Sifting…another buzz word around here. I hear it every week. I’ve grown to dread hearing it…not because of what it actually means, but because of how it’s used to describe what is happening at this church. “You know, Satan is just sifting this congregation.” It implies that what has happened in this congregation is a natural divine series of events. It implies that the sour grapes are being sifted from the bunch. And this statement is often followed closely by a recitation of Isaiah 43:18-19 …"Forget the former things, do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland."
There…we’re all better now…right? I mean we had a little disagreement, the sour grapes were divinely sifted from our midst and now we need to forget things that happened and not dwell on the past. After all, it says it right there in the Scripture. God is doing a new thing! He loves this church and wants to bless it. And those who are hanging on to their hurt are just preventing the New Thing from moving along at the pace we’d like to see.
Hang on. I’m wrestling with this idea a bit. Here’s why:
1. “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” Luke 22:31-32
Some versions of the Bible say that Satan wants to sift “you”. Other versions say that Satan wants to sift “all of you” or “the apostles”. Either way, it seems that the verse is talking about a sifting of the useless parts from the useable parts in the life of an individual…not sifting certain individuals from a group of people (or from a “body of Believers”). I think it’s much more personal than some of us are willing to admit.
Sifting wheat is a violent process of ripping, tearing and beating the grain out of the chaff. While I don’t believe that I’ve been sifted from this church as some might suggest, I do believe that I am experiencing sifting as it’s referred to in this verse. I definitely feel my beliefs being torn, ripped and beaten. I don’t like it and it hurts like hell…but God allows it.
In this verse, Jesus prays for Peter…that the harsh sifting will not destroy Peter’s faith. And He must know that Peter will doubt and question, but survive with his faith intact, because He tells him to strengthen his brothers “when you have returned to Me”.
2. In our current situation, it’s interesting to me that the people who purportedly “got sifted” were often the ones who looked beyond the story that was being presented to the church, discovered the truth about the forced resignations of two ministers, questioned church leadership and tried to expose the untruths spoken against those and other ministers by church leadership/members. None of those who manipulated the process, spoke untruths to Sunday School classes, knew the truth about what was happening and refused to reveal it to the congregation…not a single one that I know of…was “sifted” from the congregation. Please correct me if I’m wrong.
3. I’ve read many interpretations of Isaiah 43:18-19. I don’t believe God wants us to live in the past and allow our previous mistakes to keep us from living a fruitful life. I can’t imagine, however, that He doesn’t want us to acknowledge our mistakes, confront them and attempt to clean up the mess we’ve made before moving on to the “new thing”.
I wish church members would just stop for a moment before they recite this verse in response to what has happened in this church…and think. Imagine that your husband has been accused and his integrity has been questioned. Imagine that he is never given the opportunity to face his accusers. Imagine that his request for reconciliation is flatly denied. Imagine being told that your husband’s severance pay can be taken away if either of you reveals the truth about your situation to your closest friends/mentors. Imagine your closest friends believing you are happy about leaving your current job, home and schools because they believe you have made the choice to leave. Imagine how you will react to their giddy congratulatory remarks and hugs. Imagine you must find a way to allow them to believe a lie…in order to save your family’s ability to pay your mortgage and provide food and insurance until your husband finds another job. Imagine telling your children that they will have to leave their school, their friends, their home. Imagine trying to explain why they must move and leave these things behind. Imagine receiving anonymous mail suggesting that you leave town. Imagine leaving your life as you know it behind. Imagine rebuilding your life in a new place. Imagine the struggles of starting new schools, finding new friends and mentors, starting a new job, making a different house into a home…all while deeply wounded.
Imagine this scenario happening in your church.
Now…imagine hearing the church members say or seeing people post on social media this Scripture: “Forget the former things, do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing!”
Imagine how that would feel.
I guess the takeaway message for me is this…
While hearing the word “sifted” began to tie my stomach in knots, I appreciate those who have said it to me. The pain of hearing it made me search the meaning of the verse for myself and, in the end, brought some comfort. Comfort…in the prospect that I have not been sifted from the congregation that I loved and trusted for years. I am being sifted personally…to refine my faith…to tear away the part that I don’t need because it’s not helpful and it prevents the heart of my faith (the grain) from being used. I’m also comforted to know that God is most likely pulling for me…knowing that I will doubt and question…hoping I won’t lose my faith completely. And He’s hoping that when I return to Him, I will encourage those around me. I’m praying this for myself.