The Pain Of Spiritual Progress

Jesus said to Peter, “Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat.” –Luke 22:31

After you get over the shocking idea that Satan can demand this kind of thing of the Lord, something I really don’t understand, you are left with the idea that he was allowed to “sift Peter like wheat.”
What does that mean?

There is a great lesson here, in the process of sifting. I wanted to ask a farmer, but as I don’t have one handy, I consulted google. 🙂 I found that there are two steps to the process…

The first step in process of sifting wheat is to loosen the chaff from the edible grain, which is called threshing. The old fashioned way to do this is to spread the wheat onto a floor made from stone, concrete or tamped earth and to beat it with a flail. This is no longer done in the developed world, but in some places where machines are expensive and human labor is not, manual threshing is still common.

The next step is called winnowing, where the loosened chaff is removed from the grain. The old fashioned way of doing this was to throw the grain in the air, where the lighter chaff would be blown off by even a decent breeze. The heavier grains would fall back to the ground below where they were thrown.

As we look at the process of sifting we see that the goal is to separate that which is good and useful from that which is bad or not useful. If the wheat could feel, and talk, what would the wheat say about this process? This “threshing” is violent. It takes the wheat and tears it apart. The winnowing uses the wind to separate the useful from that which is not useful. The spiritual illustrations here are plentiful. God uses the trials of life to refine us, the Spirit of God separates that which is holy from that which is not, as we grow in Christ. But the point I want you to see, is that for the object of the sifting, this process is painful.

A lesson from my life.
When I was a young boy, I had trouble. I had a rare genetic medical condition called “Renal Artery Stenosis.” – Which means that the arteries to both of my kidney’s where basically pinched, restricting healthy blood flow. Over the course of several years, I had several major operations to try to repair this problem. My surgeon, Dr. Thomas Marchioro, was the Chief of Thoracic Surgery at the University Of Washington Medical Center. He was a pioneer of many intricate procedures, and much of the work that he performed on me was written off as research or education. He is a hero of mine.

There is one episode in my journey, that will forever be embedded in my brain. After, I believe, my second surgery, (I would have been maybe 10 years old) I was having trouble coughing to clear my lungs. (Mind you the vertical incision on my belly was about 12 inches long.) My inability, because of pain, to cough created a serious post-operative risk. Patients who are not able to clear fluid from their lungs run the risk of serious pulmonary complications and pneumonia. This can be fatal.

One evening, as I recall, it was 2 or 3 days after surgery, one of Dr. Marchioro’s interns came in to see me. He was very concerned about my lack of ability to clear my lungs properly. He left the room and returned with a thin blue plastic tube, about the thickness of angel hair pasta. What he did with that tube, was the cruelest thing I have ever experienced in my life. He stuck it down my nose, into my throat and forced me to gag and cough as he wiggled it up and down. This little procedure is called “naso-tracheal suctioning.” Whatever it is called, I think it’s similar to water-boarding, I thought my belly was gonna split open. I cried and thrashed like a baby.

I did some checking with my friend John Salyer, John is the Director Respiratory Therapy at Seattle Children’s Hospital and Research Institute. John confirmed to me that it is not uncommon that the pain of the surgery causes the patients to be more immobile than normal, restricts their breathing to very shallow breaths, and causes them to avoid coughing. He also informed me that this little torturous procedure, may have in-fact, saved my life.

What I thought was torture, saved me. I hated that man. I thought he was a brute. I doubt this young intern enjoyed what he had to do, but he did what was necessary in order for me to heal and have a future. As I have matured, and understood, what this man did, I have learned to appreciate, even love him, for what he did – he is a hero of mine. I think about all that God has done with my life from that point until now. Without the pain of that moment, perhaps none of it would have been possible.

I know that I have been in the place of that doctor many times. I have told parents things they did not want to hear about their children. I have challenged men and women with tough words that they did not want to hear. I have told young couples that I love, that they were not ready for marriage. It is a serious and sobering responsibility that Pastors carry, but like the sifting, or the “torturous procedure”, it is sometimes necessary.

After Jesus informed Peter of his impending sifting, He said, “but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” –Luke 22:33

Whatever this “sifting” was, it wasn’t going to destroy Peter. His faith was not going to fail, and this trial was going to be used by God to equip him to be able to “strengthen” others. That is the way these things work in our lives, when we trust God through the trial, through the pain, there is much fruit. Hebrews 12:11 says, “All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.”
James 1:2-4 says, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials,knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” -God uses tough things to cause us to grow and mature.

Without the pain of Peter’s sifting and failure, he would not have realized the strength of his faith, nor would he have fully known the riches of Christ’s grace, as He invited him to breakfast just a few days later.

Jesus was tortured and hung on a cross to secure salvation for all who would believe.
Without the pain of the cross, no one could be saved.


5 thoughts on “The Pain Of Spiritual Progress

  1. Your single comment, and the fact that you of all people on earth found this post and read it, is of immeasurable blessing to me. I loved your Father, and I am alive today because of his work. -Thanks indeed.

  2. Whatever this “sifting” was, it wasn’t going to destroy Peter. Thank you for that beautiful me hope.

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