Has this ever been said of you? What do people usually mean by such a statement? Can someone ever become too heavenly minded?
I would submit that such a statement is based upon an inaccurate understanding of “heavenly” and “earthly”. This old, platonic dualistic view of heaven and earth puts the two at odds with each other. In this view, one is either a “down to earth” person concerned with the practical realities of everyday life; OR one is thought to be an out of touch, head in the clouds kind of person whose mind is on other-worldly so-called “spiritual” realities often pertaining to the next life. This notion has no correlation to the actual admonitions in the New Testament to be “heavenly minded.”
What then does the New Testament teach on this matter?
“Many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven.” (Phil 3:20).
“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” (Col 3:1-2).
“This, then, is how you should pray: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt 6:9-10).
“So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Cor. 4:18).
“All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth… They were longing for a better country—a heavenly one” (Heb 11:13-16).
All of these NT passages exhort believers to be “heavenly minded” in some way. We are called to set our minds on things above, things unseen, things eternal. Our citizenship is in heaven and we’re to live as aliens and strangers on earth with a deep “longing for a better country — a heavenly one.” We are to pray daily for God’s heavenly kingdom reality to manifest itself here on earth. We are warned not to worry too much about the things of this earth — temporary things that are fading away.
What does all of this mean?
Far from inviting us to take our minds off of this world and dream of eternal shores, believers of Jesus are called to see this earth from a God’s-eye-view through Kingdom-lenses. The entire Christian life is an invitation to find a more “abundant life” (John 10:10) as we bring our current, earthly existence under the in-breaking reign of the Kingdom of Heaven. To set our minds of heavenly things is equivalent to aligning our thoughts with God’s thoughts, our longings with God’s longings, our actions with God’s actions on behalf of this earth. It is all a matter of exchanging our earthly, man-centered perspectives for a heavenly, God-centered, “Kingdomized” perspective. That is why Jesus invites us to pray “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth.” This is what it means to be heavenly minded.
So, the old saying is actually completely counter to what should happen when one becomes increasingly more heavenly-minded. Rather than being “of no earthly good” the thoroughly “heavenly minded” person ought to become of more and more earthly good. As our lives become transformed by Heaven’s reign (i.e., the kingdom of God) in dynamic relationship with God through Jesus by the Spirit we become what Jesus called “the salt of the earth” (Matt 5:13). In the ancient world salt served many purposes, and Jesus’ metaphor probably evokes the idea that Christians are to be a purifying agent and a preservative on earth whose duty is to help preserve the purity of the world.
That is, as our values, dreams, vocations, relationships and more all become aligned with those of “our Father who art in Heaven”, we serve a significant purpose for the benefit of the earth. We become so heavenly-minded that we are of extreme earthly good! If the point is not clear already, Jesus goes on to prove this saying completely bankrupt: “But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men” (Matt. 5:13). What can this mean but that as we become less and less heavenly-minded we lose our “saltiness” and become, alas, “no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled” on the street?
So, the next time someone accuses you of being so heavenly minded that you’re of no earthly good, you might want to ask exactly what they mean by that. You can be sure that their belief in this biblically bankrupt saying reveals that they’ve in fact become so earthly-minded that they’re at risk of being no heavenly good. But don’t be smug and arrogant about it. Lovingly share with them our high calling to “set our hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God” (Col 3) in order to become better salt for the healing and preservation of our earthly home.
Until next time, I’ll have my head in the clouds and, God willing, my heart set on heavenly things for the benefit of God’s good earth!