Sift

The term “sifting” in baking conjures up images of taking soft white flour, carefully spooning it into a waiting sieve and gently tapping it until the tiny, little lumps are sorted out and all that’s left is a fluffy, powdery hill all ready to be made into something delightful.  The full experience would even include getting  a bit of the flour smudged across a cheek – just to prove you were really making it yourself.

The term “sifting” in Biblical imagery isn’t quite so Betty Crocker.  It’s downright brutal.

In the absence of modern machinery, sifting wheat involved something called “threshing”.  The wheat was spread onto a stone or concrete floor and beat with a flail.  Then it would be thrown in the air so the chaff would be blown away.  The heavier, more valuable grains would fall back down to the ground.  Ouch.

And that’s why, in Luke 22:31, when Jesus told Simon Peter that Satan had asked if he could “sift him like wheat”, it’s a pretty powerful picture of the lengths Satan will go to in order to attempt to prove just how invaluable he thinks we are. Satan expects that trials and testing will reveal our weakness and our lack of faith.  He expects that beating us up and throwing us around will make our shallow, fickle faith blow away in the wind.  And it could, but it doesn’t have to.

Jesus didn’t blink an eye at Satan’s request.  He went on to say, “But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail”.   Jesus is actually praying for us during the sifting process.  He is cheering us on, waiting to see if the result of the threshing reveals something that might not have been apparent before – a stronger, more valuable faith.

Life sifting is hard.  There’s no gentle tapping.  It can feel like being thrown down on the floor and beat with a flail.  But there is a purpose behind it.  It’s to prove our faith, and prove the One who is praying for it not to fail.  And I’d love to see the look on Satan’s face when that happens.

Be careful! Watch out for attacks from the Devil, your great enemy. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for some victim to devour.   1 Peter 5:8-9 (NLT)

Therefore He is able, once and forever, to save everyone who comes to God through Him. He lives forever to plead with God on their behalf.  Hebrews 7:25 (NLT)

 

All

Judson VanDeVenter isn’t exactly a household name.   Born in 1855, he was employed as an art teacher in the public schools of Pennsylvania.   As he advanced in his art career, something began to stir in his heart.  He believed that God might be calling him into full time ministry.   But art was his first love and he struggled with giving up his dreams.  At what Judson himself called “a pivotal hour”,  he surrendered everything to the will of God and started a new journey into evangelistic work.  A short time later, he penned the words to this well-known and moving hymn.   He wrote some other songs, but none matched the power and widespread influence of this one.

I’m sure that at that moment of surrender, he had no idea that his obedience and the subsequent work of God in his life would result in music and lyrics that would move the hearts of Christians for generations to come. It’s a lesson for us.  We should not take moments like that lightly in our own lives.  God could take a seemingly random moment of choice –  and use that choice to glorify Himself in ways that we couldn’t have dreamed up if we tried. Sometimes our obedience isn’t just for our benefit.  God might have a plan to use our experiences and choices to bless and encourage others  No, Judson VanDeVenter isn’t a household name.  But chances are, you have sung his song.  And chances are, it has made you think about obedience, choices…and the blessings of surrendering all.

I Surrender All

All to Jesus, I surrender;
All to Him I freely give;
I will ever love and trust Him,
In His presence daily live.

Refrain

I surrender all, I surrender all,
All to Thee, my blessed Savior,
I surrender all.

All to Jesus I surrender;
Humbly at His feet I bow,
Worldly pleasures all forsaken;
Take me, Jesus, take me now.

All to Jesus, I surrender;
Make me, Savior, wholly Thine;
Let me feel the Holy Spirit,
Truly know that Thou art mine.

All to Jesus, I surrender;
Lord, I give myself to Thee;
Fill me with Thy love and power;
Let Thy blessing fall on me.

All to Jesus I surrender;
Now I feel the sacred flame.
O the joy of full salvation!
Glory, glory, to His Name!

“For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it.”  Luke 9:24

Scene

Oscar season is behind us, but I’ve thinking about things that go on “behind the scenes”.  During the presentations, I’m always surprised at the awards given for things we never think about, the things that made the final movie great.  And in real life, I wonder about the things that go on behind the “scenes” of my day to day activities and my life journey.

Just like the theater, sometimes the scenes in my life are filled with drama and tension and sometimes they are just plain hysterical and I’m left laughing along with my “audience”.  There are times when they are suspenseful and even I’m wondering what will happen next.  Even though I’m “the lead” in the story, the Director doesn’t usually give me the script ahead of time.

But what’s happening behind the scenes?  What is God up to behind the curtain?  I think that there must be a flurry of activity on the Director’s part. He’s moving the right people to come into my scene at the right time, but He’s also letting others leave the scene, in spite of my desire to have them stay.  He’s directing me to be at the right place on the stage, even when I whine, “But it doesn’t make sense for me to be here!”.  I think He’s smiling behind the curtain when He knows He’s about to bring something onto the stage that will delightfully surprise me – something I least expected.

I need to trust God with the story of my life.  I need to trust that He is indeed at work behind the scenes.  The Best Director is indeed at work “behind the seen”.  Nothing is going to happen that He isn’t totally and completely aware of – and in control of.   During the funny scenes and the heart wrenching scenes, during the scenes that went in a completely different direction than I thought they would, I must trust that He is always crafting a story that He wrote just for me. 

And if I follow His direction, it’s going to be a great one. 

A man’s heart plans his way, But the LORD directs his steps.  Proverbs 16:9

Your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” whenever you turn to the right hand or whenever you turn to the left.  Isaiah 30:21

O LORD, I know the way of man is not in himself. It is not in man who walks to direct his own steps. Jeremiah 10:23

 

Surprise

So about 7pm the other night I realized I had no blank CD’s lying around and I needed to download a song from my computer to a disc so we could listen to it during Bible study the next evening.   My day had already been quite long and I didn’t really feel like going out, but I got in my car and drove to the Staples office supply store I had been to a hundred times before.

As I got out of my car in the parking lot, I noticed it didn’t seem to be the “usual” Staples crowd.  Lots of families, lots of kids – and it isn’t even “I need school supplies” season.  But I was on a mission, so I walked straight into the store with determination and a plan to get the CD’s and get back home.  The first thing that hit me was a display of outdoor patio furniture. “Hmmmmmm” I said to myself, and briefly wondered when Staples started to sell vinyl chaise lounges and plastic tables.   Well into the store, I noticed aisles of cleaning products, cheap candles and inflatable pool toys.  And then I started to laugh.

Staples had apparently become a Big Lots discount store while I wasn’t paying attention.

There are times in life when we suddenly look up and find ourselves surprised that we’re not where we thought we’d be.  We’re not where we planned to be.  And while sometimes that change requires thoughtful reflection and surrender, other times, it’s just funny.  I think God enjoys showing us new things.  Things we hadn’t thought about before.  Things we hadn’t noticed.   He loves to delightfully surprise us and give us something better than what we thought we were going to get.

I did end up buying my CD’s in that Big Lots store.  A 10 pack for $3.  And I just had to laugh.

Behold I will do a new thing.  Now it shall spring forth.  Shall you not know it?    Isaiah 43:19

B

I was reading an article on the Gulf of Mexico oil spill this week and a quote by one of the oil company officials caught my eye.  Referring to the current attempt to cap the leaking well,  one of them said, “We’re believing it will work, but we’re proceeding as if it won’t”.  They were working on Plan B before they even knew if Plan A was going to succeed.  They either didn’t have a whole lot of faith in Plan A, or they wanted a “just in case” Plan B in their back pocket.

I know that catastrophic oil spills warrant Plans A, B, C, D and so on.  And the last news report I read indicates that those contingency plans indeed have been necessary.  But the quote caught my eye because it sounded so counter to what God’s word says about faith.  It made me wonder how many times I have said I believed God, but I’ve proceeded like I really didn’t expect Him to come through.  I wondered how many times I’ve secretly been working on a Plan B behind His back.

A Plan B might sound like a good thing to have, but it’s really just a faith failure in disguise.  God wants us to have faith in His plan for our lives even when it doesn’t make sense, when it isn’t clear, and when it doesn’t appear to be successful by our definition. 

I don’t want to have doubts.  I don’t want to have a Plan B of my own making in my back pocket.  I don’t want to say I believe God and then proceed as if I don’t.  God’s plan is the only plan I need.

 “For I know the plans I have for you” says the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, to give you hope and a future”.  Jeremiah 29:11 

 

Waiting

There is a difference between soul waiting and stop light waiting.  I came to that brilliant conclusion this morning. (I’m kidding about the brilliant part). I was looking up the meaning of the word “wait” in a Bible dictionary, and it said, “waiting involves the very essence of a person’s being – his soul”.   My very essence?  My soul?  Sounded a little dramatic, but then I realized it was talking about a specific kind of waiting.

There’s not usually a whole lot of my soul involved at stop lights and in grocery store lines. There may be a bit of my temper and my general impatience, but those situations are just life annoyances resulting in minor inconvenience.    Soul waiting is much, much harder.  Soul waiting is waiting for things that God knows everything about, but doesn’t seem to be in too much of a hurry to share with us.

Of course, He has reasons for that.  Reasons that may eventually become clear, but for now, remain quite obscure.  We do know that soul waiting requires a whole lot of trust.  Soul waiting asks us to look to God with hopeful expectation, even when we have no idea when, where or how He will end the wait. 

Soul waiting has its benefits, unlike the stop light waiting, which usually only results in an eventual green light and the ability to proceed with the trip.  Soul waiting can actually renew us. “Those that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength.” Isaiah 40:31.  Soul waiting allows the Lord to give us things that wouldn’t have been possible without the wait. “Therefore, the Lord will wait that He may be gracious to you.” Isaiah 30:18.   Soul waiting allows us to rest – in God. “Rest in the Lord and wait patiently for Him.” Psalm 37:7. Soul waiting actually blesses us.  “Blessed are all those who wait for Him.”  Isaiah 30:18

And the very best part?  Knowing that God is right there in the wait with me – listening, protecting and providing.  And my soul – my very essence – can just settle in, and trust His ways, His plans, and His calendar.

“Therefore, I will look to the Lord.  I will wait for the God of my salvation.  My God will hear me.  Do not rejoice over me, my enemy.  When I fall, I will arise.  When I sit in darkness, the Lord will be a light to me.”  Micah 7:7

Clouds

I love watching clouds from the window of an airplane.  Big, billowy, lofty, oversized cotton ball-like clouds and even dark, gray, speckled-with-lightning clouds.  I just don’t like flying through them.  I always have fleeting thoughts of the pilot being as freaked out as I am upon the realization that we can’t see anything out that window anymore except a lot of white – or black if it’s a storm cloud.  But then, of course, reason sets in and I remember that the pilot has instruments to show him where we are and which way to go.  He doesn’t have to rely on what he sees outside.  He relies on what he sees on the instrument panel.

How many times have you been enjoying the view out your life window and suddenly you find yourself in the middle of the cloud instead of watching it as a bystander from a distance?  How many times have you found your plans and your destination obscured and muddled instead of having the clarity you had at the start of your journey?

So here’s the question: How do you find your way when you can’t see?

First, know that God is in the clouds.  In every storm, in every fog – the Bible reminds us that God’s faithfulness, truth and strength are in the clouds (Ps. 36:5, 108:4, 68:34).  That means that He’s right there in the middle of whatever is going on in our lives. We are never alone in a cloud.  Second, know that God wants to be your guide through the cloud.  “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go.  I will guide you with my eye” (Ps 32:8).  When we can’t see ahead of us, we can trust the One who can. 

I recently heard of a man who is blind in one eye, and who has only 50% vision in the other due to a degenerative eye disease.  He enjoyed flying airplanes before his vision loss and probably thought he would never fly again.  But thanks to a pilot friend who acted as his seeing-eye guide, he went up in a plane, took over the controls, listened to the verbal clues of his friend and flew that aircraft!  What a lesson for us.  May we be just as quick to listen to the voice of our Pilot when we can’t see what’s happening around us  – and trust Him to give us the ride of our lives!