One of my all-time favorite Bible passages is Colossians 3:1-2: “Set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth.”
There are two insights I want to share with you:
- As great as this passage is in English, it is even richer—and far more intense—in the original Greek. It communicates the idea, “Diligently, actively, single-mindedly think on the realities of heaven.”
- It is also in the present tense in the Greek. This conveys continuous action. The verses communicate the idea, “Perpetually keep on thinking about the realities of heaven. Make it an ongoing process—24/7.”
Based on these insights, here’s an enhanced translation of the passage: “Perpetually keep on thinking about the realities of heaven in a diligent, active, and singled-minded way. Do not let up. Keep heaven at the forefront of your thoughts.”
Of course, this does not mean we should ignore our earthly responsibilities—such as earning a living so we can feed our families, helping our kids with their homework, and the like. But even as we carry out all our earthly responsibilities, our heavenly mindset can motivate us to do these things well, with a sense of purpose.
Scripture informs us:
- “We are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior” (Philippians 3:20).
- Heaven is our real home (John 14:2-3).
- Our names are registered in heaven (Luke 10:20).
- An inheritance awaits us in heaven (1 Peter 1:4).
- Our Christian loved ones who have already passed away presently await us in heaven (Hebrews 12:23).
In view of these wonderful truths, it makes good sense to focus our thoughts on heaven!
I love the way Hebrews 11:13 puts it. This verse tells us that God’s people are but “foreigners and nomads here on earth.” We are all pilgrims who are en route to a better country—a heavenly one (verse 16).
Through the years, I have enjoyed reading various books on the Puritans. The late theologian J.I. Packer—with whom I was privileged to spend an afternoon—did a great deal of research on them. He said the Puritans saw themselves as God’s pilgrims who were traveling home (to heaven) through rough country (on earth). Based on his study of the Puritans, Packer concluded that the “lack of long, strong thinking about our promised hope of glory is a major cause of our plodding, lackluster lifestyle.” He said that “it is the heavenly Christian that is the lively Christian.” The Puritans understood that we “run so slowly, and strive so lazily, because we so little mind the prize…So let Christians animate themselves daily to run the race set before them by practicing heavenly meditation.”
Let’s apply this to my earlier point: A mind focused on heaven helps us to be “lively Christians” as we carry out all our earthly responsibilities.
One Puritan whom Packer often talked about is Richard Baxter, whose recommended daily habit was to “dwell on the glory of the heavenly life to which one was going.” Baxter daily practiced “holding heaven at the forefront of his thoughts and desires.” The hope of heaven brought him joy, and that joy brought him strength: “A heavenly mind is a joyful mind.”
So—this means we can carry out our earthly responsibilities while filled with joy—a joy rooted in our destiny in heaven!
Life on Earth Is Short—Life in Heaven Is Long
The older I get, the more important I think it is to ponder heaven because life on earth is so short. It seems like I blink three times, and three decades have passed. Where do the years go?
My mind still feels young. But when I look in the mirror I am once again reminded that I am aging. I see the same in all my friends and acquaintances. We are all getting older.
Philip Yancey once said our time on earth amounts to a mere “dot in eternity.” This dot is quickly passing away. It will soon be over. Whether we realize it or not, we are all literally hurtling into eternity at a dizzying pace.
Of course, I am not trying to be morbid. However, a key component in maintaining an eternal perspective is a constant awareness of our mortality. We each ought to pray with the psalmist, “Teach us to realize the brevity of life, so that we may grow in wisdom” (Psalm 90:12). “LORD, remind me how brief my time on earth will be. Remind me that my days are numbered—how fleeting my life is” (Psalm 39:4). Christians who wisely ponder their mortality are most often the ones who keep the eternal perspective that is described in Colossians 3:1-2.
It also seems to me that the older we get, the more force Ecclesiastes 3:11 has: God “has planted eternity in the human heart.” Though we live in a world of passing time, we have intimations of eternity within our hearts. We instinctively think of forever. We seem to intrinsically realize that beyond this life lies a shoreless ocean of time. It is wondrous to even ponder it. We are heaven-bent; our hearts have an inner tilt upward.
Scripture reveals that once we have arrived in heaven, we will live forever in a pain-free, age-free, and death-free environment. Looking back, our life on earth will seem like a brief moment in time. Bible scholar John Wenham commented that “not only is it certain that this life will end, but it is certain that from the perspective of eternity it will be seen to have passed in a flash.” Wenham himself passed into eternity in 1996.
Longing for a Better Place—the Yearning for Eternity
From the first book in the Bible to the last, we read of great men and women of God who gave evidence that eternity permeated their hearts. We read of people like Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, and David—each yearning to live with God in eternity. They were each “looking forward to a country they can call their own. If they had longed for the country they came from, they could have gone back. But they were looking for a better place, a heavenly homeland. That is why God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them” (Hebrews 11:14-16). That city is in heaven. It is called “the New Jerusalem” (Revelation 21:10-21).
When I read the Psalms, I often reflect on heavenly realities and the yearning in the human heart for the eternal. Psalm 42:1-2 is one of my favorites:
As the deer longs for streams of water,
so I long for you, O God.
I thirst for God, the living God.
When can I go and stand before him?
I will be able to “stand before him” following the moment of my death or following the rapture, whichever comes first. And as David put it, “I will live in the house of the LORD forever” (Psalm 23:6).
J.I. Packer, Alive to God (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1992), 171.
Packer, Alive to God, 167.
Philip Yancey, Where Is God When It Hurts? (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002), 176.
J.W. Wenham, The Enigma of Evil (Washington: Eagle Publishing, 1994), 55.