Here’s the Story
These last two fortnights, I’ve been thinking an awful lot about storing up treasures in heaven. I just can’t shake it.
19 “Don’t collect for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal.20 But collect for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves don’t break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. — Matthew 6:19-21
Here’s the story: even in the best of times, I’m so invested in this world that death worries me. It worries me that I’ll miss out on everything happening down here. And I don’t just mean silly desires, like the next iThis or eThat, but also legitimate goods, like advancing our little patch of ministry or watching my kids grow up. I yearn for these, more than heaven.
What folly! How poor an investor I am to invest my heart in this world rather than the world to come. We all die. We all DIE! Why not set my heart on treasures that last?
I keep thinking of this image of a first-time gardener. His attention is riveted by his new garden. At work, he’s thinking about his garden. At home, he’s tending to his garden. He’s so stoked to see the first little plants come up. He’s invested.
I want that level of investment in my little heavenly garden. If I could focus all my work, my time, my energy on earth on that garden in heaven, how awesomely stoked would I be to get there — to get to heaven and actually see it! My heart would be there.
And the same with my relationship with Christ. I visited a church once where the person almost directly in front of me was playing a Nintendo DS. Through the entire service. So was the person behind me. And, to my right, someone was playing an iPhone app. Through the worship songs, the preaching, the entire service, they kept right on playing. And I kept thinking, does the grandeur of God not excite you at all? Is God really so boring to you that a DS captivates you more?
But my heart is like that too. I do the same thing, all too often, and I don’t even need a DS. I’m more motivated to write in my journal or flip through my inbox many mornings than to read Scripture or spend time in prayer.
Tell me this — who is the only person who’s going to be with me when I die? Not even my loving wife: Christ alone. He is the only one! I want to invest in Him. I want to know Him more. It’s the garden again, but this time the garden is a Person — my Saviour and my God!
More than the Good Life
In case I lost you back at the point about investing in legitimate things down here, I know that we are called to care for our kids, to disciple them, to leave a godly legacy. We are so very obviously called to do this. We’re also called to spread the Gospel, to spread God’s Kingdom, to do works of Gospel ministry while here on this earth.
But all of this can miss the point entirely if it gets in the way of our citizenship in heaven – if the manner in which we do these things causes our hearts to be invested more in this earth.
How do I explain? I like Christendom. I like it. I like our forms of thought, I like our practices, I like our brilliant thinkers, I like our history. And I like my patch of Christendom: I like the fittingness of 6-day creation, of complementarian marriages, of Sabbath rest. And I like my little corner of my patch of Christendom: I like wine at communion, the church calendar, immersion baptism extended to infants. And, on top of all this, I like the fruit that Christendom has born: I like great art and literature and film and poetry and science and technology, I like country dances, I like the Protestant Work Ethic and the Free Market, I like homeschooling. I like Christendom. To me, it is the Good Life.
And that’s the danger. I’m so invested in this Good Life, this culture full of good things, of laughter and dancing, of legacy and truth, that my heart gets so easily wrapped up in this world. It’s all so enjoyably real and good and fitting to me that I’m afraid I’d live this way even if it weren’t true (a senseless statement, I know, because if it weren’t true, it wouldn’t be fitting).
That’s where the treasure comes in. I don’t want my heart to be merely in love with a culture, even a very good culture, here on earth. I want my heart to be in heaven. I want my heart to be sold out for heaven and for my Saviour. I want to be able to say with Paul that to live is Christ and to die is gain.
Tell Me, How?
And at this point, we come to the obvious question — ‘what does it mean to store up treasures in heaven?’
Two days in to catching this unshakable bug, a friend loaned me Randy Alcorn’s The Treasure Principal. This tiny book comes from the Prayer of Jabez era, with a similar cover, typesetting, and graphic feel. I wanted to judge it. Instead I read and really enjoyed it. Written in a very populist style, the book still solidly exegetes Scripture, defining with passion and compassion the call for Christians to be radically generous in financial giving. The book was a boon to me and I recommend it, with one small reservation: advice late in the book sidesteps Matthew 6:1 to favour verbally publicising generosity.
But Randy’s book did not answer my question, mostly because mammon is not much my vice. I wanted a bigger picture on how to store up treasures in heaven. Randy devotes only one 1-sentance paragraph on page 39 to the non-financial:
We are given these eternal rewards for doing good works (Ephesians 6:8, Romans 2:6, 10), persevering under persecution (Luke 6:22-23), showing compassion to the needy (Luke 14:13-14), and treating our enemies kindly (Luke 6:35).
It’s a good start, but I’d love something much more in depth. So I’ve been on a quest to find a fuller answer. I’ve listened to some very good sermons, read some thoughtful exegesis, and done some topical Bible study. I don’t feel satisfied.
Most of what I come across, like Randy’s book, focuses on the money. Yes, I know, the money is important. But I’m already sold on the money — I’m happy to give and share what God has given us. That only just begins to satisfy my yen to tie my heart to heaven.
I’d love to read a thoughtful book, firmly grounded in Scripture, and in the Reformed tradition, that makes sense of heavenly system of rewards (rewards not as salvation by works, but post-salvation, viz. 1 Cor 3:12-15). Reformed Christians put such an immense emphasis on redeeming the things of this world and living well in it. We’ve read the end of the Book and we know about our new bodies and God’s New Earth. But Christ enjoins us to store up treasures in heaven: the World to Come matters, and this one will burn. I want to get my head into heaven, ‘where my possessions lie’, or would, if I invested them there.