And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren. (Luke 22:31-32)
These are two remarkable verses which bring to light a number of thoughts that have particular relevance to our daily walk as Christians, and particularly to these the ‘end times.’ I have no doubt that the second coming of Christ is very soon. I have no doubt that the world is rapidly moving towards those things prophesied in Scripture. As believers we should rejoice at the closeness of the coming King, but we should also remember that the pressures and battles will increase.
Just as we know that time is running out, so does Satan, and he will turn up the heat and throw everything he has into the fray. Remember, he has little interest in the world if it ignores God and continues in unrighteousness. He already has the unsaved. His attack will always be those who are turning toward salvation and those who are already in the church. As the end times draw to a close, I believe it is those who profess to be Christians who will face the full onslaught, and we need to understand this and be both sober and vigilant.
From today’s verse, we can clearly see that Satan can do nothing without the full knowledge and permission of God. This is because God will allow him to do that which accomplishes God’s purposes. The purpose of the sifting is to bring forth the grain, that which has value, and to remove everything that is not. God’s purpose – and He will allow Satan to do the work – is to ‘shake’ the church and to remove everything that can be shaken – consider Haggai 2 as a worthwhile illustration – so that what remains cannot be shaken. So first, God will allow it to happen for His purposes.
The second significant thought is that Christ Himself prayed. This speaks so clearly of our holy Intercessor, seated at the right hand of the father, constantly interceding on behalf of His people. When the shaking comes, and it will, Jesus Himself will be speaking on our behalf, praying for us, but it’s not a prayer of ‘escape.’ It is a prayer that our faith will not fail. There is nothing in that which says we can avoid the shaking. It will come, because it must come. God requires that all things within the church that can be shaken – the chaff – must be shaken loose so that what remains will stand firm. And that is His desire – that our faith shall remain strong, that we can stand firm.
Then, interestingly enough, He goes on to talk about ‘when you are converted.’ This indicates a transformation, a conversion from one thing into another. It may have a dual meaning. First, the changing or conversion of wrong attitudes, wrong desires, wrong lifestyles – anything in a believer that hinders faith and our Christian walk. Once the husks and chaff are removed, we will, in essence be transformed. The idea, of course, is to ‘come forth as gold,’ or in the wheat allegory, to be the seed that bears much fruit.
Secondly, I believe it speaks of the many people within the church who have in fact not been properly saved – salvation may have been an emotional response that had no real spiritual foundation. It could have just been emotions doing the talking, and not been a genuine spiritual encounter with Jesus. While I cast no slight on any particular denomination or doctrine, I have personally encountered a significant number of people who sound spiritual but have not in fact been born again according to biblical principles. Again, that is not judgement but rather a lament for incorrect teaching, incorrect assumptions and a lack of discipleship teaching.
The fact is, the shaking will come. The fact is that it will be hard and furious, and may come when we least expect. Satan will try to turn us aside from our faith, and everything that is ‘husk’ in us will be forcefully shaken loose. But we can rejoice, because our Saviour Himself continues to intercede on our behalf. He does not pray to remove us from the shaking, but rather that we can endure. The process will release the things that hold us back, hold us down, get between us and real spiritual growth.
Faith, like endurance, is something that is only built through the ‘doing’ of it. It’s not simply a spiritual concept, something that sounds good but has little practical relevance. Why have faith when things are going well? It’s only when we’re at the place of ‘nothing left in me’ that real faith emerges. I’m sure we all wish there were some other way. But humans are creatures of comfort – when we’re okay and doing well, we tend to get lazy, complacent and self-focused. Sadly, most of us need a little shaking along the way to keep us moving ahead.
We can smile at the thought and at ourselves, but it’s really a serious matter. None knows what lies ahead, so isn’t it worth our while to examine ourselves daily and work loose those shaky things in us, with the help of the Holy Spirit and the Word, bit by bit? We cannot escape it, but we can submit to God’s will in all things, the better to work with Him rather than against Him.
The last thought is that we will, with His help, get through it. We are assured of that, if we keep our faith and our eyes on Him. And when we do, we are to strengthen others. We are to come alongside and teach, exhort and encourage fellow believers. We are to learn from Christ’s example and pray for others. We are to follow Christ in all things. As He provided the living example for us, so we are to do the same for others. As He kept His eyes on the Father, so we should do the same. In doing so, God takes what may be painful or unpleasant and brings forth the clean grain – the seed which, when planted, brings forth the bountiful harvest.
Lord, help us to examine ourselves in the light of Your Word. Help us to fix our eyes on You in all things, no matter what. Thank You for Your intercession, the assurance of Your presence with us in the sifting and shaking, and the sure and certain knowledge that Your plan and Your purpose is sovereign, and that all things are according to Your will. Give us the grace to surrender, and the discernment to see Your ways.