Soul of Gladness or Wounded Warrior?
This article explores the dynamic “sifting” experience disciples undergo in preparation for ministry and service to others . . . and our responses which either strengthen—or weaken—us for spiritual work.
(with comment on recent “sifting” events in the readership community).
Sifted Like Wheat
A generous slice of Mom’s homemade bread fresh from the oven, with butter melting deeply into the wedge, is wondrous to behold . . . and to smell and taste! Many processes lead up to the exciting point of actually mixing the batter. There is tilling the soil, planting the seeds, tending the plants, harvesting, threshing, winnowing to remove the chaff from the grain, and then the pressure of grinding the grain into flour.
But one more step is needed to refine the flour just before the mixing, kneading, rising, baking, and serving. This last refining step is sifting.
Even after winnowing and grinding, coarse pieces still remain among the fine. So the flour is placed into a sieve—a rounded, fine wire mesh—where it is shaken and stirred. Only the fine flour makes its way through the sieve’s discriminating screen. The coarse, partly ground grains are left behind. Also, clumps of flour that have stuck together are rearranged and separated. The flour is now sifted.
Experienced bakers know that only sifted flour will bake up light and airy, with an even texture.
When a person—a disciple—undergoes sifting, it’s not only a refining process, but one may feel as though his or her every molecule has been thoroughly repositioned to some new order the Master has in mind.
The Oxford Universal Dictionary (1933, 1955) describes “sifting” in the following way (perhaps you can relate to the process!):
1. To pass something through a sieve, in order to separate the coarse from the fine particles, or to strain.
2. To make trial of a person; to subject to close questioning.
3. To examine closely into, to scrutinize narrowly, so as to find out the truth.
4. To find out, get to know, by a process of elimination or close inquiry.
What Does It Feel Like to Be Sifted?
How do we feel when our mistakes (coarseness) become headline material for all to see? How does it feel when your closest friends and family closely question you to find out the truth rather than the pretense? And how does it feel to be found out? The biologist of a century, Charles Darwin, said that to speak out his findings revealing evolutionary theory as science was like “confessing to a murder.” So, even when what we uncover is not something awful, but rather something great and wonderful, like these matchless teachings discovered in The Urantia Book, we easily can find ourselves feeling like Darwin. It can be so difficult to turn against the currents of tradition in the family, in friendships, the society, the church, and even in our fellow readers when we have new insight and information.
What Is It Like to Be Sifted as a Servant of God?
This is an extremely valuable process. Think of it . . . an opportunity to have our thoughts adjusted through a sifting process conducted with the help of the all-wise, loving, and perfect insight of the Universal.
Mankind’s thoughts about this experience have progressed considerably since the days of the Old Testament prophet Amos. But even at that time, he recognized the power of this process, not only in the personal life but in the life of the nation (the group):
Amos rather startled his hearers when, pointing a reproving and accusing finger at them, he declared in the name of Yahweh . . . “And I will sift the house of Israel among all nations as wheat is sifted in a sieve.” Amos proclaimed Yahweh the “God of all nations” and warned the Israelites that ritual must not take the place of righteousness. And before this courageous teacher was stoned to death, he had spread enough leaven of truth to save the doctrine of the supreme Yahweh; he had insured the further evolution of the Melchizedek revelation. 
It’s a sad historical note that Amos’ sifting experience included his death as a martyr. There is, however, a more protracted kind of persecution one can bear. We who suffer the intensity of human life as it lived on this planet, in these centuries, coupled with the oftentimes-complicating desire to live a life in tune with revelation, can find much comfort from the life of the Master:
The sufferings of Jesus were not confined to the crucifixion. In reality, Jesus of Nazareth spent upward of twenty-five years on the cross of a real and intense mortal existence. The real value of the cross consists in the fact that it was the supreme and final expression of his love, the completed revelation of his mercy. 
Revelation Happens—and Helps!
Revealed religion offers us insight designed to lessen the degree of truth-error sifting we would otherwise go through. But we must learn these revealed truths—with feeling!—and so practice them that we gain spiritual possessions of knowledge, insight, and experience. Each insight and experience we ignore brings on another round of sifting. The same result occurs eventually either way, but having “ears to hear” will measurably and greatly shorten the length of time needed to learn the lessons we need for our journey both now and in eternity.
Revelation is a technique whereby ages upon ages of time are saved in the necessary work of sorting and sifting the errors of evolution from the truths of spirit acquirement. 
Be Forewarned—Sifting Can Be a Brutal Process
Jesus’ disciples learned, as we modern disciples are learning also, the shock that comes from the collision of public attitudes and God’s attitude. It goes like this: the community of faith shares light, and then a little more light, or even much more light. There is always a tipping point, a point at which, if light sharing continues, there will be a reaction against it. This puts disciples in a stressful situation. Knowing that light can blind as well as guide, we must plan well our strategy. If the guidance of the spirit and the will of the Father lead us “to go” and not “to rest,” then we may experience great, even tremendous, stress and trial. Conversely, patiently “resting” and not thoughtlessly “going” can be a personality-crushing experience as well. Making these kinds of enlightened but wrenching decisions is part of our necessary sifting process. The beneficiaries, when we walk in God’s will, are those around us who wander in darkness and seek the light of revelation.
There is another way to avoid the stress, at least temporarily, and that is to just stop, skirt the issues, and throw in the towel. But nothing stops the sifting. What a process!
But even greater adversity follows . . . you see, the sifting process is merely preparation for the time of ministry after the halfhearted have been separated from the tempered, galvanized ministers of epochal revelation. Only then are we ready to enter the oven, the crucible, where spiritual transformation and ministry take place in earnest. The issues of conflict constantly change complexion, but are always no less than “to be, or not to be” the light of the world and the salt of the earth. At stake is the present advancement of the kingdom of God or, as usual, its attempted curtailment.
Jesus thus endeavored to prepare the apostles for the impending shock—the crisis in the public attitude toward him which was only a few days distant . . . They began to realize that the feeding of the five thousand and the popular movement to make Jesus king was the apex of the miracle-seeking, wonder-working expectance of the people and the height of Jesus’ acclaim by the populace. They vaguely discerned and dimly foresaw the approaching time of spiritual sifting and cruel adversity. These twelve men were slowly awaking to the realization of the real nature of their task as ambassadors of the kingdom, and they began to gird themselves for the trying and testing ordeals of the last year of Master’s ministry on earth. 
Jesus Crushes Friends’ Fondest Expectations, Turns Militant
In religious movements today we are called to minister to a culture and society suffering from a sort of spiritual disorder—the schizophrenia of a history of religious freedoms colliding with a strong contemporary secularism.
The minefields and traps (crosses?) we encounter today are no less onerous than those that Jesus’ early band confronted. Today’s threats are real, not imagined, both from within and without. Stories are numerous and common of believers hemmed in, slowed down, or paralyzed because of conflicting demands within their families, churches, workplaces—and among their reader groups and associates as well. Relationships, family solidarity, associations, and even the ability to continue in one’s profession and make a living can all be jeopardized. Those who assume that their newfound spirituality will bring peace, light, and harmony in all their relationships will be surprised.
How you and I respond to these conflicts determines whether the sifting process makes us into souls of gladness or wounded warriors.
May I ask you: What are your fondest expectations? For me, and for so many I know, since the first day we picked up The Urantia Book a great expectation has been to see many drink of this water of life, and to share the joys of spiritual fellowship and brotherhood. However, when a study group disbands, when a society languishes in low gear, when a brother or sister turns away, when friends move out of the area, we can find our hopes in pieces. And when larger, systemic changes develop, such as in the 1990s with the independence of the Fellowship and the “to-be-copyrighted” or “to-not-be-copyrighted” lawsuit, we can find ourselves deeply in need of counseling from the mighty Counselor, the Prince of Peace, deeply in need of having our hope restored.
And let us also be keenly aware of our brothers and sisters in Christian ministry as the millennium transitions. Amnesty International, Voice of the Martyrs, and other similar organizations report that documented cases of murder and torture of Christian ambassadors in atheistic, communistic and resistant cultures are at an all-time historical high. It makes Foxe’s Book of Martyrs look by comparison like a diary of spats on the playground of the early centuries. In the little town of Bethlehem, it was gunshots that rang out, not “Peace on earth, goodwill toward men” for the past several winters.
Time and again had Jesus dashed to pieces the hopes of his apostles, repeatedly had he crushed their fondest expectations, but no time of disappointment or season of sorrow had ever equaled that which now overtook them. And too, there was now admixed with their depression a real fear for their safety. They were all surprisingly startled by the suddenness and completeness of the desertion of the populace. They were also somewhat frightened and disconcerted by the unexpected boldness and assertive determination exhibited by the Pharisees who had come down from Jerusalem. But most of all they were bewildered by Jesus’ sudden change of tactics. Under ordinary circumstances they would have welcomed the appearance of this more militant attitude, but coming as it did, along with so much that was unexpected, it startled them. 
When Members Go Their Separate Ways
More than twenty years of family involvement in full-time charitable and spiritual ministry has shown me that one of the most disconcerting experiences is the disaffection of friends and co-workers. It is wearying and causes us to seek God deeply and prayerfully for answers. It is hard enough suffer in anguish for doing right, but more often the lives and ministries of those in service are a mixture of divine insight, truth seeking, and selfishness as well.
Ministries are dynamic, not static—always changing (for the good, we hope) to respond to new challenges. Co-workers involved in ministry all undergo individual spiritual sifting—and as a result, life directions are constantly being reset. But when a co-worker uses such a transition point to criticize and undermine those he separates from, it’s never a surprise to discover that others become disaffected as well. As when sharks swarm to a hint of blood, a ministry can find itself beset with bad publicity and rumors, resulting in less effective relationships with co-workers, employees, other fellowships, fellow ministers, the public perception, and regulatory agencies. Veiled or open attacks may even target spouses, children, and other family members.
And now, on top of all these worries, when they reached home, Jesus refused to eat. For hours he isolated himself in one of the upper rooms. It was almost midnight when Joab, the leader of the evangelists, returned and reported that about one third of his associates had deserted the cause. All through the evening loyal disciples had come and gone, reporting that the revulsion of feeling toward the Master was general in Capernaum. The leaders from Jerusalem were not slow to feed this feeling of disaffection and in every way possible to see to promote the movement away from Jesus and his teachings. During these trying hours the twelve women were in session over at Peter’s house. They were tremendously upset, but none of them deserted. 
Michael Recognizes Our Challenge
Like a father leading his children, Michael shows us the way for a while and then “leaves” us to try our own hand, to spread our own spiritual wings and fly.
During our training we are admonished to be mindful that at the next stage of any work we are involved in, sifting may well occur, both within our own souls and among our fellows. Why is it, then, that we are so easily nonplused and confounded when the lukewarm and halfhearted leave with grumbling and complaining?
It was a little after midnight when Jesus came down from the upper chamber and stood among the twelve and their associates, numbering about thirty in all. He said: “I recognize that this sifting of the kingdom distresses you, but it is unavoidable. Still, after all the training you have had, was there any good reason why you should stumble at my words? Why is it that you are filled with fear and consternation when you see the kingdom being divested of these lukewarm multitudes and these halfhearted disciples? Why do you grieve when the new day is dawning for the shining forth in new glory of the spiritual teachings of the kingdom of heaven? If you find it difficult to endure this test, what, then, will you do when the Son of Man must return to the Father? When and how will you prepare yourselves for the time when I ascend to the place whence I came to this world?” 
Someone Reading This May Be in Grave Danger
As students of The Urantia Book we find ourselves repeatedly rearranged in our relationships with one another. As the Father guides each of us, we seek to do his will and find our place in his realm.
Change is good! But if our response is that of the wounded warrior and we allow seeds of recrimination and self-pity to sprout in the soil of the mind, then danger is present. That danger can be to our own psychic stability, to our brotherly relationships and, moreover, to our relationship with our Heavenly Parent. It could be said in some cases that is better to not embark on the way of ministry and joy than to begin as a trusted partner and then turn away into destructive paths. Consider the life, and death, of Judas.
“My beloved, you must remember that it is the spirit that quickens; the flesh and all that pertains thereto is of little profit. The words which I have spoken to you are spirit and life. Be of good cheer! I have not deserted you. Many shall be offended by the plain speaking of these days. Already you have heard that many of my disciples have turned back; they walk no more with me. From the beginning I knew that these halfhearted believers would fall out by the way. Did I not choose you twelve men and set you apart as ambassadors of the kingdom? And now at such a time as this would you also desert? Let each of you look to his own faith, for one of you stands in grave danger.” And when Jesus had finished speaking, Simon Peter said: “Yes, Lord, we are sad and perplexed, but we will never forsake you. You have taught us the words of eternal life. We have believed in you and followed with you all this time. We will not turn back, for we know that are sent by God.” And as Peter ceased speaking, they all with one accord nodded their approval of his pledge of loyalty.
Then said Jesus, “Go to you rest, for busy times are upon us; active days are just ahead.” 
Some Reading This Are Ready for Public Ministry
Anyone who visits a flourmill will see the amount of dust created! When it settles for a while around us—the ones who have been ground and sifted—we can see clearly who still follows the Master. There are certain old sophistries, tricks, delusions, detours, and rabbit trails that will never again have the power to deceive us. We may wish to deceive ourselves, of course, but there is now an acquired knowledge and wisdom that is ours by possession and experience, and it is a great and useful treasure.
Ministers of the gospel who reach this point have a duty and privilege to continue in their role as kingdom ambassadors. Slowly, the reknitting of souls who have worked together occurs, but this time with a sharper perspective, and probably with a much smaller audience. Don’t take this as a sign of defeat—the early disciples had the same problem.
The believers were beginning to hold public meetings once more, and there was occurring a gradual but effective consolidation of the tried and true survivors of the great sifting though which the believers had just passed.
For one day they rested quietly in the hills, going on the next day to the park, near by, where the Master once fed the five thousand. Here they rested for three days and held daily conferences, which were attended by about fifty men and women, the remnants of the once numerous company of believers resident in Capernaum and its environs. 
Liberty and Sifting Go Together—in the Long Run!
Our Sovereign gives us broad personal creative latitude to promulgate various ways and means of ministry. This should give us all pause before making any sweeping analyses of how the movement ought to proceed, such as declaring, “There must not be Urantia churches/communities” or “There must be Urantia churches/communities of specified types.” Let’s take our cue from Michael’s approach and recognize the great liberty and scope he provides.
On Uversa it is the consensus that we have had so much administrative trouble in Nebadon because our Sons of the Lanonandek order have been created with such a large degree of personal liberty in choosing and planning. I do not make this observation by way of criticism. The Creator of our universe has full authority and power to do this. It is the contention of our high rulers that, while such free-choosing Sons make excessive trouble in the earlier ages of the universe, when things are fully sifted and finally settled, the gains of higher loyalty and fuller volitional service on the part of these thoroughly tested Sons will far more than compensate for the confusion and tribulations of earlier times. 
Greater liberty apparently provides for swifter and fuller sifting. The purpose of this great refining is, after all, to make us into tested, proven, loyal, worshipful, prayerful, and capable family members, friends, administrators, and ministers—sons and daughters of God who will one day hear these words from our Father: “Well done, my good and faithful servant. Soul of gladness, enter into my joy!”
* * *
The goal of this paper is to create an extended family environment conducive to brotherhood/sisterhood and spiritual worship and service. It is my firm belief that consecrated communities, churches, and study groups represent a fairly simple, historically tested, reasonable, and highly effective means to reach this goal.
I believe that many of the new study groups that form in the years ahead will establish local consecrated communities as a result of our prayers, our dedicated hard work, the ministry of the Angels of the Churches, and the religio-societal forces that are now at work.
I encourage you to start new study groups and outreaches in your area, and to plan toward establishing local consecrated communities staffed with full- and part-time teachers and ministers.
Notes – The Urantia Book, Paper 97:4.3  188:5.4  101:5.1  152:6.5  153:5.1  153:5.2  153:5.3  153:5.5  156:6.5  156:6.4  35:9.8
A Mt. Seraph Publication
© 1997 (revised and reprinted 2013)