My dad used a big machine at harvest time to combine the process of loosening and removing the outer chaff from wheat. This “combine” was very powerful and created a lot of dust. Some farmers died by slipping and falling inside it, yet this loud and dangerous machine changed the farming industry.
In Jesus’ day and even now in poorer economies, human labor does the job. First, the grain is spread onto a stone or tamped earth floor. Then it is beaten with a flail to loosen the chaff. In the next step, the grain is thrown into the air. Even a small breeze blows away the lighter chaff and the heaver grain falls back to the ground.
Just before His crucifixion, Jesus used this image to describe to Peter what Satan wanted to do with him in regard to his faith.
Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers. (Luke 22:31–32)
These verses bring to mind other images from a film we saw on the weekend. It showed killer whales hunting young seals, then tossing them in the air like a cat plays with a helpless mouse. From that, it takes little imagination to see Satan tossing a helpless person like a toy. I also know what it feels like to be sifted like wheat.
Right now, I am here, not tossed or blown in the wind. Thankfully, the sifting and accompanying threats to my faith are seasonal, like harvest time, and I have a reprieve and also a promise. Just as Jesus told Simon Peter that He would pray, He also prays for me. I am not like the seals who are mere victims from their killers. Jesus keeps me from being destroyed by threshing power of my spiritual enemy.
While it may not feel like it at the time, God even brings good out of the sifting process. I can see that from the illustration of threshing grain. Sifting is necessary for the wheat to be edible and useful. Struggling against attacks to my faith also are vital in separating the good from the useless. After a trial, my focus is strengthened and my trust is deepened. Any trivia that prevented me from “strengthening” others has been carried away by the wind, leaving behind a deeper faith and a more palatable life message.
These verses also produce other images. With these thoughts of combines and wheat, I am missing my dad. I’ve images of him on that dusty machine and remember the many times I took water or lunch to him on horseback. I miss his dusty face and the mingled smell of sweat and the harvest.
At the same time, I associate his love and care for farm and family with the love of God and His care for us. Being sifted could be the Lord lovingly running a combine through my life, allowing the sifting and knowing that the faith He has given me will survive being tossed into the wind. Not only that, God uses the sifting to purify and make me a better person, proof that the violence of the sifting process is no match for the prayers of Jesus Christ.