Ministry Demands A Process
Ministry takes on a new meaning when you find your faith being tried and tested. Many people want to be in ministry until they realize that it often demands the sifting process.
At the Last Supper, Jesus warned Simon Peter that a test of faith was coming: “Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat” (Luke 22:31, NKJV). The outspoken disciple seemed to be in the same predicament as Job when Satan sought to put him to the test (Job 1—2). Satan wanted to “sift Peter as wheat,” which means that he wished to shake Peter’s faith so forcefully that he would fall, proving that God’s faithful servant was lacking in stamina and faith.
Sift as wheat is a metaphor that could also be expressed as “shake someone apart” or “break a person down.” Amos 9:9 gives us a similar image of God shaking Israel: “For I will give the command and will shake Israel along with the other nations as grain is shaken in a sieve, yet not one true kernel will be lost” (NLT).
In biblical times, wheat or other grain was sifted through a sieve or large strainer. As it was shaken violently, the dirt and other impurities that clung to the grain during the threshing process would separate from the good, usable grain.
In sifting Peter and the other disciples as wheat, Satan’s goal was to crush them and wreck their faith. In truth, the adversary wants to destroy the faith of every believer (John 10:10). But Jesus assured Peter, “I have pleaded in prayer for you, Simon, that your faith should not fail. So when you have repented and turned to me again, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:32, NLT). Peter’s leadership role in the early church proved that the Lord’s prayer for Peter was answered.
The very thought of Jesus standing in the place of prayer on my behalf is always stunning to me. I recall one particular time He must have surely been praying for me.
Responding To The Process
Some time ago, I walked into a church in the Midwest where I was invited to speak. Prior to the service, there was a minister’s gathering where I spent an hour getting to know some new candidates for ordination as well as renewing acquaintances with other minsters I had not seen in a while. For an hour I had smiled, laughed and engaged in conversation, but as I was going from one person to the next, in my mind I was reliving the events of my day. Earlier that day, I had experienced a most difficult and unusual situation.
Due to certain and well publicized stands I had taken on some particularly concerning issues, I had actually been threatened with physical harm. Even more troubling was the alarm placed upon my family. It wasn’t the first time. My own personal safety had been targeted before when I’ve traveled and spoken on various platforms of ministry and even broader public interest. However, this time was different because it involved those I love the most. It was a very heavy burden to bear and had become quite taxing realizing that every time I left home, I had to make sure added protective security was in place.
Following the fellowship time where I was to speak, I was escorted to the auditorium and when service started, I did my best to engage with the worship singers as I dutifully lifted my hands in an effort at praise and worship. Later, I obeyed the instruction of the host pastor to turn and greet those sitting near me with handshakes and smiles.
I was working hard not to display any level of concern I was feeling caused by the various disruptions from the intensity I had experienced that very day. Before entering the building I purposed that I would not allow other matters occupying my mind to interrupt the ministry of the Word of God. Looking back, I don’t know that I was very successful but I tried as best I could.
At a point when the worship team moved into singing the old hymn, “Rock of Ages,” my host leaned over to speak to me in the middle of the song and said, “I don’t know what has happened with you today but it is a heavy and serious matter." Then he said, “The Lord wants you to know , ‘It is coming to an end.”
In a few seconds, I indicated that indeed some things had jumped into my travel bag that day and they were not the usual issues that come with carrying the burden of the church. As a matter of fact, on that particular day, I would have gladly traded anything I was dealing with for a good old fashioned church fuss concerning selecting new carpet and the color of paint or just about anything else.
At the words, “It’s coming to an end,” I gained the strength that I needed to get up and preach. Later in my room, I reflected on the day and the words the host pastor had spoken to me. I determined that it was all part of the sifting and that it was all for a purpose.
Something tied to my future depended on my response to the process.
Sifting Our Faith
I began to recall what Jesus had said to Simon Peter. Jesus did not say that He would save Peter from this testing. But what He did say was that He was praying for him. He also indicated that His prayer would be effective.
To us it may look like Peter’s faith failed him; but this would not be Christ’s assessment at all. Peter’s faith did falter some in a crushing moment when all he had hoped for and banked his life on was nailed to a cross. After all, Peter had denied that he knew Jesus.
But remember that along with John, Peter was one of the the very first disciples to arrive at the empty tomb. Only a few days later, he stood preaching on the day of Pentecost, and in a single moment, 3,000 people were saved!
His faith had been sifted, as God removed the chaff. But when he was purified, he was like a Gospel Lion. The Epistles of First and Second Peter show us a developed and matured faith—a faith that was aware and ever vigilant against the enemy, a faith that would stand the test.
The Results of Sifting
One of two things will happen when we are being sifted. We will come out on the other side with a damaged faith or a developed faith. When I recall that Jesus is praying for me, I’m strengthened and encouraged to face the trial. When I recall that my response is crucial to the end result, I’m encouraged to endure the trial with grace.
Sometimes our story is one of endurance, abandon and surrender. Our goal in each trial is to do our best to exemplify with near exactness, what the Apostle Peter meant when he wrote “So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world.” 1 Peter 1:6-7 (NLT)
Being sifted as wheat. No one likes it, but remember that purity demands it. Faith is strengthened by it, and value escalates enormously because of it.
Job had a good take on being sifted. We see it in his words found in Job 23:10 “He knows the way that I take and when he has tried me (sifted me) I shall come forth as gold.”
Barnes Notes on Luke 22:31
Pulpit Commentary Luke 22:31
Gotquestions.org Luke 22:31