Being Sifted

It is written:

“Simon, Simon (Peter), listen! Satan has asked excessively that [all of] you be given up to him [out of the power and keeping of God], that he might sift [all of] you like grain…” (Luke 22:31)

Throughout our lives as God’s people, we will be “sifted.” What does this mean?

“ When Jesus tells Peter that Satan “has demanded to sift you like wheat,” the “you” here is plural—He’s speaking to all of His disciples. He begins His short discourse with the singular (“ Simon, Simon”) but then moves to the plural, making what He’s about to say a universal truth. Sifting, then, is a given in life and an expected reality for all the disciples of Christ throughout history. You can’t point to a Christ follower, not a single one in the long trajectory of the church, who has not been sifted….We are hampered in this because those of us living in the Western world no longer have an intimate understanding of the agrarian metaphor—sifting—that Jesus used with Peter and the others in that upper room in Jerusalem. For them, that word must have carried a kind of thudding weight that escapes those of us who get our food from grocery stores and restaurants and vending machines and therefore know next to nothing about the hard brutalities of the food chain….I learned that the basic mechanics of sifting have not changed in three thousand years. It’s the violent process of separating the useful from the unnecessary—the crushing and sorting of something whole for the purpose of isolating its nourishing core from the trappings that guard it. In the case of wheat, the kernels are first violently pulled from their stalks—what has so far anchored them in their existence. In Jesus’ time the kernels were then repeatedly beaten by hand, but now they are smashed between stones or iron rollers. Mechanized sifting systems beat the kernels, then vacuum them into a venting system before dumping them into a large accordion-like box (the sifter) that violently gyrates. The remnants of the kernel drop through a screen in the bottom of the sifter while the unusable chaff, sticks, stones, dirt, and other pollutants are captured and thrown away. Before mechanized sifters, and typical of the process in Jesus’ time, workers threw the beaten wheat husks in the air (a process called “winnowing”) or into a sieve to liberate the kernels from their “prison.” The principles of sifting (a beating that’s followed by a basic separation that produces a revelation of something valuable) are embedded in our reality—they are all around us, even if we have “no eyes to see” them….Applied metaphorically to our lives, as Jesus did with Peter and His disciples in the upper room, the essential effect of sifting is a violent separation followed by a beautiful revelation—sifting shakes us apart for the purpose of destroying our complacent wholeness and revealing what is valuable and permanent and needed. In this case, Jesus reveals that Satan has asked to sift not just Peter, but all of us. Lucifer’s motivation, of course, is to destroy us and, by doing so, to separate us from the love of God. He does not understand, and has never understood, that “what [he] meant [for] evil … God [intends] for good.” 5 He does not understand the intrinsic truth that “[ nothing] will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” 6 Turning ugly into beauty is not a mere commentary on what God does; it is an explanation of His genius and a summation of His redemptive strategies in our lives. George MacDonald writes: “It is the kindest thing God can do for his children, sometimes, to let them fall in the mire. You would not hold by your Father’s hand; you struggled to pull it away; he let it go, and there you lay. Now that you stretch forth the hand to him again, he will take you, and clean, not your garments only, but your heart, and soul, and consciousness.” 7” (Rick Lawrence, Sifted: God’s Scandalous Response To Satan’s Outrageous Demand,1393-1444 (Kindle Edition); Colorado Springs, CO; David Cook)

The trials that Satan intends to destroy us are allowed by God to mold us. By the hardships of this world, God works to remove the sinful and fallen parts of our being and to refine us to become more like Christ.

Hold to the Master when you are being sifted.

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