We went to the Maritimes with our friends for a little rest and recreation after our short-term mission, which vacation turned out to be educational as well. For example, at King’s Landing, New Brunswick, we learned a bit of history about early settlers from the British Isles to Canada. The agricultural setting gave us some reminders of biblical truths. For instance, the yoke recalled Jesus’ yoke in Mt 11:29-30, or “unequally yoked” in 2 Co 6:14. And the muzzle brought to mind how we should look after our pastors in 1 Co 9:9 or 1 Tim 5:18.
But a very interesting lesson came from the flax plant. Farmers grow flax for both food and fiber. The plant is pretty with small bluish flowers. The seed is like brown sesame and rich in omega-3. The stem is long like that of rice or wheat. However, it is how the plant is turned into useful products that provided the object lesson. Going back to the old days when most jobs are manual, the mature plant is pulled up by the roots, sun-dried, and the grains removed by threshing. The straw is then retted for up to two months, during which time the sun and the rain produce an enzyme that breaks down the bond between the straw’s outer stalk and the inner fibers.
After retting the outer straw is broken into smaller pieces on a crusher, which is shaped like a paper-cutter except that the edge is not sharp. The “chopper” breaks the stalk but leaves the long fibers intact. The fibers look like long blond hair, and are drawn through a bed of long nails called a hackle or heckle to separate them into strands. The individual strands are then spun on a spindle into threads, which are 2-3 times stronger than cotton, and transferred onto a loom to be woven into cloth.
The preparation process is an analogy to the Christian life. To be useful in God’s hands, Abraham, Jacob and Joseph had to be uprooted for their training. Paul had to suffer beatings (2 Co 6:5; threshing). Retting is soaking flax or hemp in water to soften it and separate the fibers. It is removal of the woody tissues by partial rotting. In the same way, Joseph, Moses and David had to be put on the sideline and wait to learn humility. Heckling resembles afflictions. Paul knew about being afflicted in every way, but not crushed; struck down, but not destroyed (2 Co 4:8-9). Though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day (2 Co 4:16).
Most of us would shy away from any form of suffering, because we have not learned its value. But not Paul, who said in Rom 5:3-4 “but we exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character”. If only we’ve truly learned the theology of suffering, we would have been much better Christians and the Church would have a much greater impact. Pray that all of us would learn to pay the cost of discipleship.