And the Lord said, “Simon, Simon, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat 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.
When Jesus spoke these words to Peter, I wonder if he felt hurt, confused, or even shocked. His response only indicates his confidence that he would follow Christ even if it led to prison or death. But, of course, this wasn’t the only thing Jesus had said lately that may have seemed confusing to Peter and the other disciples. None of them could conceive of the cross that was looming just ahead, or the resurrection that would turn their entire lives upside down. They believed that Jesus was their Messiah and they, His beloved disciples, but the lessons He’d taught about suffering and serving had not yet fully settled upon them as they soon would. In fact, the conversation just prior to this had centered on which of the disciples were the greatest.
Here, at the peak of Peter’s confidence in His relationship and love for Christ, Jesus tells him that He has granted Satan permission to sift him (and the other disciples) like wheat.
For most of us, thoughts of sifting wheat make us think of the soft fluffy power we use in baking. But when Jesus spoke of sifting, he was referring to a very violent action used to separate the grain from the stalk and the chaff. Using a threshing machine very much like a combine on today’s wheat fields, it tore the wheat apart, separating the valuable portion from the worthless portion.
Have you ever felt like you are being sifted like that?
While I don’t claim to know all that Peter endured, our family has experienced a long season of sifting over the past eight years. At times we have felt nearly crushed by circumstances that left us feeling like trampled sheaves on a threshing floor! And so, I find Jesus’ words to Peter sobering, comforting and, at the same time challenging because, while I desire to serve the Lord faithfully in my calling as mother, grandmother, and ministry leader, I would also rather avoid conversations with Jesus that have to do with sifting. And yet, when sifting comes, (and it will for every serious believer), we do not need to lose our confidence because of the three things Luke teaches us in this verse.
God Sovereignly Allows His Children to Be Sifted.
Remembering that the enemy cannot touch us unless our sovereign all-knowing God allows him to should quiet our hearts, since God does not ordain anything that is contrary to His divine plan for our lives and His kingdom purposes.
It’s helpful to consider why the devil would focus his attention on a mere fisherman. Why was he so anxious to have access to Peter? Because clearly Satan was listening when Jesus declared: “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it” Matthew 16:18.
Satan’s kingdom was being threatened again and he would do all he had permission to do to thwart God’s plan. Having already had victory in Judas’ life, he would now throw his best efforts at getting Peter’s faith to fail. But unbeknownst to the great schemer and liar, Peter’s hour of testing would simply prepare and strengthen him for the glorious work of building the church and spreading the gospel.
Are you going through a season of sifting?
- Do you feel confused about seemingly unanswered prayer(s) to seemingly unending hardship(s) in your life?
- Does it feel as though your heart is being ripped apart as your life is severely shaken by unwanted circumstances?
- Is sin defeating you to the point where you doubt whether God can, or would want to, use you anymore?
- Has loneliness or rejection tempted you to wonder if God has forgotten or rejected you too?
Learn from Peter’s life that the enemy only bothers sifting those who threaten his evil schemes to build and rule a kingdom.
Just as he did with Eve in the Garden of Eden, Satan’s aim is to get us to question God’s goodness and love, while dangling promises of an easier life if we will simply worship and serve his kingdom. To that end, he strives and schemes to wear our faith thin and turn us toward whatever will numb us from our pain. He is subtle, cunning, and relentless.
Ultimately, the enemy of our souls is out to steal, if not our salvation, our glorious witness for Christ.
Peter was crushed when his faith wavered at the very moment he had the opportunity to identify with Jesus. And yet, in spite of the way it appeared to this broken disciple at the time, God both allowed and used this severe test to strengthen Peter for the eternal work He had called Him to, the building of His church.
Jesus is Praying for us.
I find it amazing to think that the risen Christ is interceding at the throne of grace for us to trust Him, persevere in faith through times of doubt and grief, and to remember God’s love and commitment to those He died to save.
Like Peter, I have felt the reality of my weakness when I have yearned to be strong. I have cried out in confusion, even though I am confident in the power of the gospel. I have questioned where the Light of life is in the midst of our darkness. While I do not doubt God’s ultimate love for those I love, unrelenting trials have tested my faith in ways I have not been tried before.
And yet, when I hear Jesus saying to me (and to you); “I have prayed that your faith will not fail,” I am reminded that; Christ bore our sins on the cross and now, “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness” 2 Peter 1:3.
In other words, Jesus didn’t just die and leave us to fight the world, our flesh, and the enemy on our own. He sent His Holy Spirit as a deposit, assuring us that we belong to Him forever. And He prays (without ceasing) that those who belong to Him will walk in victory, trust that the battle has been won, and remember that God is with us in our suffering and will see us safely home.
Jesus offers grace for overcoming despair and hopelessness when our feelings overwhelm or deceive us. He prays that, by faith, we might glimpse the weight of glory God has planned for those who put their hope in him.
When I start focusing on my sorrow, suffering, or the what-ifs that promote fear in my heart; it is only a short step to begin subtly questioning God’s wisdom and love. But when I picture the victorious resurrected Christ praying that I will keep trusting Him even (and especially) when I am broken and can’t understand why He is allowing heartbreaking and seemingly unyielding pain and suffering, it gives me strength to persevere another day. It encourages me to reach out and receive the grace He offers so that I can live in a manner worthy of the sacrifice He made for my eternal joy.
God Calls Us to Strengthen Others.
One of the dangers of the sifting process is that we can become so consumed with our own pain, confusion, questions, and losses that we can forget there’s a whole world out there of suffering people; believers who need encouragement to persevere in faith, and unbelievers who need to hear the hope of the gospel.
Jesus knew that Peter’s severe test would cause him to turn for a short time from his resolute confidence in Christ. Yet notice; He didn’t say, if you turn again but when you have turned again. After he had come through the sifting; “Jesus Himself would restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish” Peter in the gospel ministry He had prepared for him before he was even born (1 Peter 5:10).
Peter’s faith would not fail because Jesus was praying for him and would use this severe trial to strengthen his faith in ways far beyond what it was prior to the cross and resurrection.
In the same way, we can be confident that if God allows us to be sifted, it is only to prepare us for the purposes He has ultimately ordained to accomplish His eternal plan and display the gospel more brightly. When He has strengthened us, he calls us to turn and strengthen others who are weak, discouraged, or feeling hopeless by sharing the testimony of God’s grace in our own lives. And in doing that, our faith grows as well.
We can’t see what’s going on in the heavenly realms and God doesn’t explain why He allows some lives to be tested more severely than others. He simply calls us to walk by faith and remember what He wants us to believe according to Romans 8:26-39:
- That the Spirit will help us in our weakness (when we are absolutely certain we can’t endure, He will uphold and strengthen us).
- That for those who love God, all things work together for good (although we might question whether anything good could be worth all our pain, God promises our momentary troubles are reaping for us an eternal weight of glory!).
- That He is for us (And if God is for us, who can be against us?)
- Nothing can separate us from His love (no matter how unloved our circumstances may make us feel).
- That He is interceding for us according to His perfect will (He alone knows what will further His purposes on earth and bring us the greatest eternal joy).
- That no matter what tribulations come against us, we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us, (Nothing can defeat those who belong to Christ when we trust Him to fight for us).
If you are being threshed and thrashed as wheat, perhaps in the greatest test of faith you have ever endured, remember that; “to be crucified with Christ,” (Galatians 2:20) means what Oswald Chambers calls “breaking the husk of independence.” As that husk is broken, we begin to see more clearly how completely dependent we are on Christ to bear any good fruit.
As our chaff (living to gratify the flesh) increasingly falls away, you and I are becoming more valuable and ready for use in God’s kingdom. Satan wants to destroy our faith, but Jesus’ goal is to build our faith and make us more like Him.
Here is the opportunity offered. Be patient. Wait quietly, trusting the Lord for whatever He appoints. Offer your life as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship (Romans 12:1). Finally, pray that your greatest desire would be to accomplish His will and to look more like Christ, no matter the cost.
For, “You also like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ; You are…. a people for His own possession, that you may proclaim the excellences of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light,” 1 Peter 2:5, 9b.
Thanks for letting me share my thoughts with you,