Reinhold Niebuhr was pastor of Bethel Church in Detroit during the time between two devastating World Wars. He had the habit of writing eloquent prayers to accompany his sermons. One has endured as part of our spiritual consciousness: “God, give us grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, courage to change the things that should be changed, and the wisdom to distinguish one from the other.” This prayer can be found on coffee mugs, wall art, and is recited at addiction recovery meetings. It gained traction because it wasn’t just a prayer for struggling people; it was the prayer of a person struggling to do what the psalmist said: “Surrender yourself to the Lord, and wait patiently for him. Do not be preoccupied with an evildoer who succeeds in his way when he carries out his schemes” (Psalm 37:7 GW).
I wish we could get the juice for serenity loaded into our annual flu shot. I wish we could be immunized against despair and strengthened for our duty to be Christian activists in a scary world. It’s not easy to overcome evildoers. We don’t want to enable them by sitting on our hands. A broken world demands more from us than a perfect one would. Where is the peace that surpasses understanding? Do we work hard to make the world a better place, or do we just accept it as it is? Following Jesus gives us wisdom to distinguish one from the other.