“So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on the things above, not on earthly things.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
What you think about most determines a great deal about your life; what it looks like and the direction it will go. The challenge of this fact is that we live in a world in which we are bombarded by things to think about all the time. Everywhere we look there are things thrusting themselves in our faces, demanding we give them our attention. If following Jesus is something you endeavor for at all, how do we manage such a feat with anything resembling faithfulness? Paul offers us some pretty sound advice here.
Let’s come back to that first idea again: What occupies your thinking most? Is it work? Your kids? Your schedule and things that need to be done? A particular project? A TV show or game you’re currently caught up in? Your faith and the things of God? There is no shortage of options available to us. Now, perhaps we have some nagging, guilt-driven sense that our faith should take up the most of our mental space, but that’s not so easy a thing to manage. I mean, sure, in a perfect world it seems like we’d do nothing but ponder over the Scriptures and live them out with joy and gladness. But in this world? Who has time for that?
Let me let you in on a little secret. While I am in the Scriptures every day and in ways that don’t relate to work somehow, I am in a season when the amount of time I am able to budget for that is a whole lot smaller than I’d like. Every now and then I will read a book or hear a message from a preacher who talks about (i.e. boasts about) spending an hour or more in quiet time every morning. I’ve got to be honest: Those kinds of boasts bother me. A lot. Perhaps it’s envy over the fact that I don’t do the same thing anymore. But I think there’s more to my reaction.
If I were to set out to start a new habit of spending an hour or more in the Scriptures and praying every morning, that time is going to have to come from somewhere. And, given the season of life I’m in right now, there are only a couple of options available for that. I could get up an hour earlier than I do right now. That would mean being up by at least 5:30 every morning. I’m a morning person, but I’m not going to get up that early on my own. I would have to set an alarm, which would mean waking up someone else in the house too. That’s not fair to them. And then I’m tired all day which isn’t fair to them either. The other option would be to simply let my wife do mornings on her own so I can pursue this holy exercise. Now, my incredible bride is more than capable of such a feat, but the idea of expecting her to get herself and three kids ready, make breakfasts and lunches, and stop the various morning squabbles so everyone can be out the door by 7:30 all by herself just so I can sit somewhere in the house and ignore it all while I read my Bible and pray leaves a pretty bad taste in my mouth. Maybe I would be a better pastor, then, but I’d be a terrible husband and father which, in the long run, makes me a worse pastor. I’m just not going to do it. And, to be even more honest, I’m not going to have a whole lot of respect for a pastor who would do that at the expense of his family. There is a season coming when that kind of thing will be an option for me again, but I’m not in it now. And that’s okay.
Enough soapboxing there.
So, given that spending hours and hours in focused prayer and Bible reading isn’t an option for me – and perhaps not for you either – how do we make sure our minds are working in our favor and not against us in our efforts to follow Jesus well? Paul tells us right here. We set our minds on things above, not on earthly things.
But wait, isn’t that the whole point we’re trying to figure out here? Simply setting our minds on things above (whatever those are) instead of earthly things sounds like we’re just ignoring some things in favor of others. I don’t think that’s what Paul is saying, though. So then, what is he saying?
What Paul is ultimately pointing us to here (although he wouldn’t have used these terms) is to consider the worldview lens we are using when it comes to thinking about and interacting with the world around us. Paul is not inviting us to neglect anything important in this world. Instead, this is an invitation to put Jesus first in our interactions with them. Our goal is to give our minds wholly over to Christ. We certainly have to do this in part by engaging regularly with the Scriptures and prayer – in fact, that’s the fundamental part of it – but that’s not the whole of it. The real trick here is learning to see things through an eternal, kingdom of God lens. In every circumstance we face, we ask this question: If the kingdom of God is real, and if there is an eternal life in Heaven waiting for me, how should I interact with this situation? Or perhaps we use this one: If Jesus is Lord, how does that impact my response in this moment?
By doing this, we are accomplishing some very important things. On the one hand, we are indeed focusing our minds and hearts on the matters of Heaven. They are at the forefront of our mind no matter what sort of a situation we are in. On the other hand, we are not disconnecting ourselves from the world. Indeed, we cannot disconnect ourselves from the world if we want to be able to have a meaningful impact on it. We are actually connecting ourselves even more deeply with the world around us, but we are doing so through the lens of the kingdom of God, or, again, with our minds set on things above.
So then, let’s come back to that first idea one last time. What do you think about most? There are many things to think about in a given day. If we imagine the things of God are merely one of the many on the list, we will forever wear ourselves out trying to balance one versus the other while keeping the things of God on the top of the pile. We will live our lives under a pall of guilt for the fact that we’ll fail in that effort more often than we’ll succeed. The things of this world sometimes demand our thinking in ways we simply cannot ignore. But if we will rightly understand the things of God to be the lens through which our thinking about all the other things happens, the stress goes away. If we will treat the things of God like a computer operating system instead of merely another program, then we will find the success we seek. We’ll make ourselves more fit for Heaven and maximize our usefulness here on earth as well. That’s the kind of win-win we want.