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Have You Ever Been Sifted?

A question by Patch columnist Ben Cathey, pastor of the Orchard Church in Loganville, Ga.

In Luke 22:31-32 Jesus says, “Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. But I have prayed for you . . . that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”

Jesus was talking to the Disciples after the Last Supper. The Disciples were about to enter their darkest days and they didn’t even know it. Only a week earlier Jesus had ridden into Jerusalem to the applause of throngs of cheering fans waving palm branches usually reserved for royalty.  The Disciples must have thought they would finally escape their new lifestyle of nomadic religious obscurity to be famous, powerful, influential, and even wealthy. After all, the cheering Jews thought they were receiving a new King who would lead them to political prosperity, not a Savior who would forgive sins. The Disciples must have been giddy with anticipation as they ate breakfast together on the morning of the Last Supper.

Then everything changed. Jesus wandered from dinner to pray in the Garden of Gethsemane. A couple of Disciples went with Him. They fell asleep. Judas betrayed Jesus and brought Roman soldiers to arrest Him. Peter defended Him. Jesus refused violent protection and gave Himself over the solders. His trial was a sham, a puppet court with a predetermined conviction. Jesus would be sentenced to die a brutal death through crucifixion. Peter who had been so brave a few hours earlier lied to a little girl about his relationship with Jesus. Jesus was whipped, bruised, mocked, and paraded in the streets. He was crucified, died, and He was buried. He was gone, done, dead . . . never to return again. All hope was lost.

For three dark days, the Disciples must have lived in a state of shock and fear. Would they be next? Was it time to return home, go back to fishing . . . for fish?

It’s striking that Jesus never said, “I’m going to take the challenges away from you.”  He never offered emotional or spiritual advice. He just said that He had prayed for them. He prayed for them that the faith they had already developed by His side would not waver and falter in His absence.  He prayed for strength but did not offer direct assistance. And then He says the most unusual thing: “And when you turn back, strengthen your brothers.” Turn back? Turn back from what? Maybe they needed to turn back from fear, doubt, or hopelessness. Perhaps they needed to turn back from leaving, to going back to fishing for fish instead of people.

Are you being sifted? I know I am! In more ways than one.

I look around, and there is pain in our midst—financial struggle, emotional battles, rumors, disobedience, health problems, joblessness, and disillusionment. Too many of us have walked into Jerusalem with a new King and now we are wondering what life will be like now that the fanfare is gone. We thought our life would reflect a greater glory than it presently reflects.  We thought it would be happier, healthier . . . just better.  We have had better days.  Days full of joy, success, confidence, and anticipation.  Now we are filled with dread.  We don't spread our wings as easily.  We pull them close and cower to the challenges around us, not wanted to leave the nest.

We are left wondering if happiness will ever happen again. Will the mojo, the swagger, the confidence to be fully human every return? I believe it will, but not for everyone. Some people will not turn back. Some will leave and go back to “just fishing.” Some people will find themselves stuck in fear, doubt, and anxiety. They will be unable to find the strength to trust God, content to seek comfort in whatever form it presents itself. But those who do turn back will live to be stronger by trusting God every step of the way. They will be used to strengthen their brothers. Brothers, mind you, who need Jesus. The ones who persevere will see God work. They will endure, and because they will have withstood, they will be stronger. Not only will they be stronger, they will have the ability to help others like never before.

It’s never about the depth of the pain; it’s always about the length. I don’t know when I will be released from it, but I am praying, and I'm stepping forward as faithfully as I can.  Ultimatley, each of us has one choice to make. Will we trust God and look to Him every step of the way? Will you? I’m learning faithfulness and trust afresh. I’m trusting God and leaning into Him in ways I didn’t think I could.

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