Refining and Sifting

“But He knows the way that I take; when He has tested me, I will come forth as gold.”

Job: 23:10

 

It seems that lately I write from the struggles of my own life, from the vat where grapes are crushed for juice, from the desert wilderness, and like Job from the smelting pot of the goldsmith. It’s a hard season with pressures coming at me from many different angles. I can understand Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 1:8: “We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life.” I look to the heavens as ask, “God what is this all about? What are You trying to do – break me?”

His answer? “Yes. But not to leave you broken. To make you whole. To purify your faith.” You see, God does not just pull us out of the pit of sin and death to go our own merry way in life. He saves us to transform us, to make us more like His own Son. And it is a life-long process that often requires pain and suffering.

Peter, Jesus’ friend and disciple, is a perfect example. If you know anything about him, you know Peter was impetuous, brash and often spoke before thinking. More than once, Peter’s mouth got him trouble. He could say profound and powerful things, like his great confession: “You are the Christ” (Mark 8:29), and a few minutes later, Jesus rebuked Peter for scolding the Son of God because He was teaching them about His coming death (Mark 8:31-33)! Jesus saw things in Peter that would both advance and hinder the Gospel.

At the Passover feast, which we now know at the Last Supper, while the disciples were arguing over their own status in His kingdom, Jesus made a terrifying statement. “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat” (Luke 22:31). The statement is given in the plural “you,” meaning Satan had asked to sift the entire company of disciples. And they would all be sifted, to a degree, when they see their Rabbi and Friend being arrested. Yet Jesus’ next statement was very pointed and personal. “But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail” (v. 32). In those words Jesus told Simon that he would carry the brunt of the devil’s evil deed, for the “you” here is singular – “I have prayed for you Simon.”

Why would Jesus give His friend and follower over to be sifted by the devil? Because there were things in Peter that needed to be removed. Pride, arrogance, stubbornness. Just like the things that need to be sifted out of me. What was left after Peter’s sifting? Two things: The prayers of Jesus and humble man ready to be used for His glory. Did you catch Jesus’ promise in verse 32 – “I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail.” Jesus prayed for Peter, that his disciple’s faith would not fail. And we know that whatever Jesus asks of His Father is granted, because He always asks according to the will of the Father. Peter could not fail, because Jesus has guaranteed it by His petition. When I am in the sifter, as I am now, my Savior is before the Father on my behalf – “Father, do not let her faith fail.”

The other part of Jesus’ promise in that verse is seen in one little word: when. “And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers” (v. 32b) (emphasis added). Jesus could assure Peter that he would turn back, because of His own prayers for Peter. Peter would survive the sifting and come through it with a refined faith. Jesus allowed Satan just enough heat and pressure to burn off the dross that lived in Peter, that would fight against the mighty work to which he was called.

The story is told of a woman who, having read in the Bible that God refines His people like silver and gold, visited a silversmith and asked about the process of refining the precious element. The smithy said he put the silver in a kettle and exposed it to extremely high heat that caused the dross, or waste to rise to the surface where he could scoop it out. This process took intense heat and so she asked, “how do you keep from burning it?” The man replied, “I lean in very closely to the kettle and watch it carefully, using only as much heat as necessary until it is just as I want it.” She asked “How do you know when it is ready to be removed from the heat?” The smithy answered, “When I can see my reflection in the surface.” We are called to be the reflection of Jesus Christ to the world and that image must be pure.

Jesus allowed friend to be sifted, to go through the crucible of intense suffering to remove what was marring His image in Peter. He became a mighty Apostle and preached the first Gospel message after Jesus’ resurrection. The Lord used a humble Peter mightily in the birth and growth of His church.

I did not welcome the suffering and pain of this season in my life, but I know that God is purifying my faith and refining me to be His witness to the world. I trust that He is leaning in closely and watching over me, allowing just enough heat to accomplish His purpose – to see His Son reflected in me. I know that my Savior is praying for me, and when the process is complete, like Job, “I will come forth as gold.”

Jesus, my Savior – as You were in the fire with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, come and stand with me now; carry me through this season of suffering on the wings of Your prayers. Let me come through as a reflection of You in the world. Amen.

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