Allegheny Valley Church Of God

 

 

The Sifting

 

 

This is an article I wrote about 15 years ago when my wife was first diagnosed with lymphoma cancer. It has recurred several times since then and she has received treatment that knocked it back into remission. She is currently being treated again and we are trusting God for His perfect will. There are a number of folks in my church who are going through trials right now and I dedicate this to them. If you know someone going through something pass it on. Blessings, PC.

 

 "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

 

 One of the most pervasive questions for the Christian is this: "Why do bad things happen to God's people? Why do Christians get cancer? Why do God fearing fathers lose their children to drunk drivers and deranged gunmen? Can't God protect His people from these things?"

 

 These are painful yet valid questions. What kind of God do we have that would let his children suffer at the hands of evildoers? Atheists and skeptics for centuries have challenged the Christian faith with these accusations, claiming that, if there is a God at all, he either doesn't care, or can't do anything to stop what is happening.

 

 What is the answer? First, let me explain why this question has been prominent in my thinking of late. Just a few months ago (15 years now), my wife developed a lump on her neck. It was removed and biopsied, and diagnosed as a form of non-Hodgkins lymphoma. In the  weeks between the diagnosis and the prognosis, I went through a time of stress unlike any I had experienced before in my life. During that time, my faith was challenged, and I learned many lessons about how much faith I didn't have, as well as how faithful God can be through trying times.

 

 I was led to the scripture quoted above. The scene is the night before the crucifixion. We know the story well, but the disciples of that time had no idea about what was to happen. They fully expected to accompany Christ into Jerusalem any day to depose the Romans and establish the kingdom of God on earth. They were fully convinced that Jesus was indeed the promised Messiah, the savior of his people Israel.

 

 During the supper they were arguing amongst themselves about who would be the greatest in the kingdom. Jesus, in the preceding verses, rebuked them for their attitudes. It was then that he addressed Peter, the head, under Christ, of the band of disciples:

 

 "Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you that he may sift you as wheat"

 

 "Satan wants to do a number on you," is essentially what he is saying. I'm sure Peter didn't feel too blessed when he heard that. That is not the kind of prophetic utterance we enjoy. We love to have people tell us that God is going to bless us, and that things are going to be better, and that all the Christians are going to get richer. But no one likes to be told that the devil is going to do a "Job" job on them.

 

 Had that been all that Christ had said, it would indeed be sad. But he added something so important:

 

 "But I have prayed for you..."

 

 Isn't it good to know that Jesus is praying for you? Certainly, he prayed that Peter would not have to go through any trouble, right?

 

 "...that thy faith fail not:"

 

 "Oh, wait Jesus, that's good, but you forgot some things. Pray that nothing bad will happen. Pray that the enemy will not come near me. Pray that I will be prosperous." But that was the end of his prayer for Peter. "You will keep your faith, Peter. You will not lose your hope in me. Even though you will deny me, even though you will run and hide in confusion, I will appear to you again."

But there was also a command.

 

 "When you are converted..."

 

 When you go through the changes I have ordained for you....

 

 "..strengthen thy bretheren."

 

 There's a reason for the sifting. Peter's faith was a faith of presumption. He presumed that Jesus was going to establish the kingdom, and that he would reign with him. But that was not the case. And, had Jesus not prayed for Peter's faith, I'm sure Peter might have ended up like the traitor Judas, having denied the Lord, because things did not go as planned. Of course, just 50 days after the crucifixion and Peter's cowardly performace in the face of adversity, he preached the first evangelistic sermon of the church age which touched the hearts of 3000 souls. Indeed, he began to strengthen the brethern. But that never would have happened had it not been for the sifting. Satan wanted to destroy Peter, but when Jesus prays for his own, the devil has no chance.

 

 During my sifting, the devil tried to convince me that my wife was going to die. Now, I know that all of us are going to die someday. And, if the Lord wanted to, he could take her or me home at any moment, even as I sit here at the keyboard. But I was not ready. I had presumed, like Peter, that everything is just wonderful and these things would never happen to me or my family. But when I heard the word "cancer" it was like someone hit me with a baseball bat.

 

 I wondered what God was trying to teach me, and now I know. He was teaching me that there were many things I was taking for granted, including my wife. He was teaching me that, although I am born again and Spirit filled, I had not surrendered everything to Him. It was "my" wife and "my" ministry. Jesus was showing me that I had not abdicated the throne of my life, and that, though I have mouthed the words "Jesus is Lord," and really do believe them, deep down inside there were hindrances that kept me from truly living in a way that glorified God in my life.

 

 My wife will live, thank God, and I believe that He will use what Satan meant for evil as something that will bless the hearts of many. And as both of us have grown closer and stronger through this experience (which, by the way, is not over yet) and as we have grown closer to God, we are praying for an outpouring of His Spirit in our neighborhood and our church.

 

 My friend, if you are being sifted today, don't feel alone. And don't feel as though God is through with you. One scripture Christians like to use when one is going through a hard time is this:

 

 "And we know that all things work together for the good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose." Rom 8.28

 

 But they never quote the following verse:

 

 "For whom He did foreknow, He also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren." Rom 8.29

 

 When the sifting comes, know this. He just wants to make you more like Jesus. A man of grief, acquainted with sorrows, yes, but compassionate, caring, loving and healing. He wants the fragrance of Christ to be manifest in our lives.

 

 Beloved, be calm. Rest beside the still waters. If you have trusted Christ as your Savior, know that He knows all about what is happening. He knows how you feel, and has plans for you that are beyond understanding. He is praying for you.

 

 For those who might be reading this who have not trusted in Christ, know this: The rain falls on the just and the unjust. Being a Christian does not mean you will never have a problem. It just means that there is no problem that will not work for your good. And being a believer in Christ means we have a hope that goes beyond this veil of tears. Trust Christ as your Savior today, and share the hope of eternity with Him.

 

 "Life is a string of pearls/Held together with a strand of hope/Put these grains of sand in His precious hand/Life is a string of pearls" (From the CD "Heart of the Journey" by Michelle Wagner)