Sifted

“Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift 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.” Luke 22:31-32

Every so often, I’m overcome with the urge. I tromp my way into the kitchen, raid my wife’s Pinterest boards, and load up the most ridiculously awesome dessert I can find (as long as it has ingredients I can pronounce). Why? I have no idea, but cooking is an itch that has to be scratched every so often. And if I’m going to cook, then let it be dessert (or something grilled, but dessert works better year round).

Now, I’m not the most faithful of recipe followers. I never measure vanilla extract; I eschew mixer etiquette (like the speed really matters); and I don’t sift flour. In fact, I’m convinced that a sifter was invented by kitchen accessory companies as a way to squeeze more money out of wannabe chefs: “Sure, your flour is fluffy, but is it sifted fluffy?”

Okay, okay… a real chef, which I am not, will tell you the importance of sifting. They’ll go into a long spiel about why it makes the dish better. They’re right, I’m sure, but that doesn’t mean I’m willing to go through with the process. I’d rather live my fantasy about why sifting flour isn’t important because it makes the dessert easier.

In fact, that’s exactly the same reaction I have with my life being sifted. I much prefer the easy, slapdash method of getting to where God wants me to be. My desire is that He take me from messed up to fixed in the rough areas of my life without having to go through the tough work of restoration. Throw in the fix, and I’m good to go.

But it doesn’t work that way, and there’s a good reason why: being sifted leaves a mark that instant fixes don’t. We need the scars to remind us.

Notice how Jesus explains this to Peter. First, He tells Peter that Satan has asked to sift the disciple. Asked… as in requesting permission from God to test Peter. Second, Satan gets permission. Jesus doesn’t say the request was denied. He says only that He prayed for Peter’s faith not to fail. In other words, Jesus holds the disciple together, but He doesn’t stop the testing. Finally, it’s only after the sifting and restoration that Peter can strengthen his brothers.

That’s the key here. Peter gets sifted (through his denial of Jesus), but because he’s sifted, he can restore his brothers. His faith gets a huge boost, and the post-sifting Peter becomes a rock-steady man of God (couldn’t resist the pun).

Sifting stinks, and we’d all prefer that God would just snap His mighty fingers and make us the man or woman He wants us to be. But if He did, we would miss the blessing that comes from being refined in the fire. Yes, I said “blessing,” a big, fat blessing—even if it doesn’t feel that way at the time.

Advertisements

Wakeup Call

Somewhere along the line, I forgot that I hate mornings. As a kid, I loathed the early morning sunshine after staying up too long and gorging on late-night TV shows. My Saturdays and Sundays and summer stirrings usually began at 1:00—p.m., that is. Even in college, I picked classes that didn’t require any matinal commitments on my part. If I could squeeze everything in from noon to four, all the better (which is part of the reason my university experience meandered through six years and countless majors).

But now, suddenly, I’m up at 5:00 a.m. And even worse? I like it.

I suppose there’s something about aging that rewires the morning-hate genes in our bodies or weakens the dawn antibodies we’ve built up over our childhood. The condition obviously overtook my grandfather, who never met a four o’clock coffee he didn’t like, and my father, who used to spring out of bed before I even went to sleep on summer nights. Genetic baggage like that will catch up with you.

So, here I am, awake to pray and scare the twitchy deer from our stubbly bean plants, awake to shush the early morning sleep whimpers from our dog, awake to roll life decisions through my recharged synapses before all the buzzes, whoops, and emails clog them up. Awake and alive.

David said that he would “wake the dawn” with his praises and prayers. Another psalmist, much later, cried for help in those dark, early morning hours. Suddenly being one of those early risers, now I understand why morning sun meant so much to them.

You see, for all my loathing earlier in life, there’s something almost sacred about the first light. No, I don’t mean God blesses one part of the day more than others; I mean that early mornings peel away distraction with rose-colored light. Early mornings smother doubts and fears in the same way they splatter dew on the grass. Those moments, before anything else bangs on the door of your brain, bring a clarity that fades away far too quickly. And I don’t want to miss it.

That’s why the boy who shuddered at the thought of eyes being open before noon is now the man who doesn’t want to miss the pre-day lightshow. It’s there that I find God waiting.

Strangely Dim

Four crumbling stairs leading up the hill from the rock-encrusted sidewalk—that’s all that’s left. If you drove by today, you wouldn’t know that I once smashed honey bees on the driveway with a shovel, or that I did so barefooted until one got a squishy revenge. You also wouldn’t know about the loft in the garage where my brothers would hide away or the window in my room that thieves peeked through before they stole our bikes. You’d never see the stairs leading out the back door where my mom would sit while we brought her giant grasshoppers to examine or plums from the fruit trees.

You see, I had this idea that one day, when I got the chance, I’d take my wife and girls to Marion, Alabama. I’d show them the house where I spent the first five years of my life, regaling them with stories about the giant heating grate in the middle of the hall that my brother used as a bathroom while sleepwalking, and the stove fire that sent my dad to the hospital, and the small square pond with goldfish that our landlady’s cat loved to eat.

But I can’t—at least, not the way I intended. My oldest brother dashed this plan by posting a Google Street View image. The two neighboring houses still stand. Ours is gone. Completely. Considering the size of the trees that now play the stand-in role, I’m guessing the house disappeared years ago (given our experience with electrical issues there, probably in a blaze of glory).

I’ve been told by movies and books that I can’t go home again, and this sad image of an empty lot does make a pretty good case for that. But that house—no matter the memories of watching PBS in the living room or music blaring from my brothers’ stereo—that house was never my home, not really. Nor is the house where I spent most of my youth, nor is the place I live now.

Seeing an empty lot reminded me how easily the things here on earth disappear. One moment you’re settling into a comfortable Alabama life; the next you’re suddenly uprooted for Tennessee. And when you look back, all that’s left is in your head.

When I saw the empty lot in Marion, it reminded me of an old song that I’ve never really liked. I know I’m supposed to because it’s a classic and all. But I don’t. I do admit that it makes a ton of sense:

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.

We can try to cling to all the stuff around us—our family, our house, our money—but it all disappears. That’s why our foundation is so important. Building on the Rock of Christ isn’t just a happy-happy phrase that we can post on our fridge and feel good about. It’s a necessity. If we build on anything else, even without realizing it, we might look down someday to find our foundation and discover it’s gone.