As part of a recent study I came across an intriguing question that I’d never encountered before. It came by way of a book jointly authored by Wayne Cordeiro, Francis Chan and Larry Osborne titled “Sifted”.
They presented a challenging question that came from the Gospel of Luke. It records Jesus talking to Simon Peter saying:
31 “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, 32 but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” Luke 22:31-32
Now, it is great that Jesus’ prayer was that Peter’s faith wouldn’t fail, and that he would come through the sifting process strong enough to encourage those who share his faith in Jesus. But the troubling question is, why was this Jesus prayer? Wouldn’t it have been better for Jesus simply to pray that Satan would be refused the permission to sift? Strength to endure is great, but avoidance would seem even better – don’t you think?
This passage is even more compelling when we understand that it arises within the context of Jesus talking about all the doubts and struggles that Peter will face upon witnessing Jesus’ own arrest and crucifixion. Again – why did Jesus not just pray that it wouldn’t come to pass.
And of course, we know that he did. Just a few verses later we read Jesus’ private prayer:
42 “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” 43 And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. 44 And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.” Luke 22:42-44
Praying that pain and suffering would be removed from our experience of life is certainly a faithful activity. But reality is, such prayers won’t always be answered in the affirmative. There are occasions where the enemy of our souls is given reign to sift us like wheat.
In ancient agricultural practice, wheat was sifted by tossing the grain high in the air. This allows the chaff to get blown away while the good heavy kernels of grain fall back at the farmer’s feet. So too, it may feel as though problems and pain have thrown us in the air and we, also, are being tossed about by the winds of life, but when this happens, may our faith hold firm so that we may fall at the Master’s feet.
From the suffering of Job to the confusion of Peter, we know that times of sifting bring sorrow and pain, but we also know that ours is a loving God who will see us through. And coming through, we will be better able, as was the case with Peter, to strengthen our brothers in their time of need.
If this newsletter finds you while you are presently in a period of sifting, please know that you’ve not been forgotten by the God who loves you. And may you find that there are people around you, who having endured their own times of trial, are able to give understanding and support. The passage which ends this article is from Simon Peter himself as he followed the instructions of Jesus and sought to strengthen his fellow Christians in the early days of persecution against the church. May you indeed find strength in his words and promise.
12 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed...19 Therefore let those who suffer according to God's will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good. 1 Peter 4:12-13 & 19