Jesus on Sifting

In our previous post in the Sifted blog series, we discussed a working definition of what sifting is and why it’s important.   In a nutshell, the process of sifting can be boiled down to:

Worldly trouble producing increased surrender to and trust in God.

Where we often seek to avoid or run from sifting, God intends it for our good.  To embrace it is to grow, and mature, and become more like Jesus.

In today’s post, we look at what Jesus had to say about sifting.

Some Personal Questions to Set the Stage…

Candidly consider your answers to these questions:

1.  At the end of the coming year when you look back on your accomplishments and what God has done through you, would you prefer to boast of (1) becoming more like Jesus, OR (2) doing more for Jesus?  If you are like most leaders, you say “becoming more like” versus “doing more for.”

2.  Does Jesus care more about you becoming more like him OR doing more for him?  The paradox is that the more like him we become, the more effective we naturally become at the doing more for him.  In general, becoming more like Jesus will produce more fruit in the doing more for Jesus.   The reverse is not necessarily true.   Doing more for Jesus does not guarantee that we become more like him.  (Note:  This finding was affirmed in the Willow Creek Reveal Study).

3.  Consider the books, blogs and articles you’ve read, the conferences you’ve attended, and the prayers you’ve prayed in the past year.  When you look at the “content” you are drawn to (and the bias of your time), do you tend to focus on resources that help you “become more like” or resources that help you “do more for” (or do more effectively)?  If you are like most leaders, you have a natural affinity to focus on resources that help you do more things, more effectively.

Why the disconnect?

So why the disconnect?  The Exponential Conference features over 4,000 leaders and over 150 workshops.  By far (probably a 6 to 1 ratio), the workshops are aimed at helping people be more effective at “doing”.   These workshops tend to be at capacity.   The workshops focused on helping leaders “become more like” are not nearly as well attended.  Learning to be more effective at “doing” is far more sexy and intriguing than the hard work of “becoming more like”.    It’s simply our natural bias.

So why is sifting so important?  Seasons of sifting have an incredible power to shift our natural bias from “doing” to “being.”   As a result, we tend to see accelerated spiritual growth during these times.   I’m convinced it’s the secret code the Apostle Paul and others discovered in the first century church:  Trouble is a given.   We must face it (we have no other choice).  God is our only hope.  Pray.  Trust.  Surrender.   Joy.  Invite and celebrate more trouble.

It’s why the Apostle James said, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

“Pure joy!”   Seriously?  For many of us, sifting is a painful thing to be avoided.   Pure joy?  Hmmm.   Maybe we need to take our sifting more seriously and embrace it more wholeheartedly.

Learning from Jesus

Jesus Promised Trouble

In John 16:33 Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble.”   He did not say “maybe” nor did he say, “If you’re lucky you will avoid it.”    In his final documented series of prayers for Believers, he didn’t even ask God to spare us of troubles.  Instead he asked God to protect us from the evil one when the times of trouble come.  Ephesians 6 addresses putting on the armor of God.   Verse 13 specifically says, “so that when the day of evil comes” we would be prepared.   It does not say “if the day of evil comes” but rather “when”.   We should expect and anticipate trouble.

Jesus Experienced Trouble Himself

Jesus does not expect us to go through more than he went through.   He faced troubles of all kinds.

In Matthew 26:36-38 we read, “Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, ‘Sit here while I go over there and pray.’  He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled.  Then he said to them, ‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.’”

In John 13:21 Jesus is troubled by losing one of his disciples.  We read, “After he had said this, Jesus was troubled in spirit and testified, ‘Very truly I tell you, one of you is going to betray me.’”

There is Rest in Jesus during our Momentary Troubles

In John 14:1 Jesus said, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.”  In John 14:27 he said, “Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”  In Matthew 11:28 he encouraged us with, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”

Embrace Trouble, Avoid Worry.  They are Different

Jesus is blunt about worry and its value.  In Matthew 6:25-34 (parts) he says, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear.  Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?  But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

Taking up our Cross to Follow Jesus is an Overt Act of Trouble

In Matthew 16:24 Jesus said, “Whomever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”  The context of his call to action was not one of lush, stress-free living.  He called the disciples to a life of worldly trouble for advancing the word.

In Matthew 13, Jesus gives the parable of the sower.  In describing the man (seed) who is not firmly rooted he says, “When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away.”  Note two key points:  (1) “When trouble or persecution comes” – again its not a question of “if” but “when”, and (2) “because of the word”.    Jesus tied our trouble to the work of advancing the Gospel.    He expected his followers to have trouble because of him and his message.

The battlefield of sifting is in the mind!

Our Primary Challenge is the Enemies Battle for the Captivity of our Mind (not the trouble itself)

Ephesians 6:12 says, “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”  Troubles are of the flesh and blood.   Worry is the overflow of the trouble rattling around in our heads.  Satan seeks to take our minds captive to fear, worry, and anxiety amidst our troubles.  In John 16 Jesus told the disciples they would have trouble in this world.   Hours later when praying to God for the disciples he said, “I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.”  (John 17:14-15)   Jesus could have asked God to keep trouble away from the disciples (take them out of the world).  Instead, he asked God to protect them from the evil one when the trouble came.  Jesus was keenly aware that our battle in sifting is one of the mind.

Jesus is the Ultimate and Final Sifter (the rest is preparation)

In Matthew 3:11-12 John the Baptist says 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 with the 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.”  The winnowing fork was used to throw the mixture of wheat and chaff into the air to separate the good from the bad.  On judgment day we will receive the ultimate sifting by the ultimate sifter.

Jesus Allows the Sifting…but he has already Prayed for our Protection

The last supper kicks off.  Jesus lets the disciples know that one of them will betray him.  Their conversation quickly turns from who the betrayer is to which one of them will be greatest in the Kingdom.  Knowing Peter would disown him three times before morning, Jesus said in Luke 22:31-32,

“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.”   Peter faced trouble.  The trouble produced fear.  Satan used the fear to take Peter captive.  Peter was broken, repented, and was restored stronger in character.  He emerged prepared to be the rock upon which Jesus would build the church.  Satan won the momentary battle, but God won the bigger war for Peter’s increased surrender.


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.  Our battle is not against flesh and blood but against the spiritual forces of darkness in the heavenly realm.   Jesus asked God to protect the disciples from the evil one when the trouble came.   He could have asked God to take away the trouble but instead he asked God to protect them from the evil one’s attacks on their minds during the trouble.  Sifting is the process of facing troubles and enduring by allowing Jesus to take captive our thoughts rather than the evil one.  Yielding to Jesus’ captivity strengthens our faith.  From his temptation in the desert to his arrest and crucifixion, Jesus experienced sifting.  He knows and expects that we will do the same.

In our next post, we will take a look at some of the things the Apostles said about sifting.   Visit to join the conversation or subscribe to the Stories of Sifted feed at