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.
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)