Colossians 3:1-4: We Get to Choose the Focus of Our Thoughts

February 4, 2015

Last Saturday, my covenant group friend Steve Hayner died in the Lord. As his wife Sharol put it, his life was swallowed up in LIFE. I along with thousands of readers of his CaringBridge site, colleagues there at Columbia Seminary, and family and friends whose lives he touched in decades’ time, were aware that his homegoing was imminent. He was sick only about ten months, from diagnosis of his pancreatic cancer to the end of his life on earth. Occasionally he would share what was on his heart and mind as this process took its turns and twists. We all stand privileged to have witnessed his journey home.

As I learned a year ago, one has the privilege of choosing what one thinks about. Steve chose to focus on finding joy each day and seeking his daily calling, regardless of what his external circumstances would permit him to do. I last talked with Steve and Sharol by Skype in October, when jury duty prevented me from visiting in person that week. Clearly, Steve was choosing to think about what was happening to him with eyes wide open, heart trusting God, and a joyful fearlessness that was so characteristic of his spirit.

I thank God for Steve, for his incredible example of humility, servanthood, brilliance, and purpose. I feel for Sharol and the loss she and her family have now experienced, but even she knows that having died to self, Steve’s life was hidden with Christ in God, and he is alright.

In this life, God has given us the power to choose the focus of our thoughts. We can choose fear, and the content of our thoughts roam around a dark closet of “what ifs” and worst case scenarios. We can choose worry, and the imagination unleashes a horror movie of losses. We can choose anger, and the blood boils at the injustice of it all. Or we can choose godly trust, and surrender ourselves to the Lord who has our days numbered and who anticipates our homecoming even more than we do.

So the question we have to ask is this: how are we to think? Where are our thoughts best lodged, for now, this side of heaven? What should be the focus of our lives? The Apostle Paul begins chapter 3 of his letter to the Colossians with a word from the Lord on this subject:

1So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things
that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.
2Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth,
3for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.
4When Christ who is your life is revealed,
then you also will be revealed with him in glory.

Remember the context: Paul in chapter 2 has been making the case that the Colossians were in danger of a spiritual derailment of sorts. It sounds like they had been harassed by troublemakers trying to convince them that legalism is necessary for their acceptance by God. But if they are in Christ, Paul claims, they are united with the Lord of the Universe, the only One who is himself God. They do not need any external props to hold up their faith, to appease God, or to prove themselves worthy of God’s salvation. They do not need empty philosophies that are deceptively promising but ultimately dead-ends spiritually. Going after mere human wisdom will not produce any gain at all.

Paul makes the great pivot with the word “So.” If you have been raised with Christ then put your mind, your heart, your yearning, your desire in the direction of the throne of grace! Think about what is in God’s realm rather than get bogged down in the weightiness of earth. If you do this, Paul says, you will discover your safety in Christ, the one who brought you to life by the work and word of God. “When Christ who is your life” is revealed, then glory (God’s light and power) will also be revealed. Wow.

This passage opens up a bunch of questions, which I will ask you rather than answer myself. We do not want to misunderstand Paul’s main message here.

  1. Have you been raised with Christ? Paul develops this image elsewhere in his writings, so you can check it out here: Romans 6:4; Ephesians 2:6

  2. If so, then what are your choices about your focus, between “things that are above” and “things that are on earth.” Think concretely here. What would you benefit by focusing on those “above” things in your life today?

  3. Paul is speaking to living and breathing Colossians, so what does he mean when he says, “For you have died, and your life is hidden . . .” What practical implication does this reality have for you as a Christian believer?

  4. And a question for a later day: does choosing to think about things that are above preclude us from really seeing and responding to the needs, the pains, the death, the terrorism, the exploitation, the war, the injustice, the addiction, the violence, or the depravity all around us on earth? How do we continue to seek the things that are above while at the same time trying to be good citizens of the world? I actually think Steve Hayner found the fulcrum of these two polarities. As you read the many tributes being published right now (and undoubtedly attested to at his memorial service on February 23), see if you can point to evidence of his grasp of “above” and “on earth.”


2 Responses to “Colossians 3:1-4: We Get to Choose the Focus of Our Thoughts”

  1. The blog is so much more grabby and grippy (not gripe!) since you rebooted your method and your attention. From the current sadness/hope of Steve and Sharon Hayner (I didn’t know Steve, alas) to “thinking on the things that are above” was blessed and blissful. Helps me do that more.

  2. Sorry, I meant “Sharol.”

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