What Does It Mean To Proof Dough
Simply put, the term ‘proof’ or ‘proving’ dough refers to the rise of dough, especially the final rise. Interestingly enough, it can also refer to the testing of the yeast to make sure it is alive and active. That in itself is a wonderful analogy to the Christian walk, but today we are using the analogy of the final rise. There are several things that happen during this process that turn a good dough into a great dough. It gives the bread it’s flavor, texture and fullness of shape.
After you have proofed the yeast to make sure it is alive, you then mix the ingredients together in a particular order. Those ingredients are specifically selected to give you the type of end product desired. This is exactly what happens in our Christian walk. God uses our unique personalities and walks us through situations common to man, to produce a unique and specific final product. Once a person becomes a Christ follower, they often have an initial flurry of service and activity as they are mixed together with other believers and situations common to Christians. If the ingredients are not mixed properly, then gaps can form inside the dough. If the ingredients are mixed too long, then the dough becomes tough. People are them same. When we rush people into service before they have time to get the right ingredients into the right places in their hearts and minds and spirits, gaps in their maturity form; yet, let them side on the sidelines too long until they’ve proven they are fully trustworthy and bad things happen there, too.
Soon after, comes the first rise. For this, dough is then placed into the correct environment for the leaven to grow and spread. Rising dough requires a few essential ingredients: heat (warmth), fuel (yeast & baking powder) and food (sugars and proteins). If you add either too much or too little heat it kills the yeast. If there aren’t enough sugars the yeast starves to death and if there aren’t enough proteins, then the molecules can’t form the gluten bonds that are needed to support the weight. Simply put, it will not be strong enough. During the first rise, the dough needs warmth, it needs to be covered so it doesn’t dry out and it needs to be in a place free from drafts so it’s not knocked down and, most importantly, it needs time. This is so true of people. Believers need the right conditions and time.
Then comes the hard part. You have to take this beautiful dough that you’ve just spent hours cultivating and punch it down, literally. This causes all the air to escape that has been created inside. It completely empties itself of everything within. All that is left is the structures that were created. It is folded, massaged and stretched so that the structures strengthen and become elastic. Then you let it rest so that the tension can relax. Do you see it?! Can you see how amazingly similar to the Christian walk that is this process. We go through periods of being humbled, of tension and of rest. I’ve heard people call it ‘sitting on the shelf’ or being ‘on the bench.’ In bread, it’s literally called the “bench rest.”
You then divide and shape the dough into it’s final form and let it rise again. It could even be said that it multiplies. This is the “proving” or the “final proof.” It is during this time that those previously created structures are refilled. It is during this time that the dough develops it’s wonderful flavor and aroma. That’s the million dollar smell that sells houses and makes bakeries popular. This process cannot be skipped. If you rush the process, then the resulting bread has very little flavor. Everything that has come before is brought to it’s climax of flavor, aroma and texture and then it is baked it. You add intense heat and all that it was becomes permanent. As followers of Jesus, we go through many proofing periods and many times of being humbled and many times of learning to be more and more dependent on our Lord Jesus.
Each time, I have thought it to be harder than the last. My childhood was extremely rough emotionally but because I was a child, it was deemed to be normal and was not questioned. Only after becoming an adult and moving through the healing process did I begin to view trials as some strange thing to be cured. Yet, I have come to see that these great trials are necessary for what lies ahead. They are necessary to strengthen a faith muscle so that we know that no matter how bleak, how trapped and how hopeless it seems that Jesus is indeed enough, even if that is all there is, ever.
Welcome to your proofing. There’s no ‘hoop’ you need to jump through to get out of it. It’s not punishment. It’s reward.