Last Sunday, I talked about the Serenity Prayer. Actually, the first sentence of the Serenity Prayer:
“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
It is a very simple prayer at first glance. But, a closer look at the key words of that first sentence quickly reveals the complexities of this prayer.
Praying this first sentence requires a great deal of humility. I’m admitting I have a need: I need God to help me do something I cannot do. I’m asking for three things: peace, courage, and wisdom.
Which is more difficult for you: dealing with the reality that you cannot change something, or having the courage to change something you know you can change? While I have no research or data to prove this, I predict we find it more difficult to find the courage to change what we know we can change, or change what we know needs to change.
Last week, the church tribe I belong to (Church of God -- Anderson, Indiana) held its national convention in Wichita, Kansas. It was a fabulous gathering. Wonderful people. Powerful speakers. Amazing worship.
An important aspect of our gathering is conducting the business of the tribe, something we call the “general assembly.” I have great respect for those who lead us in our meetings. It is no easy task; think of an organization without requirements trying to agree on proposals that empower something or someone. While it is always handled in a very cordial and peaceful way, the frustrations run high. There are definite changes needed in our tribe.
But change is so hard; my tribe is having a tough time changing things that really need to change. I personally think we need to get back to the original idea that started us: empower the local church to boldly proclaim the love of Jesus to their communities and have a few national leaders who look for ways to support, encourage, and facilitate those efforts.
We are having difficulty deciding who exists for whom. Does the local church exist for headquarters, or does headquarters exist for the local church? Let me make clear that we have some of the brightest minds hard at work in navigating this moment for our church. These men and women are my friends, but I do not envy the task at hand.
As I sat in some of our meetings last week, it occurred to me that the real bottom line issue was the fear of change.
Why is change so hard? Fear.
Why do we have trouble finding the courage to change the things we can? Fear.
And, whether you are at the helm of a non-denominational movement, a local church, or simply wrestling with personal issues that must be addressed, change is difficult. We are afraid of change. We are afraid of who has power and how they get it.
Change is tough. It’s hard to have the “courage to change the things I can.” Ann Smith is among the most respected leaders in our entire tribe of churches. Her 92 years of life have taught her much and her great health allows her to keep sharing her wisdom to many people around the country. I am fortunate to be one of those people.
Last week, she handed me a typewritten list of 87 sentences that start with “What if…” Here are a few that caught my attention as I prepared to speak on the Serenity Prayer:
What if fear has the power to prevent me from making decisions that are in keeping with what I believe and who I am?
What if I could remember that even in circumstances over which I have no control I still hold in my hand the power to choose my attitude?
What if it is not my failures and weaknesses that hinder my growth and witness but pretending I don’t have any?
And that is exactly what we do when we are afraid to change what we know needs to be changed: we start pretending that we really don’t have anything that really needs changing.
There’s a sign in a wilderness area in Alaska that says, “Choose your rut carefully. You’ll be in it for the next 75 miles.” Why is it that we carefully choose our ruts, and then decorate them, paint them, furnish them, and enjoy them? Because there’s something far more predictable and comfortable about a rut than the unknown possibilities of change.
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.