Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Matthew 6:19-21).
Of all Jesus’ words, these are some of the most provocative: They constantly call me up with that penetrating question, “Where does my heart live?”
As a child, I didn’t give much thought to the difference between earthly treasures and heavenly ones. Yet I benefited from life among people who were learning to value what God does, and they — my parents, grandparents and others — set an inspiring example. I can point to seven values they held that I want to make my own, values that help me sort out the temporal from the eternal and relate to both with my heart in the right place.
Growing up, I lived in a small apartment adjoining my grandparents’ house. Our family is a large, sprawling clan, but the house was never closed to those outside the bloodlines. Sunday dinners at Grandma’s included aunts, uncles and cousins but were also open to church friends, immigrants new to the city, university students, employees of my grandfather’s, and many others. My parents have likewise kept an open home. We kids have always known we could bring friends home and see them welcomed, fed and given a safe place.
According to Scripture, hospitality is a defining mark of a Christian home: “Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality” (Romans 12:13), “Show hospitality to one another without grumbling” (1 Peter 4:9), “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares” (Hebrews 13:2). God gives us material gifts, not so we can hold them in closed hands, but so we can pour them into the lives of others. When we do, our hearts will dwell not in the material things but in the people we’re blessing, and more importantly, on God who is the “founder of the feast.”
2. Financial Generosity
There is that maketh himself rich, yet hath nothing: there is that maketh himself poor, yet hath great riches (Proverbs 13:7, KJV).
Most of us remember Ebenezer Scrooge, that paragon of penny-pinching, the iconic miser who sat in a dark, cold house wheezing with joy over his money and unwilling to part with a cent until a kindly spirit called Charles Dickens sent four ghostly visitors his way. Scrooge was rich and had absolutely nothing, but he didn’t realize that until he began to give.
As a child I was happy enough to read the Scriptures about giving; I didn’t have any money, so they didn’t apply to me. My family had almost no money most of the time, though we did give faithfully at church, and we shared with others when they needed it. Now that I’m older, the issue has become personal. Where is my heart in relation to my money?
As Proverbs indicates, cheerful giving enacts a miracle of alchemy. When I give money, my affections are transformed and transferred: from cash to people, from finances to the good money can do. My heart goes to the mission field, to the needy neighbors, to the work of God. Financial generosity depletes my treasures on earth on the one hand, but it can build treasures in heaven on the other.
Self-discipline is the least glamorous and the most necessary of all character qualities, and used in the service of God, it can do a lot to keep our hearts focused. Self-discipline is developed in thousands upon thousands of small decisions, in the forming of habits and routines, in the denial of impulses when necessary. It can help us remember that life has a greater purpose. We are not just free agents floating around in the world. We are laborers in God’s vineyard, soldiers in His army, disciples in His school.
Good habits prevent us from getting tangled in the consequences of laziness, keep us moving forward and give us time to spend with God. They free us to pursue that which is truly important. Self-discipline is painful to form, yet this value is key to living out the rest of the seven. So I’m trying.
4. Love of the Truth
When I was a child, Dad decided to take us through the books of Moses in our family devotions. Rather than just reading through these dense works, we delved. Dad asked questions which few of us ventured to answer, yet he kept at it. We hauled out pictures and diagrams of the tabernacle. We examined symbolism, complex moral questions, and the relationship of God to people and culture. Dad offered jelly beans to the most verbal of the family students.
The Bible was and is without question the most important book in our house. We discussed it around the dinner table. We talked about current events in the light of eternal truth. Though family devotions often went over our heads, there was value for us beyond the jelly beans: We could see that truth was big, deep and important.
Second Thessalonians 2:10 makes the sad pronouncement that some “refused to love the truth and so be saved.” My parents passed on love for the truth; it’s up to me to receive that love and act on it — always. It’s essential to a heart that dwells in heavenly places.
5. Love of Purity
Matthew Henry once said, “Those who keep themselves pure in times of common impurity, God will keep safe in times of common calamity.”
Purity is more than behaving well sexually. Purity of life is found in sincerity, in honesty with ourselves and others, and in love for the Word and all that is holy. A pure heart is “safe” in times of common calamity because it’s fixed on the eternal. Annie Dillard, in For the Time Being, wrote that purity is for all of us, for now:
There were no formerly heroic times, and there was no formerly pure generation. There is no one here but us chickens, and so it has always been…. It is a weakening and discoloring idea that rustic people knew God personally once upon a time — or even knew selflessness or courage or literature — but that it is too late for us. In fact, the absolute is available to everyone in every age. There never was a more holy age than ours, and never a less. Purity’s time is always now.
6. Love for Sinners
To have treasure in heaven is to value eternal things. Next to our love for God, nothing is more important than love for others, no matter how they live. Jesus’ death on the cross calls us to see sin as abhorrent and sinners as beloved. Of His own heart, He said, “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing” (Luke 15:4-5).
I’m as proud and judgmental as the next person (maybe more), and I find it hard to love people who are so obviously, well, sinners. Two things help me with this: First, I love them more when I’m honest about myself. Jesus went to the cross for me and my sins; how can I be hardened to others? Second, it also helps me when I stop fixating on outward things. Not only does this keep me from approving hypocrites, it also helps me love people more when I learn to look past exteriors.
7. Passion for Life
James 1:17 declares, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights.” Those good and perfect gifts include things here; perhaps ironically, the best way to keep our treasure in heaven is not to become ascetics, but to enjoy the gifts. We honor God by pursuing the passions and interests He gives us: When we become artists, scientists, parents, animal trainers, gardeners, carpenters and academics.
The key is to understand these things as gifts and give our love back to the Giver — not to the gifts themselves.
As I walk with God on this earth, my desire is to settle my heart in high and holy places. These seven values, learned from others who have walked with God before me, serve as checks and balances. They remind me, when I’m beginning to lower my sights, that my heart has a better home above.
Copyright 2009 Rachel Starr Thomson. All rights reserved.