Consider the Lord. He is all-knowing. He is omni-present. He is sovereign and all-powerful. He is good. He has good plans for our lives (Jeremiah 29:11-13).
Consider man. He knows nothing that he has not seen or heard apart from the Lord. He is fleeting. He is weak and powerless without Christ. He is easily deceived. He does not know of the Lord's plans except by faith.
Consider Satan. He knows a lot. He was second-in-command to God when he fell. He is deceitful and very powerful - he currently rules the earthly realms. He is evil. He also has plans for our lives.
These are the players, but what is the stage? Earth. And another realm so easily forgotten about - the Heavens. An inaccurate but simple illustration puts this "play" in better light - Satan and God are playing chess and we are the pieces. Both sides have strategies, and both sides are trying to take pieces from the "other team." I think we realize this about God, but quickly forget that Satan is also a strategizer and schemer.
Before we dive into the plot, let's examine a brief history of the players - maybe we can get an idea of the script. Throughout the Bible, Satan has tormented, seduced, beguiled, and frustrated the efforts of man to know God. And man, in accordance with his nature, has fallen many times into the hands of the great deceiver. However, God is sovereign, and although Satan is very powerful, he must have God's permission to reign on earth and act against believers (Revelation 20 talks about the Lord ending Satan's rule at the appropriate time).
In Job 1, Satan comes before God from roaming through the earth. God asks him if he has seen his upright man of faith - Job. Satan taunts God, saying that if Job was cursed rather than blessed, he would turn around and curse God. God sends Satan away from his throne with the rights to everything that Job possesses. Read that again. God sends Satan away from his throne with the rights to everything that Job possesses. God gave Satan the authority to put Job through trials - to devastate his life. But God in His omnitience knew that Job would withstand the test and prove faithful.
In Luke 22, we see another example of Satan gaining the Lord's permission to touch one of His believers. Luke 22:31-34 says, "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. But he replied, Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death. Jesus answered, I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me." Satan asks Jesus to sift Simon as wheat, and Jesus allows it, saying He will pray for Simon Peter. He allows it, and here's a key difference from Job. He allows it, knowing that Simon is going to fall, knowing that he is going to deny Him three times. And Jesus tells him to strengthen his brothers when he turns back (from his fall).
As I was reading about this and realizing these things in my Beth Moore Bible study, I was shocked and comforted at the same time. Shocked to see that Jesus handed Peter over to Satan's wiles knowing that he would fall. Comforted that God uses even the devil to work all things out for good.
Not only did Jesus know that Peter would fall, but He also knew the results of failing in our lives that would follow - shame, regret, pain, sorrow. Jesus knew that Peter would sin when the devil came and tempted him. That blows me away. Why would Jesus give the devil any room in Peter's life if he knew that he would sin?
Matthew 16:18 says, "And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it." When sifting of wheat occurs, the impurities are separated from the pure seeds. The wheat is refined so that it can go on and become flour. Peter needed to be refined; Jesus needed him to become the rock of the church.
Our first choice would naturally be to imitate Job - to prove ourselves faithful to the Lord before the devil and to help win a battle being fought in the spiritual realms. So we strive for that. However, when we do fall into the devil's snares, and sin one or two or multiple times (Peter denied Christ three times which could be labeled as a "pattern of sin"), it is wonderful to know that Christ is praying for us, and that maybe He is allowing Satan to "sift" impurities out of us. Some lessons must be learned the hard way (think about understanding God's grace without having first failed).
And when we turn back (not if, when), Christ calls us to strengthen our brothers - to encourage and spur on the Church. Even the devil's schemes are not outside of His purposes. We are in a play where the end has already been determined; it is up to us how we read the script.
Christ wants us to be Jobs and Peters. Our lives influence the spiritual realms. We just need to realize it.