Sifted Saints

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).

When Jesus walked the earth, he knew all too well about the fierce powers of evil. Satan came with every weapon in hell to sift Christ's disciples. And he came to tempt Jesus, too.

I don't think any of us would ever be able to fathom the great conflict that rages in the spirit realm. Nor could we realize how determined the devil is to destroy disciples like Peter. He has painted a target on the back of every believer whose heart is fixed firmly on following Christ.

You see, at some point in our Christian walk, we cross over what I call the "obedience line." That's when we determine in our hearts to go all the way with the Lord. We realize there is nothing in this world that holds us, and we determine to obey God's Word in all ways and at all costs.

The moment we cross that line — the moment we enter into a life of obedience and dependence on Christ, determined never to go back — we set off every alarm in hell. Why? We have become a threat to the kingdom of darkness. Therefore we become a target of every power and principality. Afflictions, floods and trials will come as fiery tests of faith.

Maybe at one time you were a half–hearted follower of Christ. You loved him but you weren't fully devoted to him. Perhaps you wanted to follow your own ambitions. You had your own plans charted out instead of seeking to follow his calling and direction for your life.

Things went quite smoothly in your life then. The devil didn't bother or harass you much because you simply didn't pose much of a threat to him. But things changed. You became all business for God. The Word of the Lord came alive to you, and you began to read it ravenously. You went to prayer eagerly and wept easily for those who are lost. What a great heart–change you experienced.

When you decided to give all to the Lord, you began to make waves in the unseen world. That's precisely the time you became a prime target of the enemy. Ever since then the devil has desired to sift you, just as he did Peter.

"Simon, Simon…Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat" (Luke 22:31). It is here Jesus introduces the subject of how the enemy seeks to sift God's people. Sifting means to be shaken and separated like grain by sudden trials in life. It is to be shocked through the agitation of events and situations that jolt our very foundations.

In Christ's day, grain workers used a sieve just before they sacked the harvested grain. First, they shoveled wheat into a square box covered with netting. Then they turned the box upside down and shook it violently. The grit and dirt would fall through the netting until only the wheat kernels remained.

Jesus was saying to Peter: "Satan doesn't think your faith is real. He thinks when he puts you in the sieve and shakes you, your faith is going to fall to the ground as worthless refuse."

Peter's sifting came just after he received a revelation of great blessings to come.

The Lord had just promised Peter he would have a fruitful ministry. "I appoint unto you a kingdom, as my Father hath appointed unto me; that ye may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel" (Luke 22:29–30).

The Greek word for "appoint" here is taken from a root word meaning "to channel." Christ was making an incredible promise to his disciples. He told them, in essence, "I am going to build my kingdom through you. Just as the Father made me a vessel of his glory, so I will do with you."

Think of what Jesus was telling them. Not only would these men become vessels of Christ's glory. They were going to be given a seat at the Lord's table to enjoy intimacy with him! They would rule and reign as princes near his seat of power.

Little did Peter know that while Jesus was speaking these precious promises to him, Christ's heart was in prayer for him. Our Lord can see clearly into the invisible spirit world in a way we never could. And he saw Satan at the Father's throne, accusing Peter and asking permission to get his hands on him. The devil wanted to do with Peter as he had done with Job. His accusation must have been something like this:

"Your Jesus calls this man Peter a 'Rock.' He says he's going to build his church on the kind of faith Peter has. He wants to make this man a foundation stone of a body of new believers. I say this Peter is no rock. He's just the opposite–chaff, unworthy to be a vessel of your glory. Let me shake him, put him to the test. He won't last. His faith is going to fall!"

The fact is, Satan cannot sift any true believer except by permission from God. And he seeks to sift only those who threaten his work. So, why did Satan desire to sift Peter now, at this point? Why was he so anxious to test him?

Here's why. For three years, Peter had been casting out devils and healing the sick. Satan heard and knew what God had planned for Peter. In fact, those past three years were going to be nothing compared to the greater works he and the other disciples would eventually perform. Satan had heard Jesus promise them another baptism, this time with Holy Ghost power. And that caused the devil to tremble.

The fact is, Satan always goes after the tree with the most potential to bear fruit. Somehow, the devil knew this man Peter was set apart to bear much fruit. He knew that God was going to give him power and authority that would be used greatly against his own kingdom of darkness. Having already pulled down Judas, Satan now thought he saw a measure of corruption in Peter also something he could build on to make Peter's faith fail.

Let me ask you about your own life. Do you feel you're in a type of sieve right now? Are you being shaken and sifted? If so, ask yourself: Why you? And why now? Satan is sifting you because you play an important part in God's church in these last days. You have been set apart by him and prepared by his own hand to be a powerful witness to many. The greater your surrender to Jesus, the greater your anointing will be. And the greater your potential for God's kingdom is, the more severe your sifting will be.

Peter thought he was spiritually strong enough to die for Christ.

Peter wasn't aware of any glaring weakness in himself. Here was his testimony, in so many words: "Lord, I'm ready to go with you. I've had three wonderful years of the best training in the Word possible. And I've been around, I've got experience — you know that. I've seen demons flee. I've moved crowds toward the Father. I've grown so much. I'm simply not the man I was three years ago. I'm ready to go all the way with you."

Think about what's happening in this scene. For any discerning believer, Jesus' warning would have been shocking. It would have given them pause to reflect and take stock of their heart. Yet Christ's warning here didn't shake Peter's self–confidence in the least. The Lord was trying to wake him up to the danger just ahead. But it's as if Peter didn't hear a word he said.

Peter was in grave danger, only hours away from committing an awful sin. Yet he went confidently on his way, boasting in essence, "I'm ready. I won't fail. If anybody is going all the way with the Lord, it's me."

Maybe some who are reading this are like Peter right now. God has his hand on you, you've grown in the Lord, and you love him with all your heart. You always have a sure word for your struggling brothers and sisters. And now Satan desires to sift you. You're about to be assaulted by the enemy as you never have before. Peter is our example in this. And God is seeking to drive out any spiritual pride in the hearts of his servants in these last days.

May we heed these warnings from his Word. You see, within just twenty–four hours of his boast to Jesus, Peter became a moral cripple. He ended up cursing, carried away by cowardice, denying Christ three times. What Peter did was so evil and wicked he never could have thought it was possible.

As incredible as Peter's fall would be, Jesus wasn't going to stop it. He wanted to purge this headstrong disciple of a tendency that three years of teaching from the Lord himself hadn't touched. Miracles, signs and wonders hadn't touched it. Even Christ's warnings hadn't dug it out. There was nothing left for Jesus to do but let Peter go into the fire — into Satan's hands and the overwhelming flood he would bring.

Jesus set the example for how to treat our brethren who fall during their sifting. "I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not." As I behold this wonderful example of Christ's love, I realize I know almost nothing about how to love those who fall. Surely Jesus is the "friend that sticketh closer than a brother" (Proverbs 18:24). He sees both the good and the bad in us. And he concludes, "Satan desires you, but I desire you all the more." Jesus knows you truly love him.

And so the Lord said to his disciple, "Peter, I have prayed for you." Notice he didn't say, "I will pray for you." In short, Christ had seen this coming for a long time. He probably had spent many hours talking about Peter to the Father — how he loved him, how needed he was in the kingdom, how valued he was as a faithful friend.

As I read this, my own prayer is: "Lord, give all of us that kind of love for each other!" When we see someone heading for trouble or disaster, let us love them enough to warn them as a caring friend. Let us be able to say, "I have been praying for you. I am praying for you. And I will pray for you. I am here for you, no matter what."

Let us take those people to God's throne faithfully, pleading for them to come through their sifting with their faith intact. Jesus didn't lecture Peter. He didn't say, "Peter, if only you had listened. If only you had stayed awake and prayed with me in the garden. If only you weren't so proud." No, Jesus said simply, "I prayed for you."

When Jesus said, "I have prayed for you," the Greek for "you" is plural — as in "all of you." Jesus was speaking mainly to Peter, but also to all of the disciples and to us today: "I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me; for they are thine…. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me…. I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil" (John 17:9, 11, 15).

No matter what you're going through, no matter what lies ahead of you — if you have a heart full of love for Jesus, he's praying for you. Jesus didn't pray that Peter would be spared from Satan's sifting. Rather, he prayed only that his faith wouldn't fail.

And that is Satan's prime target: our faith. In the span of just a few short hours, the devil brought circumstances into Peter's life that severely tested his faith and love for Jesus.

There are trials and then there is sifting: an all–out onslaught meant to overthrow our faith.

Sifting is usually compressed into a short but very intense period of time. For Jesus, it was forty days and forty nights. Satan came at him with every deception of darkness. For Peter, it was but a few days. But those days would be the most faith–shaking, shocking and remorseful of his life. Are you even now enduring such an intense sifting in your life?

How are we to overcome this onslaught? Again, Jesus has set the example. When he was confronted with the devil's schemes, he overcame them with God's Word: "It is written." "It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God" (Matthew 4:4). "It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God" (4:7). "It is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve" (4:10).

Today, because of the Cross, we have yet another "It is written." It is this: "I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not." We can say to Satan, "You may have gotten permission to sift me, devil. You may attempt to tear down my faith. But you need to know this: My Jesus is praying for me."

Peter's faith was tested, shaken and because of his self–reliance he stumbled. But in answer to the Master's prayer, the roots of Peter's faith hadn't been destroyed. Therefore, in the end, his faith didn't fail, just as Jesus had prayed. Likewise, the Lord is praying for you in your sifting time.

In one moment, all can seem lost. Satan can rejoice over our doubting. He can point to us and say, "I have brought down another anointed one into the pit of despair." Then, with just one look into the eyes of Jesus, we melt. "The Lord turned, and looked upon Peter…. And Peter went out, and wept bitterly" (Luke 22:61–62). The phrase "wept bitterly" here in Greek actually means "a piercing, violent cry." "Peter remembered the Lord's words, how he had said unto him…thou shalt deny me thrice" (Luke 22:61).

I picture the disciple walking toward the Judean hills, falling on his face with hands outstretched and crying, "Jesus was so right. I didn't listen! He warned me that Satan would attempt to destroy my faith. I see now I'm not ready to die. Die for Jesus? I couldn't even stand up to a young handmaiden. Forgive me, Lord — I love you. To whom shall I go?"

I believe that Peter's faith then took hold of something that Jesus had given him in his warning. Christ ended it with these hopeful words: "When thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren" (22:32). How many times did Peter play this over in his mind and heart? How often did he ponder, "Jesus used the word 'converted.' That means 'brought back.' Didn't he say I would still have a ministry? I just can't see it right now. After what I did, how will I ever be able to help others?"

The Father answered his Son's prayer for Peter.

I can picture Peter rising up from the ground with the Spirit of God flowing through him. I see him raise his arms to the sky and cry, "Satan, be gone. I failed my Lord. But I still love him! He promised — in fact, he prophesied — I would come back and be a comfort to others. I would be a rock for many. I'm going back now to my brothers and sisters!"

Peter was with the other ten disciples (Judas was now gone) when Jesus appeared in their midst. And he was there worshiping when Jesus ascended into to glory. He was the first disciple to run to the tomb when it was told Christ had risen. It was Peter who, just weeks later, stood at Pentecost as God's spokesman and what a sermon he preached.

In the last days, there is coming a flood of new converts — Jews and Gentiles alike, as well as many backslidden believers. Where will they find strength in the troubled times we're facing? It will come from "converted" saints who have been sifted and have come through with a tested faith. These will say with authority, "I do not trust in myself. I don't rely on my own strength. Jesus has everything we need to see us through."

Beloved, you don't have to fail as Peter did. As we read his story, we are to be warned by it. But if you've failed, if you've grieved the Lord, run into the arms of Jesus and remember that he is praying for you. Repent, return and share your experience with others who are being sifted. Jesus didn't say to Peter, "If you are converted." He said, "When you are converted."

I want to be able to look any weeping, broken brother or sister in the eye and say with hope and confidence: "When this sifting is over, when you come back, and your faith is stronger, God is going to use you. He has a purpose in this. He has overseen this all along."

Do not give up on your own faith. And don't give up on others who fall. Satan would never have come against you unless he had seen a glimpse of threat. You are the Lord's through everything in this life. Rest in his unconditional love for you!