Saturday, July 26, 2008

God Misplaced: Setting "Before" and Setting "Aside"

I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken (Psalm 16:8).

“Hey, we’ve still got your drums in the basement. Do you want them?”

I’ve heard that more than once. My parents gave me that set of Ludwigs for Christmas when I was a sophomore in high school (think 1978 . . . ouch!). For years I used them often, kept them set up in our basement, “jammed” with a guitarist friend of mine, played at church and picked up other random gigs from time to time throughout my college years.

And then I stopped. I’ve barely touched my drums since the mid-80s. There was no room for them in my Fort Worth apartment once I started seminary. And over time, it seems there was just no room for them in my life. I pause to ponder that. It didn’t have to be that way. No one pointed a gun at me and said “step away from drums.” I just did.

I set them aside.

Back in the day I was always setting the drums before me. Literally. I loved to be behnd the kit, I loved to watch and listen to other drummers and bands, I browsed music stores pricing hardware and cymbals and all things percussive. I didn’t need a pair of sticks in my hands. Drumming was woven into my sense of identity, embedded somehow in whatever it is we speak of when we describe the “self.”

So the drums are in my parents’ basement, dormant and dusty in their cases. Do I want them? Yes, but not in my own house. My basement is crammed with various household items and all those toys my kids stopped paying attention to years ago. But I don’t want to sell the drums and I don’t want to give them away. They’re mine . . . just set aside.

Yesterday I read a line from Psalm 16 in which the Psalmist states “I have set the Lord always before me.” The Psalmist is using different words to describe the practice of the presence of God. To “set the Lord always before me” is to practice God’s presence.

What I seem more inclined to do is to set the Lord aside. This isn’t a rejection of beliefs or a renunciation of the faith. Maybe you could call it a rhythm of carelessness.

The day begins. I read the assigned scripture, thinking through the day, offering it up to the Lord of all time. And then I enter that day, but somewhere along the way God is set aside. Present, yes – but in an “over there” kind of way.

So what does it mean to “set the Lord continually before me?”

Whatever it means, it has to be something far deeper than doing the daily God things, good as those things are. If God is confined to the moments of morning prayer, we’ve got a problem because few of us can linger in those moments for very long. We have employers who expect us to show up and children who need to get to school or lacrosse camp. We have emails to answer and phone calls to return. Life confronts us with such varied and wonderful demands.

I like what I’ve heard somewhere from someone, probably many times. We don’t take God to those places. God is already there, right in the middle of all of it. Our task is to look, to think, to pay attention: To set the Lord always before us.

That’s not an easy thing to do, but if we’ll practice it and learn to do it, the benefits are amazing: joy, gladness, security, confidence (Ps. 16:9). Not a bad way to live.

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