Set Your Mind on Things Above

How to Live Heavenly Minded

Set aside, for a moment, the day’s pressing tasks. Hush, if you can, the hopes and desires that rushed upon you the moment you awoke. Step away from the morning’s burdens. Forget what the hours ahead may hold.

Now, Christian, remember: You are going to heaven. Very soon, even any moment, you will be hastened away from all you’ve known here to take an eternal holiday. You will wake up to find your lungs filled with the air of “a better country” (Hebrews 11:16). Your sorrows and sighs will be out of sight (Isaiah 51:11). You will see Jesus face-to-face (Philippians 1:23). And with him you will be home (2 Corinthians 5:8).

“Our minds are most full of heaven when they are most full of Christ.”

And now imagine what life might be like if, as we step back into the day’s tasks, desires, and burdens, we kept one eye upward. How might today be different if we brought the hope of heaven into the stuff of earth — if thoughts of things above adorned our waking hours?

We might then discover how much of our happiness rests on heavenly mindedness. And we might strive to have it said of us, as it was said of a saint of old,

Of that good man let this high praise be given,
Heaven was in him before he was in heaven.

Set Your Mind on Things Above

The pursuit of heavenly mindedness can go wrong, of course. The popular criticism “Don’t be so heavenly minded that you’re no earthly good” has teeth because some have, indeed, used heavenly mindedness as an excuse for earthly aloofness. They have hummed “I’ll Fly Away” while floating comfortably through this world, not remembering that the most heavenly minded man of all labored, sweated, healed, touched, and bled for this world of need.

We would do well, then, to listen again to the clearest charter of heavenly mindedness in Scripture:

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (Colossians 3:1–4)

What does it mean to be heavenly minded? Not merely to live then and there, but to live now in light of then, here in light of there.

Roots in Heavenly Soil

If you belong to Christ, then in the truest sense, you do not live here on earth, but there in heaven: “You have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3). Nor is your life in Christ on full display now, but only then: “When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory” (Colossians 3:4).

Your life is wonderfully, inextricably, eternally bound up with Jesus himself, who reigns there and will appear then. And heavenly mindedness aligns us with that fact, teaching us to define our identity not by the person we see in the mirror but by the Savior we see in Scripture.

Yet such a mindset does not nullify the life we have on earth, but rather transforms it according to the culture and norms of heaven. If we are hidden with Christ there and will be revealed then, we cannot help but look more like Christ here and now. Paul develops this point through the rest of the chapter, where he pens a portrait of the heavenly minded:

  • They put to death all that dishonors God and demeans others (Colossians 3:5–9).
  • They dress themselves in the heavenly clothing of compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience (Colossians 3:12).
  • In a society of accusations and recriminations, they speak the otherworldly language of forgiveness (Colossians 3:13).
  • They walk under the reign of divine peace, which has established its throne on their hearts (Colossians 3:15).
  • They speak and sing with the harmony of gratitude and grace (Colossians 3:15–17; 4:6).
  • In every relationship, in every word, in every deed, they seek to show the glory of Jesus Christ (Colossians 3:17–4:1).

They are like oaks whose roots sink deep into heavenly soil. Though they grow up in the same field as the rest of the world, and though the same winds and storms beat against their trunks, they daily draw nourishment from another world, and so bear the fruit of that better country.

Heavenly Habits

How then can we grow in heavenly mindedness? How can people like us — everyday saints with jobs and families and friends and neighbors and a host of earthly responsibilities — come to have it said of us, “Heaven was in him before he was in heaven”?

The first answer is familiar: give ourselves to Bible reading and prayer, to corporate worship and fellowship, each of which is a means of heavenly mindedness as much as it is a means of grace. But alongside the daily habits of Scripture and prayer, and the weekly habits of corporate worship and fellowship, we can also position ourselves more intentionally to set our minds on things that are above.

Begin your day in heaven.

Robert Murray McCheyne, a heavenly minded man if there ever were one, once described his morning devotions as a means of “giving the eye the habit of looking upward all the day” (Memoir and Remains of Robert Murray McCheyne, 64). Knowing his thoughts would not drift toward heaven in the afternoon or evening unless he fixed his mind there first thing, he began his day in heaven.

We might learn the same lesson from the Lord’s Prayer. In teaching us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread” (Matthew 6:11), did not Jesus assume we would normally begin the day on our knees? And significantly, before that prayer leads us to ask for daily bread, it sets our minds on things above:

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
     on earth as it is in heaven. (Matthew 6:9–10)

If we take the Lord’s Prayer as our model, then heaven will fill some of our first thoughts every morning. Here and now will fade, at least for a few moments, before the brilliance of there and then. And when we walk into our day, we may take something of heaven with us.

Set your mind through meditation.

The command to “set your minds on things that are above” means more than “read about things that are above.” Something beyond mere reading is needed — a practice the biblical writers call meditation (Joshua 1:8; Psalm 1:1–2; 119:97).

If typical Bible reading focuses on paragraphs and chapters, meditation focuses on sentences and words; if in Bible reading we walk down the hallway of a passage, in meditation we open doors and explore rooms. The meditative Bible reader may, for example, read all of Colossians 3 in four or five minutes, but then come back to spend as much time (or more) pondering the wonder of what it means to be “hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3). Meditation takes us above the foothills and puts us on the peaks of God’s revelation. And like Moses, we may come down still shining with the glory we’ve seen.

Maybe serious meditation feels like moving mountains to you. If so, start small, and don’t lose heart. Our minds, like a muscle, grow stronger through exercise. And by God’s grace, what feels impossible now may feel almost natural six months from now.

Retreat to things above throughout the day.

We saw above that Robert Murray McCheyne aimed to cultivate “the habit of looking upward all the day.” Many of us share a similar ambition — at least in theory. Reality might tell a different story.

“If we take the Lord’s Prayer as our model, then heaven will fill some of our first thoughts every morning.”

If you’re at all like me, you leave your morning devotions with a sincere desire to go on thinking of things above in the spare moments of your day. But then you regularly fill every spare moment with something else. In the car, you turn on the news. In line at the store, you check your email. Waiting for a friend, you play a game on your phone. Lying in bed, you scroll through social media. None of these activities is necessarily bad. But how often are they the reflex of a mind addicted to distraction? And what if we resolved to spend at least some of the day’s silences recalling what we read that morning, rehearsing a memorized passage, or praying to our Father in heaven?

Moses told Israel to turn to God’s word “when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise” (Deuteronomy 6:7). If we too claimed more spare moments for the things that are above, we might be surprised at the unusual strength, peace, and joy that would be ours.

Treasure the heart of heaven.

Heaven is and always will be a world of glory (Colossians 3:4). When God makes all things new, the canyons and mountains, the galaxies and grasslands of this fallen world will groan no more (Romans 8:21). These broken bodies will be clothed with immortality (1 Corinthians 15:54). Human society will share in the very harmony of the Trinity (John 17:22–24).

Nevertheless, the hub of all that glory, whose name will rest upon our foreheads, and whose brightness will light up the world, will be God himself in Christ. “When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory” (Colossians 3:4). Heaven without Christ is like the ocean without water, the sky without air, fire without flame. He is heaven’s beating heart.

What does this mean for our heavenly mindedness? It means that our minds are most full of heaven when they are most full of Christ. As John Owen writes, “The whole glory of the state above is expressed by being ‘ever with the Lord, where he is, to behold his glory.’ . . . Our hope is that ere long we shall be ever with him; and if so, it is certainly our wisdom and duty to be here with him as much as we can” (Works of John Owen, 7:344).

Heavenly mindedness is an invitation to be with Jesus as much as we can, in preparation for the day when we will be with him always. So begin your day with Jesus, fix your meditations upon Jesus, and retreat throughout the day to Jesus. Because “set your minds on things that are above” means, at its core, “set your minds on him.”