What in the world does [Paul] mean about setting your mind on things above? Well, in the Proverbs, the Bible says, “As a man—or a woman—thinketh in his—or her—heart, so are they.” That is, what you and I think about is what we become. What we desire the most in life is what we work the hardest for, and what we set our affections on is what we're going to become.
—Charles F. Stanley, “The Believer’s Mindset”
It’s hard to see the stars from my front porch. If not outshined by shop lights across the street, then they’re stifled by the hazy glow of my city. Though they’re always hanging above, it’s only when I leave home that I’m confronted by their otherworldliness. And that clear, starry view never fails to draw attention to my own spiritual nature and the mysterious God who created it. With the solid ground beneath my feet and the twinkling expanse overhead, I’m reminded that the space I inhabit is both broken and holy.
How do we balance both worlds? I often think of Paul’s instructions to the believers in Colossae: “Set your minds on the things that are above, not on the things that are on earth” (Col. 3:2). Though the apostle’s words evoke images of a literal shimmering night sky, he didn’t intend for his metaphor to end there. Instead, by things “above,” he meant things of heaven or—based on the other incidences of the original Greek, anó—the kingdom of God or our highest calling. But out of context, this verse can seem to undermine the value of our daily presence on earth.
In his gospel, the apostle John uses anó to describe Jesus. At the time, Lazarus had been dead for four days, and everyone was grieving: Jesus, the loss of a friend; Mary and Martha, a sibling—along with their hope in a Messiah who would save their brother. So, as the story goes, Jesus went to Lazarus’s tomb, waited for the stone to be rolled away, and before Lazarus awoke, He “raised His eyes, and said, ‘Father, I thank You that You have heard Me’” (John 11:41, emphasis added). At this critical moment, why did Jesus turn His eyes anó, toward the blue skies? Though we know that heaven isn’t necessarily above us, what if Jesus—fully human like me—also thought of His Father when He watched the clouds go by? Perhaps it is our nature, crafted by God, to think of Him when we glimpse the inexplicable.
Here Jesus was, caught up in a situation full of earth’s brokenness and heaven’s redemption—as believers often are. And in response He surveyed the palpable sadness before Him, looked up, and thanked the Father for a resurrection yet to come. Perhaps this is a model for how we also can inhabit both heavenly and earthly identities. Though only Jesus can strike the balance perfectly, this intimate moment between the Father and Himself is a reminder that, with the right perspective, the physical world can help position our attention and affection toward the Lord. Whether it’s the heartaches of our people or the mystery of creation, anything can set our hearts heavenward, if we let it.
May we never neglect one realm in favor of the other but remember that both are joined together. And may the aches of friends and strangers alike take me to this day in Jesus’ life, so that I too remember to sit with them awhile, look up, and speak with my Father.
Illustration by Adam Cruft