The back side of the tapestry


Durham Castle, in which I lived for a year, is the oldest continuously inhabited castle in England. At least, that’s what I told people I gave tours to! In 1603, King James VI of Scotland stopped in for a night on his way to London to be crowned James I of England. Later he gave his name to the famous translation of the Bible.

In one of the great chambers of the Castle hang some enormous tapestries, each of which is several centuries old. Perhaps King James enjoyed them the same way I did when I sat after dinner most nights having coffee.

Tapestries are funny things. On the back they resemble a collection of completely unrelated threads amounting to absolutely nothing. On the front, the threads come together to form a picture of great beauty. Needless to say, they take a great deal of time and effort to make. The Durham tapestries probably took years to produce, not months.

This year my life has often looked far more like the back side of the tapestry than the front.

But that’s OK, because God is teaching me something in it.

Maybe it’s the same thing he was teaching Abraham when he followed the call of God into the desert, and the promise of a son did not materialize. Maybe it’s the same thing he was teaching David when he was anointed king, only to spend years fleeing for his life in the caves and hills of Judea. Maybe it’s the same thing he was teaching Paul when he sat for years on the back side of Tarsus, wondering if the guy who appeared to him on the road to Damascus had got it wrong.

What he’s teaching me is that it’s most often when things look the worst that God is doing the most.

And usually the smartest thing to do when you’re in that place is… nothing.

Almost anything you do when you’re at the bottom of the pit will come out of a desire for deliverance from a fire in which God is refining you.

Whether it’s a life or a tapestry, the key to success is time. Most of the most powerful promises God has made to Elaine and I have taken years to come to fulfillment, and some we still await.

God always takes more time than we would like him to because he is doing a work greater than we realize. And in it there are all sorts of pieces beyond our control that he has to bring together.

But here is the most important thing. Through the days, months and even years, he takes the apparently random and unattractive threads and weaves them into something of true and amazing beauty.

Then there are those wonderful days when the tapestry is turned over. Those are the days when we suddenly see what God was doing while we waited. And I’ve had some of those lately too. And there are more to come, for God is often most at work in the very times when you think he’s forgotten you.

David, who knew more about adversity than most of us, got it just right: “The steps of a person are established by the Lord, when he delights in his way; though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong, for the Lord upholds his hand” (Psalm 37:23-24).

And a few verses later: “Wait for the Lord and keep his way, and he will exalt you to inherit the land” (verse 34).

Just be patient and wait.

The day will come when the tapestry will be turned over, and all the time, hard work, heartache and sorrow that went into its production will have been worth while.