Thinking Heavenly Thoughts
In most every discipline of life people are discovering the power of the mind. In medicine it has been discovered that a patient’s mental attitude makes a difference in the speed and likelihood of their recovery. In law, the person’s mental disposition is a factor in the seriousness of their offense. A person who set out to hurt another is said to have committed a “pre-meditated” crime. In sports the best athletes are the ones who are focused and determined. Those are phrases that refer to a persons mindset. In the general discourse of life we know that a person’s attitude affects the enjoyment or lack thereof that someone has. Dr. Norman Vincent Peale is well known for his encouragement to have a positive mental attitude. He encouraged people to choose to look at life and situations positively and then they would enjoy life more.
It should be no surprise then that as Paul takes turns from the theological to the practical he focuses first on the mind. Hear his words again,
Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (3:1-4)
In the Bible “heart” stands for our affections. “Mind” stands for our understanding. Paul appeals to us to build our life and draw our emotions from a heavenly perspective. Let’s think more deeply about this this morning.
WHY WE SHOULD THINK HEAVENLY THOUGHTS
Paul gives us three reason why we should think heavenly thoughts. First, he tells us “we have died with Christ and are hidden in Christ.” In other words, we should think heavenly thoughts because our life is now bound with the life of Christ. When we came to trust in Christ our life no longer was based on a series of rules. We were delivered from trying to save ourselves and we were given a relationship with Christ. We become intimately bound with Him. In fact, we are never more alive than when we are closest to Him.
Second, we learn that Paul tells us that “Christ is seated at the right hand of God”. This may seem obscure to us but it is a sign that the battle is over . . . Christ has won. We should think heavenly thoughts because it reminds us that the victory is won. The more we look at Him the more we are reminded, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” Christ seated at the right hand of God reminds us that “nothing shall separate us from the love of God.” He has overpowered all the foes.
Thirdly, we should think heavenly thoughts because we are going to where He is. Our final destination is Heaven. If you were going on vacation you would want to know where you were going. If you weren’t clear on your destination it would be impossible to plan how to get there. You would just wander aimlessly around the country. The Christian needs to keep their goal in mind. We need to remember where we are going so we don’t get lost along the way. This demands that we set our hearts and minds above.
HOW TO THINK HEAVENLY THOUGHTS
What is NOT heavenly thinking
Before we understand what true heavenly thinking is we must understand what it is not. It is not thinking about religion. We can debate religious theories and study religious doctrine and not be thinking heavenly thoughts.
It is also not thinking about the church. You can make plans for programs around the church. You can be thinking about upcoming meetings. You can be thinking about a particular problem at the church. But none of this is heavenly thinking.
It is not introspective meditation. This is when we take great time and energy to look “within ourselves”. We weigh our thoughts, our emotions. It may lead to great feelings of peace and well-being. It may lead to a sense of God’s presence. But, this is not the kind of thinking that leads to Heaven. This is a focus on US not Heaven.
So What Is Heavenly Thinking?
Do you remember when you were in love? Your thoughts continually focused on the one who made your heart flutter. When you had free time your thoughts would drift in their direction. When you lay in bed at night you thought about them. When you had a free moment you sought to be with them. You’d spend hours together and the first thing you did when you got home was call them and talk for a couple of hours.
Heavenly thinking is much the same. It is being so in love with our Lord that we think about Him all the time. We think about His loveliness and His power. We think about His grace and His wisdom. John MacArthur says,
“The believer’s whole disposition should orient itself toward heaven, just as a compass needle orients itself toward the north.” To be “preoccupied with heaven is to be preoccupied with the One who reigns there and His purposes, plans, provisions, and power. It is also to view the things, people, and events of this world through His eyes and with an eternal perspective. . . it is to allow our preoccupation with heaven to govern our earthly response.”[MacArthur, COLOSSIANS p. 128]
Let’s face it though, this is not our experience. We have things turned around. We spend all our time fretting (and repairing) the things of earth. Our focus is on our next appointment, our next purchase, our next promotion, our physical bodies, our material possessions, our bank account. We have it backwards and this is why Paul gives us this command.
Now, don’t get me wrong. We should concentrate on what we are doing here and now. We should watch the road when we are driving. We should pay attention in class or on the job. We should listen to the person talking to us. But this should all take place from a perspective that has been adjusted by our thoughts of that which is above.
How to Think Heavenly Thoughts
We continually must decide to turn our minds and hearts toward Heaven. The tense of Paul’s command is that we must be actively, constantly turning our thoughts Heavenward. This is not our normal practice. Normally we fret, stew, finagle, rearrange, plot and despair. Then and only then do we sometimes turn toward Heaven. To be heavenly minded we must deliberately turn God’s way FIRST. Whenever you feel one of these emotions begin to well up inside you . . . look up.
We must learn to recognize and put aside worldly thinking. Every time we look at a catalog we must remind ourselves that those items we long for will never make us more significant or valuable than we already are in Christ. Every time we are tempted to compromise our ethics to make things comfortable we must remind ourselves that the impact of our action extends into eternity. Every time we are tempted to choose pleasure over obedience we must remember that we are offending the One who loves us with an everlasting love.
We must resist the notion that true happiness can be found in anything this world has to offer. It is not in the new car, the faster computer, the new mate, the bigger home, the highest award, the swelling bank account. It’s not in the lottery, or the Publisher’s Clearing House Sweepstakes. True happiness is not in the will of a rich relative . . . it will only be found in Heaven! The Lord’s instruction must be kept close to our heart: (Matt. 6:19-21) “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” If our greatest desire is for the things of this earth, that’s where our heart is. If our greatest desire is for the things of Heaven, that’s where our heart will be.
We must make time to “look up”. The first way to do this is to make time to read the Bible. We must read with a desire to be instructed. The Bible is God’s thoughts for us. As a student can’t become a Doctor unless he reads the medical books, a football player can’t succeed unless they know the plays, and a mechanic cannot fix the new machine he has never seen before without consulting the book, so a believer can’t fix their thoughts on Heaven without consulting the Scriptures.
We also look up when we deepen our relationship with God through prayer. This is not the prayer where we give God a list of our needs. It is the prayer that submits our life to His approval and seeks to gain His perspective on living.
But the simplest way to “look up” is to literally stop and ponder God’s greatness.
- pause often to look at the clouds and think of the day when Christ will come in the clouds
- hear the thunder and rejoice that the God who made the powerful storms is the God who holds your hand and loves you with an everlasting love.
- see the people around you and remember that these are people that matter to God.
- see a hearse or cemetery and remember that death is not the end, but a beginning, a victory, a homegoing.
- use the quiet moments in a waiting room to recount God’s promises and to fellowship with Him in prayer.
- In the times of conflict turn to Him before we respond in anger
- Pause to look at the day lilies, or a sunset, or a star-filled night and marvel at the creative splendor of God
Heavenly thinking is learning to see all and do all with the perspective of eternity. It is something we can learn to do. It is something we can help each other do.
Do you know someone who has learned to set their hearts on what is above? Have you seen someone who faced death without fear but with joyful anticipation? Do you know someone who faces conflict with grace and trials with serenity? Do you know someone who is content in this world? If so, then you probably have a living example of one who has learned to “look up”. Don’t you yearn for that same peace? Don’t you want to love God with that same depth? Let me close with an account of one such person.
Martha was not only one of the oldest members of the congregation, but one of the most faithful. Aunt Martie, as all the children called her, just seemed to ooze faith, hope and love wherever she went. This time, however, there seemed to be an unusual tone to her words.
“Preacher, could you stop by this afternoon? I need to talk with you.”
“Of course. I’ll be there around three, Is that okay?”
As they sat facing each other in the quiet of her small living room, Jim learned the reason for what he sensed in her voice. Martha shared the news that her doctor had just discovered a previously undetected tumor. “He says I probably have six months to live.” Martha’s words were certainly serious, yet there was a definite calm about her.
“I’m so sorry to . . . ” but before Jim could finish, Martha interrupted.
“Don’t be. The Lord has been good. I have lived a long life. I’m ready to go. You know that.”
“I know,” Jim whispered with a reassuring nod.
“But I do want to talk with you about my funeral. I have been thinking about it, and there are things that I know I want.”
The two talked quietly for a long time. They talked about Martha’s favorite hymns, the passages of Scripture that had meant so much to her through the years, and the many memories they shared from the five years Jim had been with Central Church.
When it seemed that they had covered just about everything, Aunt Martie paused, looked up at Jim with a twinkle in her eye, and then added, “One more thing, preacher. When they bury me, I want my old Bible in one hand and a fork in the other.”
“A fork?” Jim was sure he had heard everything, but this caught him by surprise.
“Why do you want to be buried with a fork?”
“I have been thinking about all of the church dinners and banquets that I attended through the years,” she explained. “I couldn’t begin to count them all. But one thing sticks in my mind.
“At those really nice get-togethers, when the meal was almost finished, a server or maybe the hostess would come by to collect the dirty dishes. I can hear the words now. Sometimes, at the best ones, somebody would lean over my shoulder and whisper, `You can keep your fork.’ And do you know what that meant? Dessert was coming!
“It didn’t mean a cup of Jell-O or pudding or even a dish of ice cream. You don’t need a fork for that. It meant the good stuff, like chocolate cake or cherry pie! When they told me I could keep my fork, I knew the best was yet to come!
“That’s exactly what I want people to talk about at my funeral. Oh, they can talk about all the good times we had together. That would be nice. “But when they walk by my casket and look at my pretty blue dress, I want them to turn to one another and say, `Why the fork?’
“That’s what I want you to say. I want you to tell them that I kept my fork because the best is yet to come.”
[By Roger William Thomas from A 3rd Serving of Chicken Soup for the Soul Copyright 1996 by Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen]
This woman understood what it meant to Set her heart and mind above. As you go into the week ahead, no matter what you face, I pray you will remember to keep to look up often and to keep your fork in your hand.