Paul on Sifting

In our previous post in the Sifted blog series, we looked at what Jesus said about sifting.

Jesus promised that we would have trouble in this world.  Trouble is of the physical world and often the product of external factors often beyond our control.  Worry is emotional and the product of the evil one working on our minds.  Jesus asked God to protect us from the evil one when the day of trouble comes.   He could have asked God to take away our trouble but instead he asked God to protect us from the evil one’s attacks on our minds during the trouble.

Sifting is the process of facing life’s troubles and enduring by allowing Jesus to take captive our thoughts rather than the evil one.  Yielding to Jesus’ captivity strengthens our faith.

The Apostle Paul knew trouble.  From flogging to hunger to imprisonment to fear of death, he faced it all.  Amidst it all he said, “in all our troubles my joy knows no bounds.”  In, through, and because of his sifting, he learned the secret to “being content in any and every situation.”  In today’s post, we look at ten truths about sifting that we learn from Paul’s life.

10 Learning’s on Sifting from the Apostle Paul

1.  You Can Run, but You Can Not Hide

In Romans 8, Paul said, “I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

We may run from God during our troubles but we cannot run from his love.  His love is unconditional regardless of our troubles or our response to the troubles.  Sifting sometimes makes us angry with God or leaves us questioning him.  However, sifting can never separate us from his love.  He awaits with open arms and the love never changes.

2.  God Comforts Us in Our Troubles

In 2 Corinthians 1 Paul says, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.”  While God allows us to experience troubles, he provides us comfort during the troubles.  He is not selective.  Paul notes that he comforts us in “all our troubles.”

3.  That We Might Not Rely on Ourselves

In 2 Corinthians 1, Paul says, “we were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself.  Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.  He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again.”

Paul states clearly that the purpose of trouble he experienced was to increase his reliance on God.  Often our sifting is intended to break our strong nature to control things in our own power.  A core tenant of sifting is God’s desire for us to rely fully on him.  It’s in our most helpless circumstances that we most aggressively reach out to him.   He desires our passionate pursuit in all circumstances.

4.  Eternal Perspectives are to Guide Us Through Sifting

In 2 Corinthians 4 (parts), Paul says, “we are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.  We do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

We are encouraged to focus not on what is seen (the physical world, the trouble, the temporary situation), but rather on the eternal.   Paul’s eternal perspective allowed him to see terrible trouble as “light and momentary.”

5.  Advancing the Gospel Guarantees Trouble

In 2 Corinthians 6 (parts) Paul says, “as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.”

Imagine this list as a job description.  Paul notes that the cost of being a servant of God is trouble.  There is simply no getting around it.

6.  Experience Joy Amidst the Trouble

In 2 Corinthians 7:4 Paul says, “I am greatly encouraged; in all our troubles my joy knows no bounds.”  Even in the best of times it’s difficult to comprehend joy that knows no bounds.  To experience this level of joy amidst terrible troubles is a testament to the power of the Holy Spirit within us.  The same power that raised Jesus from the dead is alive and at work within us during our seasons of sifting.  That power produces joy if we allow it.

7.  God’s Power is Made Perfect in Our Weakness

In 2 Corinthians 12:7-10, Paul says, “In order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.  That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

In times of sifting we are vulnerable.  Our weakness spotlights God’s power bringing glory to him.  We can shine the power and perfection of God during our times of sifting through our weakness.

8.  Contentment is Possible in All Circumstances

When sifted we seek to get beyond it as quickly as possible.  We can become discontent amidst trouble.  Paul shows us a better way when he says in Philippians 4, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.  I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”   As Believers we also know the secret.

9.  The Certainty of Trouble, the Uncertainty of What and When

In Acts 20:22-23 Paul says, “And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me.”   While Paul was certain that trouble would continually face him, he did not always know what form it would take or when it would occur.

10.  Throw Off the Things that Hinder

In Hebrews 12:1-2 Paul says, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.”

Church leaders experience a multitude of external troubles that hinder ministry (e.g. finances, facilities, leadership, etc.).  Additionally, we all carry internal character issues (sin) that weighs us down.   Paul encourages us to “throw off” these external and internal issues and focus on Jesus.   During our seasons of sifting we will likely need to deal with these issues while fixing our eyes on Jesus.   And yes, Paul acknowledges that we will need perseverance to finish the race.

In our next post, we will take a look at some of the symptoms of “sifting.”   Visit http://storiesofsifted.com to join the conversation or subscribe to the Stories of Sifted feed at http://feeds.feedburner.com/sifting

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