After two and a half days of meeting with Volunteers of America colleagues from across the nation at our 2009 Winter Conference, I was asked to close the winter conference leading the group in prayer. Before I began praying, I commented that as I thought through the struggles of our economy, the struggles of individuals and families in even more need because of the economy, and the struggles of our Volunteers of America affiliates being asked to serve more people with fewer resources, I thought of two things. First, my grandparents and parents teaching us to always seek wisdom. Second, I thought of two scriptures that can almost seem to compete with each other.

Wisdom can teach us that what appears to be the right and obvious answer in the urgency of a situation, can in fact be wrong, even detrimental in the long run. But, how does one know? Experience. Wisdom.

One scripture that was one of my granddad's favorites, comes from the book of James:

Count it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance ... (James 1:2 NASB).

Why? Why in the pain and stress of ongoing trials, should one count it joy? The word joy, here, does not mean happiness, particularly the way we think of someone who is happy. (Although, one of my grandmothers did teach us grandkids that happiness is something you decide to be in spite of what happens to you.)

The word joy in this verse means that inner peace that comes to a Christian dealing with earthly struggles and pain, because they can rest, peacefully, in their eternal hope in Christ. It is the same word Jesus used when he talked about the servant being invited to "enter into the joy of your master" (Matthew 25:21). There is a higher purpose in "counting it all joy ..."

The other scripture is commonly called "The Prayer of Jabez." Jabez prayed,

Jabez was more honorable than his brothers, and his mother named him Jabez saying, "Because I bore him with pain." Now Jabez called on the God of Israel, saying, "Oh that You would bless me indeed and enlarge my border, and that Your hand might be with me, and that You would keep me from harm that it may not pain me!" And God granted him what he requested (1 Chronicles 4:9-10).

The Prayer of Jabez had a very popular book written about it a few years ago. It is used to illustrate asking God for great things, especially asking for God to enlarge the impact of ministry that brings Him glory and a blessing to others.

We can choose!
Today, we need to seek the wisdom, even an uncommon wisdom, in "counting it all joy" as we go through the struggles of life. At the same time, we need to be asking God to bless us in our work for His glory and the good of others. The scriptures are clear: God blesses us more when we ask for the benefit of others, and not selfishly.

We have an option before us. We can choose — yes, choose — to let stress overtake us, or we can embrace the trials we face knowing we can gain faith and wisdom — even an uncommon wisdom — as we face our challenges today. At the same time, the Lord can use these challenges to open up an opportunity for us to serve others in ways we have never dreamed.

Lord God, you know the challenges we face, our human frailties, the weaknesses we have, and our need for faith. You know our need for wisdom, Your wisdom. We ask that you will guide us into Your wisdom, an uncommon wisdom. In the name of your Son, Amen.