Permission and Purpose

By Kristi Bothur © 2012

"Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat; but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”
Luke 22:31-32

When I was a child, one of my favorite playground games was “Mother, May I?” One person would be the “mother” and he or she would issue commands to the rest of us – “Take two giant steps” or “Take one baby step.” After each command, the other player would ask, “Mother, may I?” If the one in charge agreed, the player could move. If the player forgot to ask for permission, the ability to move was retracted.

Like this childhood game of asking permission, the Scriptures make it clear that even our archenemy Satan cannot unleash his attacks without asking God, “May I?” The book of Job opens
with a conversation in which God gives Satan permission to test Job’s faith in him through a number of physical attacks. And in the New Testament, too, Jesus warns Peter that Satan had drawn a bull’s-eye on him as well, and “demanded permission” to sift him like wheat – with apparent success when Peter denied the Lord three times later that night.

I admit, knowing that God permits Satan to test us, possibly through pain and suffering, gives me some mixed emotions! On the one hand, it is somewhat comforting to know that nothing happens to me without going through the loving and sovereign hands of my heavenly Father, which must mean he has a plan to use it for good. On the other hand, when I am hurting from those tests, I hurt even more deeply to know my Father could stop my suffering with one word – but doesn’t. That is when I want to shake a fist at heaven, and scream, “To what end is this? What purpose?”

Jesus’ words to Peter in this passage, though, give me a clue. First, Jesus’ warning to Peter about being “sifted” – a word picture of the process to separate the good wheat kernels from the useless chaff, with the goal of having a product that can be used to nourish others. While I doubt that Satan wants to find any good in us, preferring us to be nothing but chaff in God’s eyes, it is clear that God uses the process of testing to do that very thing, and to help us see what in us is good and what is useless.

Second, Jesus’ prayer – that Peter’s faith would not fail. Ah, but Peter denied Jesus three times. Perhaps Jesus’ prayer was not answered? Or was it? I’m sure Peter did feel like a colossal failure when he heard that cock crow. But he wasn’t – because his story wasn’t over yet. In the same breath that Jesus warned Peter that he would fall, he also spoke of the time when he would turn back. Jesus knew that falling doesn’t have to be the same as failing.

Third, Jesus’ command to Peter, that having been sifted and having turned back, he must strengthen his brothers. His testing would be for a purpose, that after going through the process, he would emerge stronger in his faith and able to strengthen others as well.

Many of you know by now that I went through a season of illness and loss several years ago, including the loss of a baby girl in my second trimester of pregnancy. During that time, I went through an intense period of questioning everything I had thought I believed about God’s power, his wisdom, his plan, and his love. I quickly saw which of my beliefs where genuine and which were more on the level of platitudes that I had spoken easily and without much thought in a time of ease and blessing. This was a scary time for me, because I felt like I was losing my foundation of who I was – but like Peter, I was down but not out. Gradually, as the sifting continued and the chaff was blown away, I discovered the roots of my faith, and found I was stronger for having been tested. And now, having walked my path of suffering and sifting, I have both the ability and privilege of helping others who are walking a similar road.

I wonder sometimes – couldn’t God have strengthened me without the suffering? But if the Son of God, “learned obedience from the things which he suffered” (see Hebrews 5:8), who am I to think I am exempt from the same process? And haven’t I experienced the unique comfort and help that comes from a fellow traveler on the road of suffering rather than the words of someone who has never experienced that particular battle?

If you are going through a season of illness or suffering right now, wondering how and why a loving God has allowed this in your life, consider Jesus’ words to one of his closest friends, and let them speak to you as well: “I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”

Father, this season of trial is not just difficult physically, but it is also hard spiritually. My faith is being tested as never before. Help me not to fail this test in the end. Please use this time to separate the wheat and chaff in my life and use me to strengthen others on a similar road. Amen.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Kristi Bothur is a pastor's wife, teacher, and mother of five - two on earth and three in heaven. She has a heart for other women who have experienced the loss of children during pregnancy or in early infancy, and she has a passion for sharing the truth of God's word in a way that makes sense in everyday life. She and her husband are the founders of "Naomi's Circle", a ministry for parents of babies in heaven ( You are welcome to contact her at Kristi lives in Columbia, South Carolina, with her husband and daughter.

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