[I am preparing to lead a retreat this weekend called Open [to] the Book, which focuses on ways that we can approach the Bible in order to allow it to take its full intended effect on us. Below is an excerpt from the first session.] I remember a point when I was freshly out of college and in my first years on staff at a church. It was a period of my life when I had begun digging in to great books on prayer. I was discovering Richard Foster and Henri Nouwen and others, and I loved their teaching and I was growing. But then it hit me one day that something wasn’t right: I was beginning to love prayer, but when it came to the Scriptures...well, I could preach and teach from them, but I didn’t love them. I knew that wasn’t good, but it was honest.
I think that's something of an "elephant in the sanctuary" even in churches that claim to be the most Bible-focused. An attitude like that can be pretty common, possibly even for a majority of the people there. If we were asked, “Do you center your life around the Scriptures,” we would likely say yes–at least to some degree. But if the question changes to, “Do you really like the Scriptures?”...we might plead the Fifth Amendment.
My hope is that wherever you find yourself along the spectrum–if you’re in a period of life where the scriptures are pure treasure to you, or if right now they seem to you about as dry as the pasture that my cattle call home–that we’ll be refreshed and in the weeks and months following this retreat, able to drink from them a bit more deeply.
My wife and I lived away from Texas for eleven years before moving back. During that time, whenever we came to visit my parents, pretty much the entire diet for a week was split between my mom’s great cooking and going to our favorite restaurant, Rosa’s Café and Tortilla Factory. We just couldn’t get enough of either of them. I remember once coming home to visit for a week and we hit Rosa’s five times!
I don’t think we’ve had any five-visits-to-Rosa’s weeks since moving back, but we are still frequenters there, and we especially were as soon as we moved back to Texas. We had been living in Guatemala for two years, so Tex-Mex seemed like God’s pure glory on a plate for us. I think it may have been during our very first week back that we went to Rosa’s for lunch and it was fairly crowded, and our table was unusually close to the table of the family next to us.
As they were finishing their meal, sitting so close to them gave us a good view of an image I may never forget. They had a boy, maybe ten years old, who was doing what we usually do and finishing off his Rosa’s meal by eating one of their delicious tortillas spread with honey. However, it was clear that for this boy, the tortilla was secondary in that recipe. His tortilla was permeated in honey. I think his parents had gone from the table to get refills on their drinks when I looked over and saw him, holding the tortilla up in the air, with honey running down his arm to his elbow. Then he couldn’t help himself. He began licking his own arm, trying to get down to his elbow, in order to get every last drop of honey that he could.
That fits an image from some of the writers of scripture as they described the utter goodness and delight that they found in their scripture.
The decrees of the Lord are firm, and all of them are righteous. They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the honeycomb. (Psalm 19:9-10)
How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! (Psalm 119:103)
I want to look at the scriptures like that, with that delight of the boy at Rosa’s licking the honey off of his elbow. But a question comes to mind when I look at the verses above: what exactly was it that the psalmist was describing as being more precious that gold and sweeter than honey from the comb? It wasn’t John 3:16, or some of the great passages in Romans that talk about nothing separating us from God’s love. No, it was stuff like Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. It was those sections of the Bible i that were more like eating stuff you don’t like at all but your doctor says is good for you than the ones we usually think of as being like Rosa’s honey-inundated tortilla to that boy.
So how is that the writers of these psalms could open the book to those same passages of scripture and come out saying that they were like honey and gold? Well, I think part of the answer is that they approached them very differently than we normally do, and that difference is what I’m trying to get at in playing with the title for this retreat, because not only did these psalmists open the book, but they opened themselves to it. Now, we’re not going so spend any time on this retreat meditating on passages from Leviticus, but we will try to look for some ways that we can do things to open ourselves to the scriptures and find them for the treasure that they are.