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"How does God discipline us"? Last session we sought an answer to that question. We noted that He, like a surgeon, sometimes has to "lance the boil" or cut away the cancer. From Hosea we learned that He wounds or injures us only in order to heal and restore is. From Malachi we noted that the discipline of the Lord can be likened to the launderers soap or the refiner's fire. Let's move on from there.

Series:   THE DISCIPLINE OF GOD       Session No. 3     Reading:  Hebrews 11/32-40

In this session we identify two further images that graphically portray this dynamic that we call the discipline of the Lord

C. He Sifts  (Matt. 3/11,12)

But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire."  (Matt 3:11-12 NIV)

The imagery here is of a threshing floor to which the wheat crop is brought for the removal of the rubbish (chaff) so that what is valuable remains (wheat). The chaff is useless for anything but, if it's allowed to remain, it will diminish the value of the crop as well as lessen the nutritional quality.

The farmer uses a pitch-fork to throw the whole crop into the air. This is called winnowing. The heavier wheat falls back into the threshing floor while the wind removes the chaff, blowing it out of the threshing bin.

Gideon is an Old Testament character whose interaction with God provides us with yet another image that hopefully gives us a further insight into the Lord's disciplinary activity in our lives.  

But the LORD said to Gideon, "There are still too many men. Take them down to the water, and I will sift them for you there. If I say, 'This one shall go with you,' he shall go; but if I say, 'This one shall not go with you,' he shall not go." (Judg 7:4 NIV)

God put Gideon's army through sifting process to make them ready for war (Judges 7/4,5). The method He used here is a bit puzzling. Various scholars have attempted to explain what was happening here but none seem to be absolutely convincing. Somehow this scenario was a test of some kind. For our part, we simply acknowledge that here is another picture by which God removed those soldiers who might panic in the midst of battle and retreat to the detriment of the rest of the troops. It also demonstrates that such trials of faith can happen to groups of people (nations?) as well as individuals.

This also means that not all disciplinary methods are necessarily painful.

There is one other example for this session and that is the Apostle Peter – God gave permission for disciples to be 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 NIV)

This is an amazing announcement and explanation concerning Satan's agenda. Somehow there is interaction between Heaven and Earth. "Satan had "begged earnestly" for permission to sift you" and (it would appear) that permission had been given. This is not dissimilar to the story of Job where, in the first two chapters, there is a series of discourses between God and Satan. Again, the issue is one of getting permission to implement his evil agenda.

Question: "But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers." (Luke 22:32 NIV). Is there a principle here that should encourage us when we pass through a testing time? What do you think it is?

D. He Prunes (John 15/1,2)

I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. (John 15:1-4 NIV)

Few plants, trees, bushes are more ugly than a vineyard after pruning. Following the pruning there is little more than stumps left. Of course, without the pruning the vineyard will just fall into disarray.

The reason for the pruning is to cut away the dead wood and thus focus the remaining life force to produce increased growth. If this pruning does not take place, then the dead wood will restrict growth if not block it completely.

We want to produce fruit in our lives but we resist the necessary pruning process. Notice that there seem to be degrees of fruitfulness in this picture.

V.2 - fruit      v.2 - more fruit     v.6 - much fruit.  Read those verses again and note that every branch has to be pruned. There are no exceptions.

Question: Is there anything else about the processes of sifting and pruning that you want  to mention or ask?

In our next session we will identify a further two methods God employs as He corrects our lives and keeps us on course.

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