Serenity Prayer in a Psalm

Reinhold Niebuhr (1892 – 1971)

Psalm 54 (Proper 20)

One of my favorite and frequently recited prayers is the Serenity Prayer. It’s the prayer recited by members of Alcoholics Anonymous but written by 20th century theologian Reinhold Niebuhr (a name I find notoriously hard to spell). The theology of the Serenity Prayer is of one accord with the theology of this Psalm: God will save us and vindicate us if we continue to trust in him. The Serenity Prayer ends, “. . . trusting that you will make things right if I surrender to your will, so that I may reasonably happy in this life, and supremely happy with you forever in the next.”So says David in this Psalm even amidst the desperate circumstances in which he finds himself.

I’m part of a small “Life Transformation Group” at work. We meet once every two weeks over lunch to read Scripture together, hold one another spiritually accountable, and pray for unchurched co-workers. I’ve started bringing to this group passages that I’m going to blog on to see what observations, questions, and applications arise. What follows are some of the observations two of us made at this week’s meeting with a few additional comments sprinkled in.

In Psalm 54, part of the time David is speaking to God and part of the time he’s probably just speaking to himself. The Psalm’s introduction notes that it was written while David was hiding among the Ziphites, who had apparently gone to Saul to rat him out. These superscriptions are now considered part of the inspired biblical text (by those believing in inspiration) and were presumably added by an editor after the Psalm itself was composed. (Even editors can be inspired!).

In speaking to God David prays some very wise and appropriate things. For example, he says, “Save me, O God, by your name” (v. 1). How important it is for us to remember that we are totally unable to save ourselves from the predicaments of our lives: only God can do this. How important for us to remember too that the way God will do this is by his name. David’s prayer anticipates the promise of Jesus made to his followers (John 14:12-14):

12 I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. 14 You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.

Yet while speaking to God in this Psalm David also spends a good amount of time talking to himself. Psychologists talk about the importance of engaging in positive self-talk. Herein one finds possible biblical justification for this idea. David’s self-talk is not only positive, but more importantly, true. “Strangers are attacking me (v.3), (but) he has delivered me from all my troubles, and my eyes have looked in triumph on my foes.” Oh for more of us to have this sense of indomitable victory and to have it more consistently.What predicament are you facing today that God hasn’t already delivered you from through the death of his Son on a cross on your behalf?

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