The Wisdom Challenge
Stephen Marshall

Stephen is a communicator of God’s Goodness and helping people to “Think Strong to Live Strong.” He is a prolific Author-Speaker-Award winning songwriter and Pastor. Stephen’s message on the power of Joy and Honor is impacting people and churches with keys to move forward in God.

Stephen and his wife Pam have a mandate to deepen and strengthen the roots of Identity in Christ. It all starts with encouraging, helping, and advancing each person. When one person gets strong, their home is encouraged, their community around them is lifted, and God’s Kingdom principals are exalted. As Proverbs 10 says, that fills a city with Joy!

Stephen and Pam have started The Living Room online community where people from all over the world come together to Live Life Strong with daily and weekly LIFE TALKS and interactive times that build on the truth that “GOD SET’S PEOPLE IN FAMILIES.”

He recently felt his assignment was finished as associate pastor for 8 years at Mount Hope Church in Lansing, Michigan, and is now president of the global community outreach organization Sunshine Evangelistic Association.

From the marketplace to the battlefield, to the main stage, everyone still finds them self alone at some point with who they really are, and Stephen and Pam have a passion to bring strength and clarity to that moment of truth. Stephen loves to brag on God. Psalm 34 says, “My soul shall boast in the Lord, the humble shall hear thereof and be glad.”

People who take seriously God’s call on their lives absolutely love being encouraged by magnifying the powerful, loving, wonderful, and amazing plans God the Father has for them. Stephen says, “What you look at and listen to determines what you believe…what you believe masters your choices… your choices are the sum painting of your life.”

Stephen and Pam are passionate about helping and encouraging people to feel covered with God’s message that provides answers that help pull out the thorns of wrong thinking and transforms belief systems into that genuine trust in God.

For more information and resources, please visit There’s no doubt about it—you’ve got a lot on your plate. There’s your family and all those loving, but complicated challenges. You’ve got your spiritual assignment, otherwise known as your ministry. There’s the culture around you, the economy, and oh yes, politics. Somehow, you’ve got to navigate those challenges. Then there’s the biggest concern of all—you. Amidst all these moving parts, concerns, and responsibilities, your life-stewardship quotient quietly insists that you grow and develop, not solely preach or teach, but actually come to fruition as the planting of the Lord.

When I was a boy I had a great uncle who seemed to me like he was over 100 years old. He’d been a lumberjack and was missing fingers here and there. I used to think that made him truly authentic, but now rethinking it, I’m starting to doubt if he was as good as I once thought he was (laugh). Anyway, he would ask me to chop wood for him whenever I got a chance to visit.

I remember my first time to the woodpile: shirt off in the hot July sun, huffing and puffing, feeling so discouraged as I managed to only ‘bruise’ the wood and not cut it. Uncle Lin came out, hunched over with a little stone in his hand. “Not doing too good, are you?” he said more sympathetically than critically, but it still made me feel frustrated. Don’t you just love it when people state the obvious? Nobody likes failing and I felt every inch like I was losing the fight with those logs.

He took the axe and with a quick examination of the edge, he spit on this little stone and began circling the blade on it. He started talking aimlessly about the weather and other unimportant things while this whole process droned on without effort. I was thinking, “If I’m going to get this pile of wood cut I need that axe back in my hands and he needs to just get out of the way. I know the next time I’ll get it!” Yup, youthful pride and stupidity at its best. I had it in spades! More effort is always the answer, I thought.

Let me interrupt my true story for a moment. Ecclesiastes 10:10 says, “If the iron [axe] is blunt and you do not whet the edge, it requires much strength; but with wisdom comes success [with less effort].” I love this verse because I have worked it, lived it, from the inside out. Just a side note here, but did you notice it’s not love or faith that whets the edge? It’s wisdom. Too many people give up on faith and love because they expected the results that only wisdom gives, and Wisdom (from God) is the principal thing. No substitutes.

So, Uncle Lin finishes sharpening the edge with the whet stone and some spit. He rolls up his sleeve and runs the blade of that once dull axe down his forearm and my eyes must have looked like they were going to pop out of my head! The hair on his arm seemed to be trying to get away from that razor-sharp edge. He left a six-inch swipe of naked, freshly shaved skin! I was suddenly in awe. He rolled a big ole hardwood log up on its end, lifted the axe over his hunched shoulder, and then with a slow-motion swing let the axe weakly fall on that stubborn looking stump and…wow! That thing split like a red-hot sword going through butter. The two halves seemed to violently jump away from each other.

With a satisfied look, he turned to me holding out the axe handle and said, “Now don’t hurt yourself.” His words kind of stung my youthful pride, but I was in such awe of the outcome I had just witnessed. I had a new-found respect for my elderly uncle, AND the hypnotic process that preceded that outcome.

Busyness has become the ‘new’ outcome, especially in ministry. There’s nothing wrong with numbers but we’ve substituted counting ‘bruises’ for actual ‘cut wood’. In the process, good people, good leaders are utterly exhausted. Instead of teaching how to harmonize love and faith with wisdom, there is a ‘nice’ doctrine that substitutes faith for wisdom, execution for outcome, and redefines love so it can function void of wisdom. Like the fella said, “So how’s that working for you?”

Colossians 2:7 makes it clear that we are to be rooted and built up in Him. We are called to be ever growing down and up at the same time. You see what I see here. The invisible part of your life is growing ever deeper, rooted in the virtue of Christ. The visible side of your life is ever increasing with real fruit. Not works, sermons, building projects, or numbers measured by your denomination, BUT you know, the whole love, joy, peace thing. The measurable that will actually matter 200 years from now is often in direct conflict with the urgent attention-grabbers of right now.

So how do we balance the eternal with the temporal? Let me ask you this: would you be okay with showing up to pray for someone with bad breath, body odor, and a few raggedy teeth hanging out of your head? Come on, you have to brush your teeth! We all need a little soap and water in life! I’m sure you’ve heard super-spiritual people use “faith” as an excuse to be a personal mess. Jesus instructed religious people in Matthew 6:16-18 to clean themselves up, put on a little cologne and smile when fasting. Yes, the Lord cares if you stink while in His service. Paul told Timothy in the first letter, chapter 4, that exercise does profit “a little.” This is not an instruction conveying “so don’t bother,” but rather it is an offer of wisdom to help you prioritize and steward your life.

So now if I may, let me state the obvious: going to God’s Word for a sermon is not the same as going to God’s Word for His Wisdom. The first is you telling others how to live, and the latter helps you live. The truth is, when you live it, then you lead it. That order is critical.

I’ve been teaching leaders for years how important it is to get the order straight because there is this unconscious leaning or propensity to want to put ‘B’ before ‘A.’ It’s the whole, “the end justifies the means” thing. In this case it sounds like, “if I can just have impressive enough ‘numbers’ it will be proof I’m the real deal!” You can’t successfully fake the fruit of the Spirit. You’ve either got love, joy, and peace or you don’t. Period. No condemnation my friend, but a true measurement optimizes your ability to respond to God’s help. Like me, you may feel frustrated and angry, but the Lord is setting you up to get sharpened for real results.

One of the most frightening things Jesus ever said is in Matthew 7:15-23. Jesus is instructing His disciples on discerning between those who are genuine and those who are wolves in sheep’s clothing. He makes this interesting conclusion about performance: “Many will say to Me, “Lord, Lord have we not prophesied in Your Name, cast out demons in Your Name, done many wonders in Your Name?” And then Jesus answers the performers by saying, “I never knew you, depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.” Look at those numbers! “Many wonders.” These are people that possibly have denominational success, media attention, etc. They’ve got impressive numbers and a ministry bio that’s just ‘rockin’! Yet Jesus classifies them as lawless, and false prophets. Why lawless? Christ is made Wisdom unto us, and Wisdom is the principal thing.

Let’s cut to the chase. What will protect you, direct you, grow you, and therefore grow the authenticity of your leadership and influence? Wisdom. Hey, it’s still the principal thing (Proverbs 4:7). You can have wisdom without prayer, but you can’t have prayer without wisdom. You can have wisdom without worship, but you cannot have true worship without wisdom. Now if that just unsettled your theology or even intrigued you, take the WISDOM challenge.

My wife Pam and I have been encouraging leaders, believers and nonbelievers to take the Wisdom challenge. Submerse yourself in God’s Wisdom consistently and persistently for a length of 31 days. See what God can do, and will do for you; not what you do, other than submitting yourself to His Wisdom. Cast the care of all your numbers over on Him and be focused on one thing: His Wisdom quotient increasing in your life. Sure, maybe in our wood-cutting story faith and love make up the axe, but there’s no doubt about it, WISDOM sharpens it.

Come on. You must be exhausted from smashing your faith and love down with all your heart, and no outcome? Stop. Rest. Pull out the stone of His Wisdom and take the challenge. Submit your blade and whet the edge. Abraham Lincoln once said, “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” Honest Abe knew it wasn’t just an exercise in pure brute effort that led to success. Success is assured when applying Wisdom is the first step taken.

Write down three things that have to, must change in your life. Maybe it’s a healing for you or a family member. Many in ministry have financial needs that impair their influence and reach. Sadly, too many in ministry have dysfunctional and hurting marriages that just scream for some love, joy and peace. Take the Wisdom Challenge my friend. If you need some further encouragement go to our website and find our podcast on the Wisdom Challenge. It works! It really, really works. God’s Wisdom is for so much more then sermon preparation. It’s got tangible rewards inherent to the possessor of God’s precious gift. Stop making a doctrine out of your suffering and glorify Jesus’ suffering by accepting His Wisdom. You don’t just sharpen your axe once. It’s a regular thing. Come back to the stone and whet the edge my friend. Wisdom Challenge accepted?