When you go camping, you stay up too late. You push marshmallows onto sharpened sticks; and after your fingers are sticky and your stomach is full, you settle down in a circle around the campfire. As the evening grows late, the conversation grows quieter, until one by one your friends yawn and say goodnight. By the time you are the last one up, the embers are burning low and there is more ash than crackling flame.
In the morning, the sounds of the birds awaken you, and you slowly drag yourself out of your sleeping bag and fumble for the tent flap. When you finally find and throw back the tent flap, the morning sun streams into your tent, dazzling your eyes with the fresh sunlight of a new day. By that light you see everything that was left by the campfire the night before: the empty graham cracker box under a folding chair, the sharpened stick thrown aside with a white marshmallow coating on one end, and the cold mug of coffee set carefully on the end of a log the night before.
If you turn and look back into your tent, you see clearly through the brilliant light streaming in through the tent flap that the tent is strewn with sleeping bags, socks and shoes, and probably more sand than you expected to see.
King David woke up in tents for many years – as a shepherd, as a fugitive from King Saul’s anger, and on war campaigns after he became king. He knew the daily experience of throwing open the tent flaps to the dazzling clarity of a sun-drenched morning. In fact, the contrast between the darkness of the interior of the tent and the morning sun would have been even greater for him, since the tents of that day were made entirely of the thick skins of animals rather than today’s modern materials.
This image came to mind when David sat down to write Psalm 119, verse 130:
The unfolding of your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple.
That word translated unfolding comes from the word for the opening to a tent. We would say tent flap because that is the part of the tent that is unfolded when we want to enter or exit. Bible scholars (who may not have spent much time camping as children) have translated it with words like entrance, opening, doorway, etc.
Do you see what David saw? When we study God’s Word, it is as if the tent flap of our lives were thrown aside, moving us in an instant from the darkness in which we have been moving into the brilliant glare of wisdom and insight.
Suddenly we can see everything more clearly. And when we turn and look at the place where we have been living, we see the mess.
When I was a young man, I worked at a classy restaurant with low lighting and beautiful décor. After the last customer had left for the night, we would blow out the candles at each table and then turn the lights fully up to clean the dining room. It was always startling to see how filthy the dining room had become during all of those hours of low lighting and romantic atmosphere. We definitely had some cleaning to do before we were done for the day!
David was right. The Bible is like a tent flap. When it is opened, streams of bright light greet our eyes. As Solomon wrote, “Light is sweet, and it pleases the eyes to see the sun” (Ecclesiastes 11:7, NIV).
When you open the Bible, that “tent flap thrown back” also shows us our own lives in stark clarity. We can see that we have some work to do!
Maybe that is why surveys show that we pastors are no more likely to open the Bible than our people (except when we have a message to prepare).
When you open your Bible and sit down to read it, pastors, you move toward the light in many ways. That light is sweet and pleasing to the eyes, but it also shows us things in our own hearts and lives that we would rather not see.
There are things that only grow where the light does not shine. When we get so busy in our ministry careers that we don’t open the Bible and flood ourselves with its light, things begin to grow in the darkened corners of our lives. And that is never good.
I wonder how often you sit with the Bible open and read it when not preparing a Sunday School lesson or a sermon. I wonder how long it has been since you just said, “Lord, let’s talk!” and then spent a delightful evening with the TV off and your Bible open in your lap.
I know from personal experience how tough it can be to spend unhurried time in the Bible during the maelstrom of ministry. Like you, I am busy from sun-up to fall-down. Like you, I find the days blurring together and the hours slipping away. It is challenging to guard that time. But we must!
I am spending time right now in the Gospel passages where Jesus spoke about the last days. I have slowly been reading each passage, savoring the words that Christ used about this topic (the future) that is so important to all of us. It has been “enlightening” (like streams of white light into darkened corners). I am understanding better what Jesus said.
It has also challenged me about areas where I have some work to do. For example, embedded in these passages are several things that Jesus commanded us to pray in regard to the last days. I hadn’t noticed those commands before and have just begun to pray those prayers.
This has been really refreshing for my soul, and I want each of you to get to enjoy that same sort of refreshing time. Opening God’s Word is like throwing the tent flap open. You blink at the brightness of the light, and it wakes you up. Yes, it will show you things in your own life that need to be cleaned up, but don’t let that stop you!
As John wrote in I John 2:8, “…the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining.” The sun is up, brothers and sisters. Step out of the tent and into the light!