We start a new week looking at the distracted heart. What do we do when our hearts are too distracted to focus on Christ? Two listeners asked it, Pastor John. First is Tess. Tess writes, “Hello, Pastor John! Thank you for such an amazing and unique platform to minister to people’s hearts through this podcast. When it comes to setting my mind on the things of Christ, like it says in Colossians 3:2, I know how to preach truth to myself and remind myself of God’s promises in Scripture. However, when I think about my ex-boyfriend dating one of my dear friends that have both walked away from the Lord recently, my mind is so fixed on that one thing, I cannot focus on the word. How can I train my distracted mind away from this world and its worries and stresses, and instead set my full gaze on Christ himself? I’d love some insight on this.”
And then Michelle from Canada writes in: “Pastor John, you have no idea how helpful this podcast has been for me. Thank you for responding to every question with thoughtfulness and love. Sometimes I have trouble falling asleep, and what’s helped me the most is daydreaming about things that will probably never happen to me. I imagine my dream home with lavish furniture, traveling to remote places, being a CEO of a company, and so on. Although it helps me fall asleep, I’m left feeling guilty that thinking about the Lord and what he’s doing in my real life doesn’t bring me the same peace. I’m now finding that these imaginary scenarios consume me during my day-to-day routine outside of sleep — during my commute to work, getting ready in the morning, cooking, and more. Given that the Bible tells us to ‘Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth,’ in Colossians 3:2, is it a sin to daydream in these ways?”
These two questions both raise a question about Colossians 3:2 — namely, “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on the earth” — but they point to almost opposite ways of struggling with this verse.
Losses and Dreams
Tess is struggling with the controlling thought about something she has lost (a boyfriend and more), and Michelle is struggling not with something she has lost, but something she dreams of having (a dream home, traveling, being a CEO). The very fact that setting our minds on things that are above can be hindered by both regrets and by dreams is very instructive for us. It’s instructive because it reminds us that the heart of our problem is not what we had and lost or what we never had but desired to have. The problem is deeper.
It’s similar to the instruction we get when we realize that being wealthy and being poor might both be characterized by being greedy and covetous. The person who has a lot may trust and love his possessions, and the person who has little may crave earthly things with as much passion as a rich person loves them. So the essence of the problem is not in the wealth or the poverty. The essence of the problem is in the heart and what it desires and where it rests. That’s what I would say we learn from Tess and Michelle. The essence of the problem is not that something has been lost or something has not yet been gained. The essence of the problem is deeper.
Our Breathtaking Identity
In both cases, setting the mind on things that are above is hindered by a recurring pattern of thought — in one case, a pattern of thought about what she had lost, and in the other case, a pattern of thought about what she doesn’t yet have and dreams of having. And I think if we read Colossians 3:1–4, the Lord will show us what may be the common, deeper root of the problem here. So let’s read it.
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 mind 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.
Now, these words are simply breathtaking. They are breathtaking in what they show us about the reality of who Tess and Michelle are and who Jesus Christ is.
Who We Are
So, consider five things that Tess and Michelle need to know about themselves:
- They have died (verse 3). Because of their union with Christ by faith, their old, unbelieving, rebellious, perishing self died when Christ died.
- They have been raised with Christ from the dead (verse 1). They are a new creation in Christ. This is not something to be achieved, but something that has happened to them. God has done this.
- The essence of their new life in Christ is hidden with Christ in God (verse 3). They are as real and as secure as Christ is in heaven.
- Their life is not only hidden with Christ in God, but Christ himself is their life (verse 4). Their life is as indestructible as Christ because he is their life.
- At the coming of Christ in glory, Tess and Michelle will appear with him as the everlasting, glorious beings that they really are, even though very few people can see that in them now.
Those are five staggering realities that Tess and Michelle need to know about themselves.
Who Christ Is
And here are the four realities about Christ in those verses:
- Christ is alive forevermore (verse 1).
- Christ is right now seated at the right hand of God (verse 1). He is a coruler of all things in the universe.
- Christ is now the life of his people (verse 3). All our new, everlasting existence flows from him and consists in our union with him.
- Christ is going to appear on the clouds with great glory to establish his kingdom (verse 4), and with him, all his people will shine like the sun with his kingly glory.
Set Your Minds
Now, embedded in those nine truths is this: “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on the earth” (verse 2). That’s embedded in those glories. And what I’m suggesting is that the deeper issue that Tess and Michelle are dealing with, and all of us deal with, is that they may be trying to obey this exhortation — to set their minds on things that are above — without getting a clear, deep, satisfying grasp of these nine glorious realities about themselves and about Christ.
“It’s hard to set your mind on something if that something is not clear and great in your mind and heart.”
In other words, it’s hard to set your mind on something over against your losses and your dreams if that something that you’re trying to set your mind on is not clear and great and beautiful and desirable in your mind and your heart.
Reservoir of Glory
Now, I realize someone is going to say to me, “But how does that help them, since they’re saying that thoughts about loss and thoughts about dreams are precisely what is keeping them from setting their minds on the greatness and the beauty and the desirableness of these realities? So you haven’t said anything helpful, Piper.”
Now, my response is that it’s not quite like that. Let me explain. When I lie awake at night, knowing that I need sleep, and it’s not coming, and I’m tempted to set my mind on something earthly that I want or that I regret, what helps me turn my mind toward things that are above is that I have devoted significant time and energy on a few passages of Scripture to penetrate through to the clarity of the greatness and the beauty and the desirableness of the reality that is there.
“Devote certain times to create a reservoir of beauty and glory and greatness with a few passages of Scripture.”
In other words, I don’t expect all of that work to happen on my pillow. The times when I need to direct my thought away from anxieties and earthly cravings is not the time for doing the serious business of understanding texts and penetrating through them to great and beautiful reality that can conquer my wandering thoughts.
So, my suggestion for Tess, Michelle, and all of us is that we devote certain times to create a reservoir of beauty and glory and greatness and desirableness with a few passages of Scripture, so that when in the course of the day or night we try to set our minds on things that are above, we don’t have to fill that reservoir at that moment. It’s already there. We can ask God, “Father, as I recite this verse, or as I recite this passage now, cause me to see — to really see — and savor and stand in awe of the greatness and the beauty and the desirableness of things that are above.”