The Art of Heavenly-Mindedness

Earthly-mindedness is to the mind what gravity is to the body—it is an invisible, powerful, and constant force that weighs so heavily upon the individual that without a greater force acting against it, he is powerless to break free from its controlling influence. Even the stoutest Christians know this to be the case. They loathe the gravitational pull of their earthly-mindedness, they earnestly desire to obey the exhortation of the Apostle Paul, “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you,” and yet, like Paul himself, they too confess, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” Mortifying earthly-mindedness is easier said than done. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.

What then are believers to do? In short, they must pursue this sin’s opposite. To put off earthly-mindedness they must put on heavenly-mindedness instead. Paul exhorted the Colossians and every Christian to this essential duty in his epistle, 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 minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Col 3:1-2). But how? What practical steps are there to help the Christian make this holy aspiration a reality?

In The Evil of Earthly Mindedness Jeremiah Burroughs examines the problem of earthly-mindedness and prescribes precious remedies to counteract its corrupting influence. Here follows just three of Burroughs’s many helps to get the Christian thinking and living in a heavenly manner:

Run the Numbers—Whenever a couple sits down with an investment broker to discuss their plans for retirement, a good broker will ask at their first meeting, “What is your level of risk tolerance? Are you an aggressive, moderate, or conservative investor?” Those who are aggressive are willing to tolerate high levels of risk with the hope of attaining a higher reward whereas conservative investors are willing to settle for lower rewards if it means taking on less financial risk. But what if your broker put this decision before you— “Would you prefer to invest in an account that guarantees a 1000 percent return on investment year over year or in an account that delivers a 500 percent return roughly 60 percent of the time?” You don’t have to make your living on Wall Street to know the answer to that question, “Let’s go with the former, please.”

And while it is impossible for a fallible human being with limited knowledge of future events to guarantee such an outcome, the same cannot be said of the sovereign God who promises the unspeakable glories of heaven to his chosen people. Burroughs writes, “God does not fail men in spiritual things as He does in earthly things. A man may be as diligent as possible in earthly business and yet miscarry. But show me a man or woman who was ever diligent in seeking the things of God and eternal life and miscarried!”[1] In Christ’s service there is no such thing as wasted effort; God is the rewarder of those who diligently seek him without exception (Heb 11:6). And if this is true, then why would we pour our hearts and minds into anything else? Going back to the investment analogy for a moment, who among us would be willing to take on greater financial risk in the interest of earning less money? No one. And yet, is this not analogous to sinful man's pursuit of the comparatively worthless pleasures of this world which are not guaranteed at the expense of God’s infinitely valuable blessings that are? God’s blessings are certain and they are better. As John Newton once wrote, “Fading is the worldling’s pleasure, all his boasted pomp and show; solid joys and lasting treasure none but Zion’s children know.”[2] Solid joys and lasting treasure—the earth knows of no such things. When you are tempted to settle for the worldling’s pleasure and show remember God’s promise that all who come to him in faith will find solid and lasting satisfaction in him, “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.” (Isaiah 55:1-2).

Remember Who Pays the Bills—At the root of much of our fixation upon earthly matters is a baseless distrust in God’s ability and willingness to provide for our daily needs. Instead of seeking first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, we seek earthly things first and the kingdom second with what little mental space we have left. Why? Either because we doubt that God will make good on his promise to give us our daily bread or we have decided, like the wilderness generation, that God’s provision doesn’t live up to our very high standards (Matt 6:33, 11; Num 11). According to Burroughs, such a Christian needs to rediscover what it means to have God as his Heavenly Father. Burroughs writes,Children do not much mind the things of the earth, to provide for themselves, because they know they have their father to provide for them…The earth being the Lords, as well as heaven, the earth being your Fathers, why should your care be so much on the things of the earth? Let your care be to do your duty to your Father, to walk as a child, but do not let it be for things of the earth. You as much as disavow the care of your Father for you.”[3]

How many four year olds do you know that lose sleep at night wondering how they are going to pay the electric bill? I’ve yet to meet a single one. Why? Because most four year olds assume that their parents will take care of it. “That’s mommy and daddy’s job,” they might say. Likewise, the Christian ought to have a childlike ease and confidence about him when he recalls that the God who owns the cattle on a thousand hills has committed himself to provide for the earthly needs of his beloved children. And it is only once the Christian believes this promise that he is thereby freed to focus upon heavenly matters (“your duty to your Father”) that he wasn’t able to before. Before the mind can engage in satisfying heavenly contemplation, it must first trust that God will take care of earthly matters. If the reader ever struggles with doubt, let him commit the words of the Westminster Confession’s chapter on adoption to memory, they will find them to be a wellspring for the soul—God pities, protects, and provides for all those that are his.[4]

Pack Like a Pilgrim —Last year, a member of my congregation hiked through several states on the Appalachian Trail (AT). As he prepared for the physical rigors of the hike he also sought out the lightest possible equipment to take along with him. Why? Because heavy gear would quickly become burdensome and turn what would otherwise be a pleasurable journey into a torturous march. Burroughs applies this same “pack light,” AT logic to our pilgrimage on earth, “Consider that a little will carry us through this world. We are here but as on a pilgrimage or a voyage…Men will not take more on a journey than may help them…If you have only meat and drink, food and clothing, be content said the apostle. The servants of God in times past, passed through this world with very little, and many of them, the less they had, the more peace and comfort they had in God, and the more fit they were to die…We do not have as much need for the things of the earth as we think we do.”[5]

If earth were our final destination, then it would make sense to start laying up earthly treasures for ourselves as quickly and diligently as possible. But, Scripture calls on us to lay up treasures in heaven because heaven is our eternal home. This fallen world is not and cannot be our final destination. Like Abraham, we are tent dwellers. We are on our way “to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God” (Her 11:10). And such being the case, we must be careful not to weigh ourselves down with needless “earthly gear” as this will only make our progress toward heaven more arduous. Sure, insurance policies, investing, homeownership, higher education are all worthwhile pursuits; wisdom and prudence are not luxury items that we can afford to go without. But ask yourself, frequently, “Have these means to a greater end become ends in themselves? How can I continue to invest in these in a responsible way that doesn’t distract me from or slow my progress toward heaven?”

This same friend, as a part of his plan to pack light, sent himself resupply packages with food and extra gear (ponchos, socks, shoes, clothes) to various Post Offices along the AT so that he wouldn’t need to carry all the necessary gear from the outset. I found this to be absolutely brilliant! And in a similar way, God has promised that he will give us everything needful to do his will, but never all at once. Rather than overburden us with all the “gear” we’ll ever need at the start, God supplies for our needs along the way. To keep us from infatuation, self-reliance, and stagnation God provides what we need when we need it. So remember—pack light. “Lay aide every weight, and sin which clings so closely” and run the race that is set before you (Heb 12:1). God faithfully supplies every need of those who make their way toward their heavenly home.

Stephen Spinnenweber is the pastor of Westminster Presbyterian Church in Jacksonville, Florida.

Related Links

"Heaven on Earth: Capturing Jonathan Edward's Vision of Living in Between", review by David Owen Filson

"God's Gift in Troubled Times" by Simonetta Carr

"The Lord’s Prayer in Heaven" by Kevin White

This World is Not My Home by Mark Johnston

Philippians: Joy in Christ, with John Currie, Ray Ortlund & Philip Ryken



[1] Jeremiah Burroughs and Don Kistler, A Treatise of Earthly-Mindedness 1st modern ed. (Orlando, FL: Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 2006), 40.

[2] John Newton, “Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken” (1779).

[3] Ibid., 81.

[4] WCF 12: All those that are justified, God vouchsafeth, in and for his only Son Jesus Christ, to make partakers of the grace of adoption: by which they are taken into the number, and enjoy the liberties and privileges of the children of God; have his name put upon them, receive the Spirit of adoption; have access to the throne of grace with boldness; are enabled to cry, Abba, Father;are pitied, protected, provided for, and chastened by him as by a father; yet never cast off, but sealed to the day of redemption, and inherit the promises, as heirs of everlasting salvation.

[5] Ibid., 79, 80.

P/C Anton Darius