The Last Days Sifting Seasons | 2016-3

 

“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, NIV

 

“But take heed to yourselves and be on your guard lest your hearts be overburdened and depressed—weighed down—with the giddiness and headache and nausea of self-indulgence, drunkenness, and worldly worries and cares pertaining to (the business of) this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap or a noose; for it will come upon all who live upon the face of the entire earth. Keep awake then and watch at all times (that is, be discreet, attentive and ready); praying that you may have the full strength and ability and be accounted worthy to escape all these things [taken together] that will take place, and to stand in the presence of the Son of man.”
Luke 21:34-36, ANT

 

“But, dear friends, remember what the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ foretold. They said to you, ‘In the last times there will be scoffers who will follow their own ungodly desires.’ These are the men who divide you, who follow mere natural instincts and do not have the Spirit. But you, dear friends, build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit. Keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life. Be merciful to those who doubt; snatch others from the fire and save them; to others show mercy, mixed with fear—hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh. To him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy—to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen.”
Jude, verses 17-25, NIV

 

“. . . Woe to the inhabitants of the earth and the sea! For the devil has come down to you, having great wrath, because he knows that he has a short time.”
Revelation 12:12, NKJV

Our Lord and Savior was faithful to warn His followers that in those times leading up to His promised return there would be seasons of great testing. Jesus wanted Peter to know that Satan had sought permission to “sift” him. Peter, and all who heard this, knew that Jesus’ metaphoric reference here meant there would be a process by which they would be tested concerning their faith.

When God allows one of His redeemed children to undergo a test, His purpose is to purify the believer and cast off the chaff. When Satan attacks a believer, it is his purpose to destroy his or her faith.

We can be sure that all across the centuries of the Church age God’s people have been under Satanic attack. Jesus warned that Satan is a thief who “comes only to steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10, NIV). Can we doubt that Satan, “knowing that he has a short time,” will rally all his long-since trained principalities and rulers for a vicious end-time invasion of believers? But let us take heed to the wise warnings of our Savior and His inspired apostles in their guidance for us who are living in these last days.

First, let us take seriously what Jesus commanded in our relationship with the Holy Spirit! Only in the fullness of the Holy Spirit can we survive the sifting process of the last days! One of the last things Jesus said to His followers before ascending to the Father was: “. . . you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you” (Acts 1:8, NIV). It is my growing conviction that unless the 21st century church returns to Pentecostal power we shall never see the kind of prevailing against the end-time schemes of the evil one as we get closer to Christ’s Second Coming. In his epistle, the apostle Jude, brother of our Lord Jesus Christ, warns against the strategies Satan was using to challenge believers of the first century. The two more prominent evils of those times were gnosticism and antinomianism. Gnosticism sought to advocate salvation through education, while antinomianism claimed that grace liberated the believer from the moral law.

I would remind us that the church is still faced with these evils today. But I find in both Jude’s short epistle and in Peter’s second epistle similar cautions of sinister strategies designed to distract believers from the instruction to “put on the whole armor of God” which would enable them to “stand against the wiles of the devil” (Ephesians 6:11, NKJV). We are called upon by the apostle Paul to “be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power” (Ephesians 6:10, NIV). This mighty power is none other than the Holy Spirit.

I am greatly concerned about the absence of an emphasis on the Spirit-filled life in the discipleship programs of so many evangelical congregations. It is not enough for us to teach about the Holy Spirit; new believers must hear from the Word of God that they can have a personal relationship with the Holy Spirit that will result in purity of heart, passion in prayer, and power over sin! Those who only learn about the Holy Spirit usually develop a form of godliness that is devoid of power. Those who experience the sanctifying, empowering, and anointing of the Holy Spirit learn the joy of fellowshipping with an ungrieved, unquenched Holy Spirit. I urge pastors to give prayerful consideration to making sure their congregations, including both new and long-standing believers, are hearing the truth of the Word on life in the Spirit.

I truly believe we are in those sifting times of which the apostle Paul warned when he wrote, “Now, brethren, concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, we ask you not to be soon shaken in mind or troubled, either by spirit or by word or by letter . . . Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first . . .” (II Thessalonians 2:1-3, NKJV).

I have been living for Christ for 70 years and preaching the Gospel for 68 years. From 1949 until 1994 I pastored 9 churches. And for the last 22 years I have traveled the world in proclaiming the desperate need for a mighty spiritual awakening. It has been the burden of my heart to call believers to the cleansing and fullness of the Holy Spirit, enabling them to live in holiness and power and to pray the will of God to pass in their lives, their homes, their churches, and their communities.

Most of my preaching and teaching over the last 22 years has been centered on life in the Spirit—Holiness, Prayer, Worship, Revival, and Witnessing for Christ. I have been privileged to minister in various branches of the church. In churches of the Holiness Movement—Church of the Nazarene, Wesleyan, Church of Christ in Christian Union, Church of God Anderson; in mainline churches—Presbyterian, United Methodist, Congregational; and in Pentecostal—Assemblies of God and independent.

Considering the truth of Scriptures and my love for the Church of Jesus Christ, I have to wonder . . . Given our Heavenly Father’s grief over the weakness of His Church and the wickedness of the world (not willing that any should perish, but willing that His people be revived in order to be ready for Christ’s coming), will He decide to postpone the Second Coming for another thousand years? Dear readers, the sifting process is on us in these early years of our 21st century with sinister forces in bold violence.

I’m convinced there is only one answer to the Church’s weakness, and it’s spelled out in both the Old and the New Testaments of Holy Writ: “. . . if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land” (II Chronicles 7:14, NIV). And to the Church in Sardis, “Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die . . . Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; obey it, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you” (Revelation 3:2-3, NIV).

I have a growing conviction that God’s Spirit is moving on His people at this very hour—even as He sees His people being sifted. Too many Christians are adapting to the cultures of the times. They are careless with time and money management and in controlling conversation. Their inner beings are weakening and cooling. By neglecting prayer and worship, they gradually drift from the truth of God’s Word.

Oh friends, let’s pray the price! Let’s believe God for a kind of sacrificial prayer that the Spirit inspires, the kind that the Lord Jesus takes to the Father and that the Father acts on. Our God has never been more hungry for the kind of prayers that prevail!

Oh, yes, let’s note what kind of praying this really is: Look at the way Jesus prayed in Gethsemane: “On reaching the place, he said to them, ‘Pray that you will not fall into temptation.’ He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed. ‘Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will but yours be done.’ An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.” (Luke 22:40-44, NIV).

“Being in anguish, he prayed . . .” The word for anguish here in the Greek is ekenos, meaning strenuously burdensome. The same kind of praying is recorded of the early church when Peter was in prison waiting to be killed by King Herod. “ . . . Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly (ekenos) praying to God for him” (Acts 12:5, NIV).

Pastors, aren’t the times serious enough for a call to our congregations for repentance of our prayerlessness, our selfishness, our fruitlessness, and our indifference?

Isn’t it time for us to seek the fullness of the Holy Spirit in order to be enlightened, energized, and emboldened for praying in the Spirit? This kind of praying worked for Jesus. It worked in the early church in the first century. It worked for the reformers in the 15th and 16th centuries. It worked for the Revivalists—John Wesley, George Whitefield, and others in the 17th century. It worked in early America for Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, and Francis Asbury in the 18th century. It worked for Charles Finney, D. L. Moody, Andrew Murray, and A. B. Simpson in the 19th century. And it worked for Evan Roberts, Duncan Campbell, William Seymour, Uncle Bud Robinson, Estelle Tharp, and Billy Graham in the 20th century.

And, since “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8, NIV), ekenos praying in the Spirit will still work in this 21st century if we will answer the call of a gracious Holy Trinity, who is ready and willing to open the heavens, move the mountains, part the waters, and let revival fires fall on our land. Such an outpouring will bring forgiveness, fire, freedom, and a revival that will prepare believers for the Second Coming of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!

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