I just love this time of year. The leaves are changing color, the air gets cooler, football begins new for all the teams. What I love most of all though is the combines. I was raised on a farm so I guess this isn’t a total stretch. I can remember being a little boy and getting to ride in the combine with my dad. I was amazed at those huge combines and when I sat in the cab with him while he was combining, I felt like I was on top of the world. The sound of that big diesel engine roaring to life just got my blood pumping.
When I was with my Grandma, we would get in the pickup truck on those cool fall evenings and drive up and down the roads and watch the combines. Grandma knew I loved to do this so she took the time to do that with me and I really appreciate that she did.
As I have grown up, I don’t really get to ride in combines anymore and to be honest, I miss it. One think I do like to do is drive around out in the country and look at all the farmers combining. I am a fan of the red combines myself. Before you attack my choice, remember that we are a product of how we were raised. My dad had an International Harvester 1440 Axial Flow combine, so naturally, it is red for me.
When you stop and think about the combine and what it is able to do, it is a really amazing machine. It takes the whole plant, removes the valuable seed from the unwanted stalk or cob. It then transports the seed to the grain bin in the combine while all the unwanted material is spread out onto the ground our the back of the combine. Before combines, this process had to be done by hand and took so much longer. The combine is probably the invention that has changed how we practice agriculture the most in the last 200 years. It is truly a remarkable machine.
The process of removing the grain from the rest of the useless chaff is a practice that has been practiced since the time that man first started growing crops thousands of years ago. The process was called sifting. Back in biblical times, the major crop that was sifted was wheat. The wheat kernels had to be separated from the stalks they grew on so the kernels could be used to make flour and all kinds of different things. The basic mechanics of sifting have not changed in 3,000 years. It’s the violent process of separating the useful from the unnecessary. It is the crushing and sorting of something whole for the purpose of isolating its nourishing core from the trappings that guard it. In the case of wheat, the kernels are first violently pulled from their stalks, which has so far anchored them in their existence.
The principle of sifting is a beating that’s followed by a separating that reveals something valuable.
Beat Separate Reveal
If we apply this idea metaphorically to our lives, like Jesus did with his disciples, the essential effect of sifting is a violent separation followed by a beautiful revelation. Sifting shakes us apart for the purpose of destroying our complacent wholeness and revealing what is valuable and permanent and needed.
I think that Billy Graham has a very good quote on this when he says, “Trials and difficulties may assail the life of the believer, but they also have the ability to remold his character and banish from his life those impurities which might impair growth and service.”
Romans contains a very good verse that refers to trials.
3 Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope.
Sifting, then, is a given in life and an expected reality for all the disciples of Christ throughout history. You can’t find any Christ-follower, not a single one in the whole history of the church, who has not been sifted.
We have all felt the pain of sifting at some in our lives. Times when we have lost a job or had someone we really cared about break up with us. Maybe someone very close to you died. There are all sorts of trials that we have and will face during our lives. They help shape the people we are. They help define our character. Any event, no matter how horrible we may see it at the time, can cause a sifting in our souls and can lead to a better us as a result.
St. Ignatius says that, “I am God’s wheat. May I be ground by the teeth of the wild beasts until I become the fine white bread that belongs to Christ.”
In Luke, Jesus talks to Simon about being sifted.
31 “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. 32 But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”
Charles Spurgeon, a British preacher says “Trials are winds which root the tree of our faith.” Henry Ward Beecher says, “We are always in the forge, or on the anvil; by trials God is shaping us for higher things.”
There is a great verse in Romans that can give us great comfort.
18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.
The beat-separate-reveal cycle of sifting is a deeply positive process, even though it never seems to seem like it while it is going on. There is no “spoonful of sugar” that will help this medicine go down. This process pretty much tastes like death. The reveal in this cycle is a moment of beauty that extends into a lifetime of beauty.
Revelation brings a blinding light where there had only been darkness. And when the light comes on a dark and long-neglected place, you’re likely to feel physical pain as your eyes try to adjust. You are likely to find a lot of ugly you didn’t even know was lying around in your soul during this process. No one likes looking at the ugliness inside themselves.
If you are in the cycle of sifting right now, or have been, the revelation of your untarnished beauty promises to set you free. If you have never been sifted very hard, then you have realized only a fraction of what you are capable of as a person. While none of us have to like being sifted, I would challenge you to think about the potential outcome the next time you find yourself being sifted and try to maximize the gain. It will bring you one step closer to the you that you were meant to be!