“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 NASB)
Being involved in ministry, and teaching the Bible, in the jail has certain characteristics that could wear on your patience. There are many men and women who are in and out of jail so much it appears they will never get it. While speaking with them in jail they know what the Bible says, and what it means to be “saved”, and yet upon being released they waste no time going back to the very thing that led them to be locked up in the first place. On a merely human level there is no way to hold out hope or patience, but in the Spirit you never give up.
Recently Tracey and I talked with a friend who spent a total of 14 years in prison but is now an ordained minister, owns his own business, is doing well and caring for an untold number of people struggling to make life work. He told us he knew three people at present who were in the hospital dying from a life filled with drugs and alcohol. He shared with us about another young man he’s been helping, who Tracey and I know. He said, “He comes around looking for work every so often when his life starts to fall apart, so I give him some work to do. Like so many others though, it isn’t long before he’s involved with his old buddies doing the same things he’s always done.” Our friend told us “I know then it’s time to stop helping him because he’s going to go through the cycle again.” Sometimes not helping someone is really helping them.
In the above verses Jesus told Peter Satan was going to sift him but he had prayed for him. Did you catch what Jesus prayed though? He didn’t pray that Simon (Peter) would be kept from the sifting rather he prayed his faith wouldn’t fail. He then told Peter what to do after the sifting he said, “Strengthen your brothers.”
While talking with our friend I said, “Sometimes you get to the point where you think to yourself, this guy is never going to get it!” It does seem like that from time to time, but what about all those people that were praying for me while I lived a destructive lifestyle? There were some who stood strong for me and now I get the privilege of standing for others. Now it is our opportunity to turn and strengthen them that are in need of some hope and encouragement no matter how long it takes. You see the sifting is going to come, we just don’t know how long it will take. Our job is to pray for others’ faith to hold up through it all. Perhaps one day they too will stand in for someone else in need of hope. After all, isn’t that what being a part of God’s body is all about?