"Simon, Simon, [Peter] behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat; but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers." Luke 22:31-32 (New American Standard Bible)
I have just come out of an intense time of sifting. I first heard about this process of discipline that God performs on us from my favorite Bible study teacher, Beth Moore. I have been greatly encouraged with a portion of a sermon I read three summers ago by Charles Spurgeon. He was called the Prince of Preachers in the mid 1800's in England. His sermons are absolutely profound, especially when you think that he never had any formal schooling in theology--never went to Bible college or seminary. I copied down a passage from his sermon that has profoundly changed the way I look at trials. I wanted to share it with you:
"You who are God's favorites must not marvel at trials.' (Spurgeon illustrates God's methods by comparing His people to precious stones.) The lapidary [gem-cutter], if he takes up a stone and finds that it is not very precious, will not spend much care in cutting it, but when he gets a rare diamond of the first water, then he will be sure to cut, and cut, and cut again. When the Lord finds a saint whom He loves--loves much--He may spare other men trials and troubles, but He certainly will not this well-beloved one. The more beloved you are the more of the rod you shall have. It is an awful thing to be a favorite of heaven. It is a thing to be sought after and to be rejoiced in, but remember, to be one of the King's council-chamber is a thing involving such work for faith that flesh and blood might shrink from the painful blessing. The gardener gets a tree and if it is but of a poor sort, He will let it grow as it wills, and take what fruit comes from it naturally; but if it be of a very rare sort, He likes to have every bough in its proper place, so that it may bear well; and He often takes out His knife and cuts here and cuts there, because, says He, 'That is a favorite tree, and it is one which bears such fruit that I would have much from it, and would leave nothing whatever that would cause it detriment....'
So you will find the bravest of God's servants have their times when it is hard to hold their own; when they would be glad to creep into a mouse-hole, if they could to find themselves a shelter.
Sometimes when we plead for our adverse circumstances to change, God simply makes us content where we are. Many saints have found riches in poverty, ease in labor, rest in pain, and delight in affliction. Our Lord can so adapt our minds our circumstances, that the bitter is sweet, and the burden is light."--Charles Spurgeon (taken from Bright Days, Dark Nights, copyright 2000 by Elizabeth Ruth Skoglund, Baker Books, Grand Rapids, MI)
I thank God that I ran across that passage. It puts such a positive spin on a trial. It is an awful thing to be a favorite of heaven. I have thought about that phrase over and over. My flesh cries out to have everything be wonderful all the time. But I'm starting to see that being desperate in my need for God is the safest place to be. Instead, I should worry when life is too comfortable, when there is nothing that I can think of to either pray about or to praise Him for. That is a dangerous place. To be that well-beloved one of His, I need to always realize that His rod on my back is His love for me, because the book of Jeremiah tells me that this heart of mine is deceitful and wicked beyond cure without it.
If He is never pruning me, maybe it's because I have asked for a life that is being lived blinded to the truth that I need Him and He's giving me what I think I want, yet which is so detrimental to my growth. The more loved we are, the more of the rod we will have--the more disciplined we will be, the more He will entrust us with His wisdom, the more we will be taken into His council. When I think about trials in that light, then my heart cries out for the Lord to give me the ability to see the sifting as He means it for me, as a loving act on His part. But it is so hard when life is so hard and doesn't seem to be getting better or that this thing that we want so much to change looks like it is going to stay around forever. And He knows that. That is why His mercies are new every morning and His faithfulness to His own is so great.
Jesus, "one thing God has spoken, two things have I heard: that You, O God, are strong, and that you, O Lord, are loving..."(Psalm 62:11-12) Teach me what You want me to know through these seasons of sifting in my life. You are strong, loving, and good!