Once, when Reformation theologian John Calvin was writing to a suffering friend, he said,
“They [our physical afflictions] should serve us as medicine to purge us from worldly affections and remove what is superfluous in us. And since they are to us the messengers of death, we ought to learn to have one foot raised to take our departure when it shall please God.”
I like the way Calvin words that; “One foot raised”—we are to live so ready, so anticipating of our face-to-face encounter with Christ, that it is as if one foot is already in the take-off position. The idea is not original with Calvin of course, in fact the New Testament is packed with similar exhortations. I don’t want to specifically address death in this post, but a general desire to see Christ “face to face” and the admonitions to set our minds on Him. We are to have our eyes in the skies.
“Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls…. Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” I Peter 1:8-9, 13
Though there are probably many more, I have found four practical outcomes of us keeping our ‘eyes in the skies’.
1. Keeping our eyes in the skies will help us through suffering and trials.
If anyone knew what suffering was it was the Roman Church. As you recall, Rome was the place who’s evening entertainment was not the fake wrestling of WWE, but the spectacle of watching Christians being torn apart by hungry lions. In Paul’s letter to the Romans just a few years before the hight of Roman persecution he wrote, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18). While our sufferings on this earth can be tough, if we were to even glimpse a fraction of the glory that will be revealed, we would regard our trials as insignificant in it’s light.
I am reminded of a lyric from David Crowder Band’s song How He Loves (especially the fourth line below):
Loves like a hurricane, I am a tree,
Bending beneath the weight of his wind and mercy.
When all of a sudden
I am unaware of these afflictions eclipsed by glory,
And I realise just how beautiful You are,
And how great Your affections are for me.
Meditating on Christ and his return can, in a sense, “eclipse our afflictions.”
Even Jesus endured the suffering of the cross “for the joy that was set before Him” (Hebrews 12:2).
2. Keeping your eyes in the skies promotes our sanctification.
Eagerly anticipating the return of Christ not only helps during our trials, but the apostle John states that it has a certain purifying power. I John 3:2-3 says, “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.” Not only will we be made completely pure at His coming, but as we “hope in him” we are progressively being made pure here on earth.
3. Keeping our eyes in the skies acts as an idolatry test.
Though these last two do not come explicitly from the Bible, I believe they are true and have important implications on our lives. The more we attempt to obey the biblical exhortations to anticipate His coming (such as Titus 2:13 “waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ”) the more we see where our affections really lie. Do we find this constant expectation to be a difficult command, or is it something that comes naturally? The answer to that will tell us what we really love! As we attempt to lift our gaze heavenward, worldly interests often flood our minds. That item which immediately takes center-stage in our thoughts—the one we are most reluctant to leave behind—may be our foremost idol.
4. Keeping our eyes in the skies helps us overcome idolatry.
I am thankful that it does not only point out our sin, but helps us overcome it. I can testify in my own life that the more I look to Jesus, and dwell on Him, the looser this world’s death-grip clings to my life. The more I “consider Jesus” (Heb 3:1) the easier it is for me to say with Paul, “My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better” (Phil 1:23). As we consider His person, and fix our gaze to the skies awaiting our first face-to-face encounter with Him (whether by rapture or death) we will be, “transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” as Paul puts it in II Corinthians 3:18. We will be continuously set apart to be better worshipers and “great commandment” keeping Christians (Matt 22:37). The more we understand His glory, and the joy that is found in Him, the less we will be drawn to the inferior pleasures of this world. The oft-quoted paragraph from C. S. Lewis paints a vivid picture of the superior pleasures found in God:
“If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that our Lord ﬁnds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when inﬁnite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased” (Lewis, The Weight of Glory, and Other Addresses, 2).
Let us “Set [our] minds on things that are above.” Let us “ set [our] hope fully on the grace that will be brought to [us] at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” Let us live with “one foot raised.” Let us keep our eyes in the skies. Our lives here don’t even compare to the glory that will be revealed. Our life on earth is just a vapor; our future life with Christ will be an eternity!
C. S. Lewis concluded the last book in his Narnia series in a way that is very insightful to the Christian’s life and future:
“And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.” – C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle