top of page
  • Writer's picturePhil



The Original Version of the Serenity Prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971)

God, give us grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, Courage to change the things which should be changed, and the Wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.

Living one day at a time, Enjoying one moment at a time, Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace, Taking, as Jesus did, This sinful world as it is, Not as I would have it, Trusting that You will make all things right, If I surrender to Your will, So that I may be reasonably happy in this life, And supremely happy with You forever in the next.

This prayer was written around 1932 by Dr. Reinhold Niebuhr of the Union Theological Seminary, New York, which he used to finish a sermon. In 1934, Niebuhr's friend, Dr. Howard Robbins, asked permission to use a part of the longer prayer in a compilation of prayers he was publishing. The published prayer sounds more familiar: -

"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 the one from the other."

The prayer came to the attention of an early member of ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS in 1940. He read it in an obituary in the New York Herald Tribune, and liked it so much he brought it to the organisation.

The Serenity Prayer became more widely-known in the 1950s after it was adopted by Alcoholics Anonymous as an integral part of “The Twelve-Step Program.”. The prayer is used both in its longer form, but also in a shorter, memorable version for daily use:

"God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and (the) wisdom to know the difference."

"Living one day at a time", and other sentiments from the longer prayer made The Serenity Prayer a perfect "mantra" for those struggling with addiction, and makes a perfect "fit" for those who have a faith or none.

WHO WAS HE? Karl Paul Reinhold Niebuhr (1892–1971) was the son of Gustav and Lydia Niebuhr, who had emigrated to the United States at an early age from Germany. His Father was a Lutheran Minister, and Reinhold followed him into ministry. He was a liberal, both in his faith and in his politics.

His early political activities were influenced by his socialist convictions (he was a founder of the Fellowship of Socialist Christians), and he ran for office several times on the Socialist ticket. In the 1930s he broke with the Socialist Party over its pacifist or non-interventionist attitude in foreign policy, and in the 1940s he became a left-wing, anti-Communist Democrat. He was a founder and for a time chairman of the Americans for Democratic Action and he was vice chairman of the Liberal Party in the state of New York.

In the 1930s he was much influenced by Marxist theory, but he rejected Marxist absolutism and both the tactics of Communists in the United States and Stalinism in the Soviet Union. He was perhaps the first Christian theologian with ecumenical influence who developed a view of the relations between Christianity and Judaism that made it inappropriate for Christians to seek to convert Jews to their faith.

He did much to persuade Christian pacifists to support the war against Hitler. He himself had been a pacifist as a result of his revulsion after World War I, but during the 1930s he became the strongest theological opponent of pacifism, identifying himself with the resistance to Hitler within Germany, and after the war he had considerable influence with the policy planners in the U.S. State Department.

He married Ursula M. Keppel-Compton in 1931. His wife was herself a teacher of religion at Barnard College in New York City, and they worked closely together. After 1952 Niebuhr’s public activities were seriously limited as the result of a stroke, but he was able to continue much of his teaching and writing.

HIS LEGACY Niebuhr’s enormous influence on political thought, both inside and outside the church, caused someone to say of him that he was “the greatest living political philosopher of America.” Many contemporary Christians traced their conviction that Christianity makes sense to the influence of his preaching. He was not a specialized scholar in any field, including theology, but his broad learning and his original and incisive thought made him the subject of many theses and other scholarly writings, and he exercised influence on scholarship and thought in a variety of fields.

41 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


In our anxiety, fear and uncertainty, when hearts are heavy with the load we bear, and there is no one to turn toward but you; yours is the peace that calms, the peace that comforts, the peace th


bottom of page