Thursday, January 2, 2014

What the World Needs Now Is . . . Serenity?

Could anything be more peaceful, more serene than a quiet
pond on a warm day with a gentle breeze passing by?

A new year has begun, but if you could give the world a belated Christmas gift, what would it be? How about…serenity?

It seems the world around us offers anything but serenity. Violence, wars, crime and terrorism command the headlines most days. Predictions of economic disaster worry us. We’ve lost trust in our government leaders to do the right thing. Extreme weather and the threat of natural disasters keep us unsettled. The fear of receiving bad news, such as having loved ones encounter grave diseases or tragic accidents, keeps us in a state of anxiety. Even positives in life – cell phones, social media, the Internet, incessant news and talk – are enough to disturb the peace in our lives.

It’s gotten to the point where if you say the word, “serenity,” we wonder, “What in the heck is that?” Is it reclining in a field surrounded by flowers on a warm, sunny day with a gentle breeze brushing our face? Sitting in our favorite chair with an engrossing book without the constant clamor of TV in the background? Having a pleasant conversation with a friend without the risk of emotions boiling over into a heated argument? Or listening to a symphony, its familiar melodies and harmonies, pauses and crescendos calming our minds and touching our hearts?

Most of us are familiar with the so-called “Serenity Prayer” used by organizations like Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage the change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.” I like how it starts: “God.” Try as we might, I’m convinced true, lasting peace isn’t possible apart from God.

Yes, we can easily find distractions or choose to ignore the chaos surrounding us. But serenity – the “peace that passes all understanding,” as Philippians 4:7 describes it – can only be found in a sovereign God who rules and overrules our circumstances and the troubling issues we confront every day.

Thinking about the Serenity Prayer, which originally was an untitled prayer by American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, did you know there’s more to his prayerful reflection? It continues:

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;
That I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with Him

Forever in the next.

So in Niebuhr’s view, serenity is more than being able to distinguish between what we can change and what we cannot. It’s cultivating the capacity to live a day at a time, a moment at a time. It’s accepting the hard times in life as well as the easy ones.

It’s seeking to see this broken world as God sees it, rather than the way we’d like it to be, trusting He’s busily at work to redeem and reconcile His people and His creation to His original design. And it’s being able to look past this life, holding great anticipation for the life to come.

Shortly before going to the cross as the atoning sacrifice for the sins of mankind, Jesus voiced these words of encouragement to His followers: Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27).

If we can believe that promise, living and acting according to it, we’ll discover serenity isn’t as far from our grasp as we suspected.

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