A crisis of faith always happens when we are sifted as wheat, but Jesus continually intercedes to bring a victory of faith. Our trials are preparation to strengthen others, multiplying our personal experience into a powerful kingdom victory.
And the Lord said, “Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren.” (Luke 22:31-32)
This is one of those seriously ‘wow’ verses which presents some powerful truths. Like us, Peter probably didn’t want to hear any of this. It upends any comfortable assumptions we might have had that Job’s experience was strictly Old Testament and provides some sobering insight into the activities in the spiritual realm. While it’s particularly sobering, it also offers tremendous comfort. As such, it’s worth digging a little deeper. After all, Peter was the man God chose to start the early church. More than that, though, he’s so wonderfully human. We can easily identify with him and accept that he was as ordinary as you and me. If this happened to him, it will no doubt happen to each one of us. Understanding the things Jesus shares here is critical in our lives and ministries. They can make all the difference when we are sifted as wheat.
Permission to be sifted as wheat.
It can make for an uncomfortable truth that God allows us to be sifted as wheat. We’d much rather focus on the warm and fuzzy truths of His love, grace, care, and protection. But today’s verse echoes Job too clearly to be ignored. Satan must ask for permission before He can test us. And yes, God does sometimes agree. This may seem an unpalatable truth, but we need to remember that He may just as often refuse. We’re only aware of the yes times because the trial is real. For all we know, the no times may be more numerous. It’s foolish to judge God and His love, grace, and care only by what we see. We may never realise how many times He has spared us from Satan’s sifting. That the enemy has to ask permission means that there are times when it’s denied.
What we need to take hold of here is the sovereignty of God. We see it in Job and we see it again with Peter. It’s a reminder that we belong to Him. We are His people and nothing can come against us without His permission. This is a powerful message to pass on to the enemy when next we are sifted as wheat – and there will surely be a next or two in our future. When we remind the devil and his forces that He can do nothing without permission, we’re also reminding ourselves that God, ultimately, is in control. Satan may have rebelled against God but he remains inferior to the I AM. The creator of the universe is still in absolute control of the universe and everything in it. Nothing that happens in our lives is outside of His knowledge and authority.
Where is God when we’re sifted as wheat?
In those times when we’re tossed about, seemingly at the mercy of the enemy, it’s easy to imagine God is somehow absent. This false perception comes about firstly because we get lulled into thinking the sifting won’t or shouldn’t happen. If it does, we expect that God will step in immediately in response to prayer and remove, fix, or put an end to the problem. Our verse today encourages us a little more when Jesus assures us of His ongoing prayer when we are sifted as wheat. We can hold onto the absolute assurance that He prays us through – our divine intercessor, the Son of God Himself. The message here is that will have times of trial and testing. They do not mean that God has removed Himself and watches from a distance as we struggle through. If anything, He draws closer through the intercessory presence of Jesus.
What is even more remarkable is the foreknowledge of God. Jesus tells Peter this in advance. Peter didn’t grasp the full import of it, but these words must have sustained him in his darkest hour when that rooster crowed a third time. He must have held on to this assurance until Christ restored him with love and grace. What this means for us is that God knows beforehand what will happen. He may even warn us through the work of the Spirit as He did with Paul on more than one occasion. What’s really incredible, though, is that Christ intercedes even before we are sifted as wheat. From a spiritual perspective, we are shored up by the supernatural strength and faith imparted through Christ’s prayers before we even reach the trial. This is a truth to hold onto when we think it’s beyond our ability to see it through.
Sifted as wheat and our faith.
Another lesson for us is that Jesus prays very specifically. He doesn’t pray that the testing doesn’t happen or that we can avoid being sifted as wheat. That’s contrary to what we’d like to believe in our humanity. We’d much rather believe we can avoid everything, but we need some trials in order to mature and be refined. The other thing He doesn’t pray for is that the sifting would end quickly. In fact, He doesn’t even mention this. What this tells us is that the timing of our testing is entirely in God’s hands. While it may seem horribly open-ended, we can be utterly sure that it will no longer or no shorter than what is absolutely necessary. Every tribulation is finite. All suffering or struggle has a defined duration. The length of time is defined by God, is perfect, and will work to our good.
What Jesus does pray for is that Peter’s faith would not fail. What He’s saying, in essence, is that it is our faith that gets us through. It’s faith in Christ and all He has accomplished, in the immutability of the Word, and in the absolute truth that God and not Satan is in control. When we are sifted as wheat, our faith is constantly battered by the apparent ‘reality’ of our circumstances. It’s all too easy to shift our focus to the here and now and lose sight of Jesus. That’s when our faith fails, because faith is seeing what cannot yet be seen. It means believing supernaturally by looking beyond the natural. Christ knew that Peter would need to hold onto the truth that He had given them. His prayer was that he would be empowered to do so. Jesus prayed for the critical element of victory.
Returning to Jesus when sifted as wheat.
There is a wonderful truth we can easily overlook. When we do, it can stir up feelings of guilt and even condemnation. This, of course, is just what the devil wants because it creates a sense of separation from God. To be sifted as wheat means that we will have a crisis of faith – and perhaps even more than one – during our trial. These are the moments when we turn away from Jesus and see the circumstances. They are the times when we feel God has failed us, that what we believed was false, and that we’re on our own. These are the critical points when faith can fail, but our verse reminds us that it He is praying. We have the prayers of the Son of God to sustain faith in these dark moments. There is no condemnation for our ‘weak faith’ or for momentarily losing sight of Him.
Within this is a promise – when we return to Jesus. Not if, when. The purpose of sifting wheat is not to destroy it but to remove the chaff – the dust, husks, and impurities. While the sifting process is uncomfortable and even painful, but it is effective. When we are sifted as wheat there is an assurance that we will emerge free from impurities. This is what happens when we overcome our crisis of faith and return to Jesus. The weaknesses are removed, the failures are shaken away, and our faith shines with His light and love. This promise is our assurance that we will overcome. It’s our guarantee that we will emerge strong in Jesus. That is possible because isn’t about us, it’s about Christ and who and what He is. The moment we turn our eyes back to Him is the moment we begin to return to Him.
Sifted as wheat is preparation for responsibility.
The closing phrase of our verse reminds us that as followers of Christ, we have the responsibility to serve Him. Nothing that happens in our lives – good or bad – is ever only for ourselves. When we are sifted as wheat, it’s firstly to work in us to remove what isn’t of God. But it’s greater purpose is that we’re prepared and able to strengthen others. Our experience will help others in their journey, and God empowers us through our trials to equip us to strengthen others. It’s not optional. Jesus said that when we return we must strengthen others. This responsibility is what empowers our struggle with supernatural kingdom power. Our victory in Christ is therefore multiplied. It adds powerful value to what we have gone through. But if we hold back and avoid the responsibility to ‘pass it forward,’ we work against the purposes of God.
Lord Jesus, thank You for Your faithfulness and grace which sustains us in all adversity. Thank You for the assurance that our sovereign God is always in control. Remind us always that our victory in You is a kingdom victory to be shared and multiplied. Help us to be willing to reach out and strengthen others with the faith and truth that You have imparted to us.