Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. And everyone who has this hope [fixed] on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure. (1Jo 3:2-3 NASB)
I’ve heard a couple of reactions to injunction to be heavenly minded. One is the old adage that someone can be too heavenly minded to be any earthly good. The other is a reaction against that, that we should strive to be more heavenly minded.
I want to answer the second reaction first. The way to fix our hope on Jesus and the things above is not to browbeat yourself into doing so as some kind of discipline or repentance. That would be like forcing yourself to love the music of Bach without ever listening to any music of Bach. Bach’s music speaks for itself. The more one becomes exposed to thinking about the implications of life under grace and the true nature of the Kingdom of God, the more one naturally longs for that scenario and becomes more obsessed with its beauty. As with all things to do with the gospel, the secondary moral imperative – the power of the law to punish for disobedience – is gone. We are fully justified and it is finished. All of our motivation in Christ is an aesthetic compulsion, not a moral one. God is seeking to appeal to our hearts and our desires, not our fear.
There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love. (1Jo 4:18 NASB)
Now I want to answer the first reaction. I think that having a full and perhaps sophisticated vision for what heaven is or what heaven might be is essential to our earthly good. It gives us space and scope to remember that the world as it currently presents itself is not the final reality. By having a strong hope for my eternal life, I can more easily understand that my own sins and foibles and suffering do not define my ultimate experience of life. I can be patient with myself and give myself space to fail, to play, to think, to worship freely, and to work at a sustainable pace. My success will never be in this earthly life and since I see a bigger success coming, I can stop my urgent frenzy to seize purpose in my day-to-day existence. I can instead enjoy simple pleasures for their simplicity. Even in my work, I can more easily relax and take the time to work smart instead of working “hard”. It’s hard to overemphasize the benefits of heavenly mindedness.
Furthermore, there are so many missed opportunities in our lives. We can have nothing but regret and despair for our many shortcomings, and in the case of our rare successes, groundless pride and isolation. Why isolation? Because when strive to be exceptional, we alienate ourselves from the average. If this is all we have, what a colossal disappointment our lives are! Look at the most successful people, the wealthy and the famous. They are no more happy than you are, perhaps they are more burdened and even more stressed! Their relationships are not richer than yours.
With our hope set in Christ and our assurance of eternal life, we are not sentenced to thinking that these disappointments define us. No, God’s sacrificial love for us and God’s eternal plans for us define us. Our hope of eternal felicity gives us space to live, to enjoy, and to fail in the here and now. It gives us space to lead normal lives, to be average, to have a boring day here and there, without thrashing ourselves for it. It gives us space to be patient with each other and to see the long view with each other. It gives us space to know that even death cannot define us. We can joyfully and meaningfully submit to the humblest service and the simplest pleasures because our meaning comes from outside these things. We can humbly abide the failures of those closest to us because we know that their current behavior doesn’t even remotely define them in the end. We know that those around us who don’t measure up to our unspoken but inviolable standards are those for whom Christ died, and who will be our brother or sister now and through the rest of eternity.