Sifted Like Wheat

“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat; but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” (Luke 22:31, 32)

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about this verse. Jesus says this to Peter (Simon), after He has washed the disciples’ feet, and they’ve shared the last supper together. After Jesus has taught them about what it is to be great (you must be a servant), and after He has just commended the disciples with, “You are those who have stood by Me in My trials; and just as My Father has granted Me a kingdom, I grant you that you may eat and drink at My table in My kingdom, and you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” Before they head out to the Garden of Gethsemane, for Jesus’ night of anguish and before He goes on to His sham trials and then death on the cross, Jesus says to Peter that Satan has demanded permission to go after him. What’s striking to me is that Jesus doesn’t say that He (or the Father) told Satan, “No way! Back off! You’re not messing with my man, Peter!” Jesus just gives Peter a heads-up and lets him know that He’s praying for him…for his faith and for Peter to strengthen his fellow disciples/believers, when he comes through the testing. Do you find that surprising?

I feel like the version of Jesus that’s popular now, is a version that would muscle up to Satan and tell him to take a hike. But it seems to me that God’s goal is to strengthen more than protect. His desire for us is to develop a robust faith, which absolutely requires exercise and testing. God designed us to be growing children, not puppets that He magics into maturity. He has to give us space to struggle and flail around a bit and even fail, in order for us to beef up in our faith. (Among other things, this has something to say about how we parent and mentor.) Also, the sifting that Jesus is allowing is not because Peter is being punished. Jesus has just said that Peter and the other disciples have stood by Him during tough times, and they will be rewarded by having seats at His table and by the responsibility of judging the 12 tribes. Before Peter comes into that reward, though, he will be “rewarded” by God allowing Satan to try to take him down. There’s a sense of, “You’re doing well with the challenges I’ve already given you, so let me add on some more.” This is reminiscent of Job’s experience. Job experienced a series of trials, because he was faithful to God, and so was noticed by Satan. God allowed Satan actually to harm Job and his family, knowing that Satan would see Job’s faithfulness in the end. This seems to be the case with Peter, also, since Jesus said, “when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” He didn’t say “IF you turn again.” Satan would see that Peter could come through the testing and not be destroyed by it. Peter does deny Jesus, and so does fail in the short term, but Peter also goes on to accept Jesus’ forgiveness and redemption, and is used by God to firmly establish the church. And we, like Peter, are not only being strengthened in our trials, but we are instruments in God’s hands to prove Satan wrong, time and time again. God’s people will prevail in the end. We will prevail, because our God can and will sustain us. In the midst of his trials, Job says, “Oh that my words were written! Oh that they were inscribed in a book! That with an iron stylus and lead they were engraved in the rock forever! As for me, I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last He will take His stand on the earth. Even after my skin is destroyed, yet from my flesh I shall see God…” (Job 19:23-26) I love that his request was met; his words were written down forever! We get to read them and see purpose in our sufferings.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with praying for deliverance. God tells us to come to Him with our requests, and He does sometimes remove us from overwhelming circumstances. But I think we have in the above passages some other good prayers. We could pray for ourselves by Jesus example, “Lord, please don’t let my faith fail and please help me to use this to strengthen fellow believers.” And we can and should pray for others in that same way. We can also choose hope and praise like Job, “Lord, I know that You live and that You will prevail to stand as ruler over all the earth. Though I may feel like I’m being destroyed right now, I know that someday I will be whole and will see You face to face.”

“Safe?” said Mr Beaver …”Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.” (C.S. Lewis in The Chronicles of Narnia) Our God isn’t safe, but He’s good. Please remember that Jesus, our King, is praying for you, just as He prayed for Peter. “Therefore He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.” (Hebrews 7:25)
-Posted on April 21, 2018 on Roots By a Stream: