I grew up hearing the expression, “He’s so heavenly minded he’s no earthly good.” I internalized this to mean that taking action is a priority. The focus and intention (in my mind) were on the power and benefits of doing “earthly good.” Therefore, it was considered wasteful and even lazy to be “heavenly minded.” In other words, the message was: we can think and plan and hope and dream and pray and scheme, but nothing will actually happen until we DO something. Therefore and thereby, my cultural default setting has been action and achievement. “Do, do, do!”; which reminds me of something else I heard a lot in my early years, “Don’t just stand there! DO something!” I was always being reminded to keep busy.
Over the years, I have heard and read many messages from both sides of this coin – heavenly-mindedness on one side and earthly goodness on the other. Some focus on the idea that heavenly-mindedness leads inevitably to earthly goodness, while others focus on the perceived need to control one’s bouts of heavenly-mindedness to engage in active, productive work to contribute to the Kingdom’s progress. Either way, the interpretation was generally pointing toward action; accomplishing something here and now. That leads to a mindset that doing good works is more important than contemplating and pursuing the Kingdom.
Now, of course, scripture encourages us to action in many places – to go, to sing, to shout, to dance, to clap, to run, even to fight. But it also instructs us to “be still,” to “wait,” and to “stand.” There is a solidly healthy balance in scripture between getting things done and patiently waiting. We are not to be afraid to take action. But we are also, perhaps even more so, not to be afraid of being still. In all cases, whether we are taking action or being still, it is about trusting and worshiping YHVH. All of our biblical role models, when they are doing things, are doing what YHVH has told them to do. They are not keeping busy solely for the sake of keeping busy.
More important, though, than the tension between doing something and being still, is the truth inside what it means to be “heavenly-minded.” I believe the most common interpretation is that the “heavenly-minded” person is a daydreamer, thinking about future glory and blessings while there is always work to be done in the present. But I think “heavenly-mindedness” is more truly about having your mind fixed on eternity. And eternity is not about the future; eternity is about the constant now-ness of our existence.
The apostle Paul wrote to the Philippians, “whatsoever things are true, …honest, …just, …pure, …lovely, …of good report; if there be any virtue and if there be any praise, think on these things.” (Phil. 4:8) Think on these things. Have your mind set on these things. Good things. Heavenly things. Paul also wrote to the Colossians, “Set your mind on things above, not on earthly things.”
The primary commandment is that we are to love YHVH with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength (Deut. 6:4-5; Matt. 22:37). This means we are to be Kingdom-oriented people. Always. As we say these days – 24/7/365. I think, then, by definition as Kingdom people, that we are to be “heavenly-minded.” Does this type of heavenly-mindedness inherently preclude the ability to do good works in this life? Not at all. I believe having our minds set on eternal things enhances our ability to do good works. Our good works will be motivated by something stronger and deeper than a sense of moral obligation, social duty, or rote habit.
Now, of course, if our understanding or definition of heaven has to do with some future dwelling place, this could cause some problems. If we are thinking about “somewhere beyond the blue” all the time, then we probably are not going to be much use in the here and now. Unfortunately, much of our ecclesiastical culture for centuries has conditioned us to envision heaven as a cloud-borne destination in the sky, which we will eventually, someday, finally attain. So, we dream about it, sing about it, emote about it, pray for it, hope for it, and just basically don’t expect to see it ‘Until Then.’ When we focus on that future resort life, we tend to neglect things that need to be done right now.
What I am saying is, you are a Kingdom person. YHVH’s heir. An eternal being. Heaven is now. Think on these things.
[NOTE: Proverbs 16:27, which is often rendered something like “idle hands are the devil’s workshop,” and which is also frequently quoted to encourage keeping busy, is one of those verses that suffers from faulty translation. The English word ‘idle’ here is from the Hebrew word ‘be’liya’al,’ which actually means ‘worthless.’ It has also been translated ‘ungodly,’ ‘wicked,’ ‘evil,’ ‘naughty,’ and even ‘rascally’ and ‘mischievous.’ None of these translations carries anything like our 21st century American English understanding of the word ‘idle.’]