The original opening to Reinhold Neibuhr’s “Serenity Prayer” (made famous by Alcoholics Anonymous) reads: “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.”
It isn’t Scripture, but it is wise. And it crystallizes a Biblical principle highlighted in Joshua chapters 18 and 19. They might seem pretty perfunctory in the surface, but there is something important here we don’t want to miss: How precise God is in assigning the boundaries of His people.
This principle is reiterated later by the Apostle Paul in Athens. In Paul’s address on Mars Hill in Acts 17 we read: “From one man he made every nation of the human race to inhabit the entire earth, determining their set times and the fixed limits of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope around for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us.” And if that is true for every human being – then how much more for His own, blood-bought ones?
Did you catch the idea? How it is that God has set certain fixed limits for all of us – with the intent that our very limitations would maximize our seeking after Him. And when it comes to those who are God’s people in Christ – the precision of those limitations is startling. And sometimes, we don’t like them.
So it is in Joshua, God set out specific boundaries for each tribe. They were to work, live and grow within those proscribed limits – as given to them by God as an inheritance. Not as a punishment. Not as a hindrance to their personal dreams, aspirations or desires. But as a gift from His hand. And I would argue that for the Believer, our Heavenly, loving, all-wise Father has been no less careful and gracious in setting our limits in life as a blessing, than He was with Israel’s tribal land grants.
So what kinds of divinely set limitations might we experience? Parentage. Physical abilities or dis-abilities. Challenges. The particular sins we battle. The people He surrounds us with. The circumstances in which we find ourselves – be they pleasant or not. The question is, will we see them all as from His hand, and respond to them as such, serenely receiving what we cannot or should not change, while courageously tackling what we can and should, as we look to Him both for the wisdom to know the difference, and the empowerment to do what is necessary?
We get an interesting example of this in chapter 14 where Ephraim and Manasseh complained to Joshua that they didn’t have enough room. In truth, they did, but they were unhappy that their allotment included a rough hill territory with some particularly fierce Canaanites to face. They wanted different land, not one that was going to be so hard to settle. But the answer was – no – God has given you what it takes, now go possess it. That was not to make light of the true dangers and battles they were going to have to face. The dangers and difficulties were real. But in God Providence, these were the difficulties He had assigned them. And He intended blessing in it, even if they could not (or would not) see it. They simply wanted something else. Something more pleasing. Less challenging. Something that wouldn’t require them to rise to an occasion they did not savor.
How many times I have been in that very place in life. And how many times I have spent more time complaining to God, and straining against the limits rather than seeing His hand – accepting what lines He has drawn, and responding to them in faith. Changing what I can and should, and yielding to His sovereignty in what I can’t. And looking more to Him in both. Convinced of His love, wisdom, promised provision and attendance to my needs.
Maybe you are not in the circumstances you would prefer today Christian. God has set before you some heartbreaking challenges. Painful, frustrating and draining things you have no power to alter for the better. Know for certain He intends your good in it. Draw closer to Him. And look to Him for His resources. Ask for wisdom and courage to act righteously in regard to the things where you might be able to make good change. But in it all, know that He has set the boundaries, and that He can be trusted. That He has your soul’s best interest at heart. Do not fear that somehow He has done you wrong, even if people have. That is the oldest and vilest of the Enemy’s lies. Rest assured, every hill, valley, mountain, forest, wasteland, coastland, and oasis has been carefully scrutinized and assigned, that you might seek Him – and in Him, find your true heart’s content.