Linen is one of the oldest and most prized of textiles. It has been discovered in caves spanning from Europe to the Dead Sea, and in the tombs of Egyptian royalty. From their time in Egypt, the Israelites learned the value of linen—the knowledge of how to create it and an appreciation for its hard-wearing quality. It was clearly the fabric of choice in the ancient world. What you may not know is that while linen is a desirable fabric, it requires a brutal process to produce it.
The Linen Lexicon
I discovered a whole new lexicon of words associated with the processing of linen fibers. The words sound like the process—harsh! Linen fabric is woven from fibers that grow inside the stalk of the flax plant. So the process is one of breaking down the rough, outer stalk to reveal the beautiful fibers within.
Here’s a summary of the steps needed to produce linen fabric:
•Harvest: the flax plant needs to be pulled up, roots and all. Taking shortcuts by cutting the stalk above the roots harms the quality of the fibers.
•Rippling: the stalks are run through a machine that rips off the leaves and seeds.
•Retting: the stalks are soaked in an acid bath, then pressurized and boiled to soften them prior to removal.
•Breaking: the softened stalks are then crushed between heavy rollers to break the outer stalk into pieces.
•Scutching: the crushed and splintered stalks are then hit with rotating paddles to release the linen fibers.
•Heckling: the fibers are combed with heckling combs to separate the short (undesirable) fibers from the long (desirable) fibers. Only the long fibers are woven into thread.
•Spinning: twisting the long linen fibers into thread.
•Weaving: weaving the linen threads into fabric.
•Finishing: the finished, natural color fabric can be bleached, dyed, or printed according to need.
This process proves an important point: Transformation can be a painful process to get to a place of beauty and usefulness. And the same is true in the spiritual life.
The Adversity Advantage
Plant fibers, like us, take a painful path to arrive at their destination. But there is an advantage to adversity, a plan for pain, a reason for roughness. Simply put, we couldn’t get where God intends us to go without adversity.
He plans for us “to be conformed to the image of His Son…” (Romans 8:29). And God uses all things (Romans 8:28)—to conform us to Christ’s image.
Christ learned there was an advantage of adversity: “He learned obedience by the things which He suffered” (Hebrews 5:8). We learn the same way. So it should go without saying that Christians are not immune to adversity. Christ Himself suffered.
The adversity advantage is this: It is a refining process resulting in purity. The Old Testament tells us we are refined in the fire of adversity to purge the dross from our lives (Ezekiel 22:19-22; Malachi 3:3).
When flax stalks submit to the adverse refining process, the linen within becomes fit for the hands of a master weaver and tailor. Likewise, when we submit to the adversity of refining in our lives to remove the impurities, we become moldable in God’s hands who continues to shape us into the image of His Son.
The Purity Plan
If we agree there is an advantage to adversity, what do we do to gain that advantage?
First, begin with the end in mind. Be like a flax stalk that sees itself as a fine linen handkerchief in the hand of an appreciative owner, and embrace the promise of Philippians 1:6.
Second, expect adversity. The apostles taught, “We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22b).
Third, be thankful in adversity. Give thanks to God in the midst of trouble knowing God is going to use it to make you more like Christ (1 Thessalonians 5:18).
Fourth, be anxious for nothing even though you know God’s purity plan involves adversity. Trust God, and then rest in His peace (Philippians 4:6-7).
Let the fabric of your life be tested! The garment God is making is one that will last forever.