Aspire to Higher Things

Leave me, O Love, which reachest but to dust;
And thou, my mind, aspire to higher things;
Grow rich in that which never taketh rust;
Whatever fades but fading pleasure brings.

Draw in thy beams and humble all thy might
To that sweet yoke where lasting freedoms be;
Which breaks the clouds and opens forth the light,
That doth both shine and give us sight to see.

O take fast hold; let that light be thy guide
In this small course which birth draws out to death,
And think how evil becometh him to slide,
Who seeketh heav’n, and comes of heav’nly breath.

Then farewell, world; thy uttermost I see:
Eternal Love, maintain thy life in me.

‘Leave me, O Love, which reachest but to dust’ by Sir Philip Sidney (1554–1586)1

All my life I’ve chased what I thought would make me happy.

I’ve dreamed of success; planning and plotting and working like crazy to achieve it.

I’ve craved more possessions, like a new camera or an endless parade of new books.

I’ve looked forward to Christmas every single year. I count down the days, festoon my house with decorations, and blast festive music for two whole months.

In God’s kindness, he has given me joy from these blessings. But in the end that feeling of pleasure fades. The glory of success passes and my eyes roam around for the next milestone. The camera is outdated within a year, and the books often sit on the shelf for weeks or months before I get around to reading them. Christmas comes and Christmas goes.

A better hope

The first four lines in particular of that poem have been reverberating in my mind. Whatever fades but fading pleasure brings. Nothing perishable could ever bring the true pleasure we’re looking for—which is good news, lest we obtain our deepest desire only to lose it. We are made for something more.

Part of the beauty of poems like this is that I am essentially praying as I read. It reorients my heart to what truly lasts. It gives me the language to ask God, my Eternal Love, to kindle in me a love for his treasures over earthly things.

So how do we do what this poem counsels? How do we aspire to higher things, growing rich in what will never rust?

First we must realise that we already have this treasure. It’s not actually a matter of finding it. If we are in Christ Jesus, we are heirs of the unfading treasure. The apostle Peter assures us of this promise:

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” (1 Peter 1:3–5)

This inheritance—the glorious future we will have in the new creation, living and ruling with Jesus—is ours. Securely. Nobody can take it away.

Pursuing what lasts

And yet we are also urged in Scripture to seek this treasure. Paul prays that the believers will cherish it more deeply: “…having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints…” (Ephesians 1:18).

Using similar language, Philip Sidney wants to grow rich in that which never taketh rust. We can’t make this inheritance more certain—it is already secure for us in Jesus Christ—but we can grow in our anticipation of what we’re promised. We set our hearts on what lies ahead, not the earthly things we see around us now. Hope brings a future joy into the present, as we contemplate what we will soon possess. It strengthens us to keep trusting and persevering.

I kindle my hope by reading poems like this one, which remind me of what is true. Most importantly, when I read the Bible I can cling to the promises God gives us there. Our precious Scripture both shines and gives us sight to see. By setting our minds regularly on the heavenly riches ahead of us, our hearts grow to treasure it more. We see what is truly valuable. Sidney echoes the call of Jesus:

“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)

If you make this the pursuit of your life, you will not be disappointed. The hope and joy of the gospel, and the inheritance we are granted through it, will never fade. The reality will never pale in comparison to our hopes—in fact, the opposite will be true. It truly is a small course which birth draws out to death. When we stand in the light of eternity we will see how all our earthly loves were mere dust.

The sparkle of possessions will be nothing compared to the radiance of Jesus Christ. All the best books will have merely pointed to this never-ending story. We won’t need the mingled joy and anticipation of Christmas, because we will dwell face-to-face with Emmanuel forevermore.

Let’s pray to God, asking him to fix our eyes upon what lasts. Jesus is thy uttermost, so let’s seek him.

  1. Leland Ryken, The Soul in Paraphrase, Crossway, Illinois, 20198 p. 38.

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