance and the Spirit’s discernment that we might consider the problems faced by our nation and know the difference between God’s providential work and our specific calling.
I encourage you to begin praying this prayer every morning. Let God release you from the anxiety and fear of the preoccupation with so much of what you cannot change. Let Him confirm your calling to engage fully in changing the things you can. And look to the Holy Spirit for the wisdom to discern between the two, that your energy and passion may be focused in the right places, in pursuit of the right issues and looking to God’s power to work in and through you to advance His kingdom for His glory.