“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”
You will probably recognize this as the Serenity Prayer. Reinhold Niebuhr wrote it (which is longer than the four-line stanza above) in the 1930s and it was quickly borrowed for use in sermons across the country. And for good reason! It is a simple, beautiful, and honest prayer that reflects well the tug of war that Christians tend to feel so much tension about. How much control does God have, how much control do we have, and how are we called to pray about the future?
I don’t think the church knows what to do with these questions. Still. After hundreds of years of faith and theology and sermons. We are fighting over how much control we think we have, how much control we think God wants us to have, how much control we have a right to exert, and whether or not God blesses any of it. We are, quite frankly, control-freak messes. And do you want to know what makes it even more confusing? Depending on where you look in scripture you can find support for both ends of the spectrum! If you cling tightly to the old “let go and let God” adage, or if you are a sign-holding justice fighter, our faith tradition as well as scripture supports you. Isaiah 42 promotes that Zion will be the bringers of righteousness to the land, that the actions of the people will “faithfully bring forth justice”, lending support to the camp of Christians who believe that it is their duty to work for social justice in our world today. And yet in Matthew 6, we find beautiful words of consolation to not worry about tomorrow and to let tomorrow worry about itself. So where do we set camp? Who is right? Because after all, someone must be doing it “right” so that the others can be clearly labeled “wrong”…right?
Here’s what I have found and here is what I will tell you. Nowhere, in all my study, have I found support for passivity. “The Lord is on my side to help me; I shall look in triumph on those who hate me” Psalm 118:7. “Be strong and bold; have no fear or dread of them, because it is the Lord your God who goes with you; He will not fail you or forsake you” Deuteronomy 31:6. Even in Mark 5:36 where Jesus says to the leader of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe” He is asking for some action. Belief is an action. Prayer is an action. Service is action. And social activism is most certainly action. I think the point is that we recognize that certain times call for certain measures. Certain people are called to certain actions. And if the heart behind it is one of love, then who are we to say that someone is wrong? If in prayer and wisdom I seek to serve refugees while you serve locally in your child’s school, is one of us more Christian? Is one of us reading her Bible more correctly? Or if I am called to fervently pray over an issue while you are called to raise money for it, is one of us wrong? Everything I know about God requires me to say no, that neither of those things is wrong. The only thing that I truly believe would be wrong is turning away completely and taking a posture of apathy.
Will God always exert His all-consuming power to meet us in the places we think He should extend His hand? No, He won’t. But that doesn’t exempt us from working to bring justice to the world and to the people He loves. Not theologically, not spiritually, and not Biblically. And my friends, we are allowed to look different as we answer His call in our own unique ways. So the next time you see a friend comment on social media that he is attending a rally because God has so compelled his heart to stand for a certain issue, send him love and be on your way. And the next time I see a friend post that she is working with an organization to support a global crisis while I am working to support our troops here in the US, I will be thankful that God stirs our hearts toward different peoples in different places. Because in His name and in His perfect love, He goes with every one of us.