“Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” (Colossians 3:2 NIV)
(This is another post from the archives! I originally wrote it in June of 2007, six weeks after my broken-heart post. As a side note, if you have something to share with other Creeksiders, be it a question you’ve been pondering or a lesson you’re learning, we’d love to hear from you. Email me for more details. Editing and brainstorming help included!)
This past Saturday, under the firm conviction that glorious weather should not be wasted, three friends and I drove up to the Granite Falls area and hiked to Heather Lake. After a moderate ascent over rough terrain, the track opens suddenly out from the forest onto a spectacular vista. Heather Lake itself is almost unremarkable, but it’s surrounded by lush summer meadow on one side and a snow-covered cliff face dotted with waterfalls of melting snow on the other.
The waterfalls were so beautiful that the two guys in our group decided we should try to hike to the closest one. After several hundred feet of scrambling over boulders and snow fields on what seemed like a twenty-percent grade, the other woman and I decided we were close enough, thanks, and let the guys climb on by themselves. When we turned around, we were shocked to see the lake already far below us. It looked completely different from that height — turquoise blue and surrounded by verdant flora. It was no longer unremarkable, but as stunning as the rest the scenery.
That change in perspective was pleasant and voluntary, but many times in life, perspective changes are forced upon us — bigger, more vital ones than a simple lake view. Perhaps you’ve lost your job, or had your heart broken, or experienced a sudden tragedy. The life you had envisioned, had been planning on and looking forward to, is no longer possible. It can feel as though all the opportunity you had in the world has shrunk down into just figuring out how to make it through the pain of today.
In those situations, someone might come up to you and say, “There’s a reason for this. God has something better in mind for you. Someday you’ll look back on this and understand.” Please! I don’t care if it’s true, I don’t want to hear it! Fortunately, good friends know what we need to hear. They’ll give us time to feel the depth of our grief and process our losses, but they also never stop reminding us that a reality greater than our experience is close at hand.
In this life, we may never know the reason for our pain or get to understand its purpose. We may not even agree right away that what God has planned for us is actually better. That’s because, not at all surprisingly, we’re trapped in our own perspective. We can’t see what God can see (Isaiah 55:9); we have only his promises of faithfulness (for example, Jeremiah 29:11 and Romans 8:28) — and no matter how much we may want to believe them, sometimes doing so can feel impossible.
Paul tells us to do it anyway.
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 minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. (Colossians 3:1-3 NIV)
I refer to this practice as “beating the truth into my head.” Over and over, every day, I have to choose to think about God’s mercy to me and his plan for me rather than about the pain I’m facing. Why do I do it? Am I, as I sometimes fear, deluding myself? No. Rather, I have died to my old self, to my dependence on earthly happiness and to the chains of human law, and I have been given new life through Christ. My life is wholly in God’s hands, and he will do right by me. This is a fact of eternal import, beside which everything else pales in significance.
But it doesn’t always feel that way. That’s why Paul urges us to set our hearts on it: he knows that only by continually reminding ourselves of the truth can we believe it and live by it. As we practice dwelling on the truth of God, we will gradually be able to escape our old point of view — our earthly, limited perspective — and embrace the expansive vision that God has for us.
Abigail can be reached by email here. The picture with this article was taken on the aforementioned hike.