When my family lived and worked in South Sudan, we bought all of our wheat and sorghum in bulk, hulls and all. We took the grain to a miller to have it ground.
The mill was a grinding contraption as tall as a man with a large funnel shaped opening on top. It connected to a big block V-8 truck engine via chain and sprocket. There was no muffler on the exhaust system. There was no exhaust system. When it pulverized our grain into a mix of smashed kernels and hulls, it was louder than ten race cars.
From the mill, the hodgepodge of kernels and hulls went to the ladies working in the kitchen. But it wasn’t ready to be used for bread, dumplings, or donuts yet. The combination came from the mill was inedible. The ladies spread the mix out on a large tarp and tossed it into the air. The wind picked up the hulls and carried them off. The kernels fell onto the tarp. This was the good stuff destined to be ground into finer flour to make tasty baked goods.
This is sifting. This ancient process has changed very little. Technology and tools have changed, but separating wheat from chaff has always happened and still does. But until I moved to Africa, I bought flour at the store when my mom or wife needed it to bake my favorite chocolate chip cookies. Sifting for me had always been connected to tasty goodness and comfort food. Until I saw the sifting process in Africa, I never got the point Jesus was making as he addressed Peter in Luke 22:
“Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift each of you like wheat. But I have pleaded in prayer for you, Simon, that your faith should not fail. So when you have repented and turned to me again, strengthen your brothers.” –Luke 22:31
I get it now. And if you’re preparing to go to the mission field, you get it, too.
The Holy Spirit walks with us through a sifting process as planning and preparations for departure are made. When we begin, we think we’re ready, but we must be ground up and sifted before we’re of any use to God. If you’re really called, there is no way around it.
How does sifting happen? How will you be ground down and wheat separated from chaff? It could happen through formal missionary training, in saying your goodbyes to family, or unencumbering yourself from house, home, and worldly possessions as you and/or your family become mobile and portable. As you pull your kids out of school and accumulate homeschool curriculum, your family doesn’t get it and you face opposition you never imagined when you expected support and confirmation of calling.
But you ARE called. God is preparing you to be useful and fruitful. Real sifting happens after grain is beat down, ground up and pulverized between heavy grinding stones or sharp steel teeth. Then chaff and husk are separated and sifted from the useful and nutritious kernel. That’s sifting. It’s rough. It’s painful. It’s not your fault. It’s simply part of the process.
“There are times when all Christian work carries this element: when one is entrusted with a vision, a vocation, a particular ministry finds that he or she has to carry it forwards despite misunderstanding, opposition, doubt and denial, even from close friends and associates. Those who want to be bearers of the promise must be prepared for this puzzle.” —NT Wright
If you are in the process of being sifted right now, here are five action items for you:
- Prepare your heart for a new season of ministry.
- Write down what you’re going through and what God is showing you.
- Lay your current plans and expectations down and pray for discernment. The Lord could be leading you in a new direction or bringing greater clarity to the vision He’s given you.
- Pray for wisdom. He delivers on this prayer (James 1:5).
- Humble yourself and be teachable.
Much of this is Christianity 101; basic discipleship. Embrace these fundamentals. You will experience greater clarity and gain the perspective needed to move forward in the work and calling God has prepared you for.