What is Sifting?

In our last post that kicked off the Sifted blog series, we discussed why the issue of sifting is vitally important in the life of a Christian leader.   In a nutshell, sifting is unavoidable. It’s the weapon of choice used by God to accelerate the spiritual growth of his children.  Contrary to our natural human inclinations, embracing sifting, and even pursuing it, is a catalyst for growing more like Jesus.

In today’s post, we pursue a working definition of sifting.

Most of us prefer to avoid it!

A key assumption in our national platforming of the Sifted theme is that most of us would prefer to avoid it; we’d rather pursue new innovations, new strategies, and other tactics to grow our churches.   The hard work of personal sifting is simply not sexy.   It’s messy.  But, it’s unavoidably necessary as a foundation for healthy reproducing leaders.

Jesus promised Peter that it was upon him that he would build his church.  The sifting that came through Peter’s three denials was a necessary refining of his character to prepare him for the role Jesus promised.   In looking at Peter before and after this season of sifting, we see a more humble, but stronger leader emerge.

As part of the research for our sifted theme, we studied the lives of 20+ prominent leaders from the Bible.  Regardless of their age, location, season of life, family, vocation and circumstances, several truths emerge:

  • God uses messed up people to accomplish his purposes
  • Jesus’ promise that, “In this world you will have trouble” is universally true.  Trouble in this life is unavoidable
  • Trouble and trials do not equal sifting.  Sifting uses trouble as a catalyst to transform our hearts, refine our character and draw us closer to God
  • Trouble and trials are not to be avoided, but rather embraced
  • Increased surrender pleases God.   Sifting yields increased surrender
  • Life is a collage of sifting.  Most leaders don’t get a single season of sifting.   Like increasing levels of difficulty and challenge in video games, we can expect to be “Serial Sifters”

Biblical Context of Sifting

In Matthew 3:11-12, John the Baptist said the following about Jesus, “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you withthe Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”

In Luke 22:31-32 where Jesus says, “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.”

These passages introduce the terms threshing floor, winnowing fork, wheat, chaff, and sifting.  In Jesus day, the threshing floor was the place where sheaves of grain were crushed under the feet of oxen.   The partly threshed grain was continually being turned over with a fork.  The stalks became broken into short pieces and the husks of grain separated from the stalk.  The mixture of chaff and grain was then thrown into the wind with a winnowing fork.  The chaff blew away and the good grain collected in a pile.  The stalks were often burned.  The entire process is about refining the good wheat from the bad parts of the grain.   The refinement that comes from sifting makes the grain usable AND creates seed for producing future harvest; a harvest producing 100X more crop.    Without the sifting, the good wheat is essentially useless.

John the Baptist and Jesus both refer to sifting as a process of refining good from bad.  The process of personal sifting is one that continues beyond our conversion throughout the rest of our lives.

Working Definition of Sifting

The seemingly painful process through which every child of God has or will face trials that result in being broken and refined, strengthened and restored, and grown and empowered for God’s glory and Kingdom expansion.  Characteristics of sifting include:

  • Accelerated spiritual growth in times of trouble
  • Increased trust in God and surrender to His sovereignty
  • Refined for increased fruitfulness and multiplication

Sifted (v) \ sift-ed 1. Accelerated spiritual growth in times of trouble, 2. Increased trust in God and surrender to His sovereignty, 3. Refined and cultivated seed for increased fruitfulness and multiplication, 4. The seemingly painful process through which every child of God has or will face trials that result in being broken and refined, strengthened and restored, and grown and empowered for God’s glory and Kingdom expansion.


In our next post, we will take a look at some of the things Jesus said about “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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