By Dwight Lee Wolter.
Welcome to part three, the concluding part of this three part series on the Serenity Prayer. Today, we pray not only for the serenity to accept the change we cannot change and the courage to change the things we can, but also for “the wisdom to know the difference.”
Look around the world today. Do you see a whole lot of wisdom? Maybe wisdom is a thing of the past. Maybe the modern-day wise ones avoid the media, politics, and religious. Or maybe people are looking for wisdom in all the wrong places. Or maybe looking for wisdom isn’t a wise thing to do.
Wisdom isn’t simply deep intelligence, worldly knowledge, vast experience, or even compassionate understanding. You don’t get wisdom out of a textbook, not even the Bible. If you could, then everyone who read the Bible would be wise and that clearly is not so. “Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool,” it says in Proverbs. You don’t receive understanding from simply listening deeply to others; even if the ones you listen to are wise. Experience, like knowledge, in and of itself is not enough. Earthly wisdom is really not enough by itself either because as Paul says in 1 Corinthians, “the wisdom of this world is folly with God.” And it pains me deeply to say that you don’t receive wisdom by writing about wisdom either.
In a story from the Old Testament, Solomon became King of Israel. He could have asked God for many things but Solomon asked for wisdom (1 Kings 3:9) and God answered him, “Since you have asked for [wisdom] and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have you asked for the death of your enemies, but have asked for discernment in administering justice; [therefore] I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be.” Solomon’s wisdom became so greatly that people “came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon.”
In the New Testament, Jesus was said to be “full of wisdom” even as a young child. Later, Jesus taught in his hometown synagogue and people were astonished and said, “Where did this man get this wisdom and these mighty works?” (Matthew 13:54)… “something greater than Solomon is here” (Luke 11:31c).
So where does wisdom come from? True wisdom is found in praying and asking for it. All other ground is sinking sand. The Serenity Prayer could also be called the Acceptance Prayer; the Change Prayer; the Courage Prayer; and the Wisdom Prayer. This prayer reminds us that wisdom is, ultimately, a gift from God. The prayer petitions that God grant us the wisdom to know the difference between when we should accept the things we cannot change and changing the things we can.
And now, in the concluding part of this three-part series, let us hear the Serenity Prayer in its entirety, as written by Reinhold Niebuhr:
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;
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;
that I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
forever in the next.
Dwight Lee Wolter is pastor of The Congregational Church of Patchogue on Long Island, New York. He blogs at dwightleewolter.com.