You’ve heard the saying, and the main point of it is an important life lesson; keep things in perspective. The problem of spilled milk is not an enormous one with long-lasting consequences. At most, it’s an inconvenience, it means getting up, grabbing a rag, and wiping up a spill, and pouring yourself more milk… Keeping things in proper perspective is vital for us to function in our lives. This is one of the problems that young children often struggle with. The other day, my toddler had a meltdown, because she wanted to both hold the orange, and she wanted it peeled so she could eat it… as I began peeling it and pulling it apart, the thought occurred to her that she wouldn’t be able to hold it as a ball anymore, and the result was a meltdown.
Her problem was perspective. If she could stop and reason, she would realize that the emotional anguish of not being able to hold the orange as a ball would soon pass, and her life would go on. This illustrates an important point; the true size and severity of a problem is related to the question of duration; how long will this problem impact us? Spilled milk is one of those which, generally speaking, will not have long term consequences. The lesson from the saying is that we should not overreact to those things which will not impact us for terribly long; we need to learn to keep things in perspective.
It is here that Paul’s instructions in Colossians 3 come to mind: “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.”
I’ve been struck by the reality that I don’t usually do a great job of obeying this command. The vast majority of my thoughts and mental energies are directed to things on this earth; my problems, my desires, my hopes, my problems, my dreams, my problems… you get the picture.
What would it do for us if we could learn obedience to this command from the apostle? One big thing it would do is it would grant us perspective. It is remarkable how many of the things that I worry about actually fall into the category of spilled milk; things which cannot affect me for very long.
When I examine the stresses and challenges that I tend to lose sleep over, it is amazing how many of them will be solved in a relatively short time frame. If I think back to the things that were stressing me out 5 years ago, I cannot think of many things that are still impacting me now. My stresses have changed. Those things I worried about then, were very short-term, all things considered.
At this point, you might be thinking, ‘okay, Riley, you may have had a cushy life with no major problems, but you’re not helping me out much. My problems are big, and they are not going away any time soon.’ And I would say that you’ve fallen into my trap *insert evil laugh here*
When we take Paul’s instructions in Colossians 3 seriously, what we realize is that all of our problems, however severe and long-lasting, are, in light of eternity, nothing more than spilled milk. Now there’s two ways you could take this. First you could read this as me trivializing your suffering, and if this was my intention, you would be rightly offended. But no, this is not my aim. The second way to look at it, and the way that I’m hoping you will, is to compare your trials to eternity in the presence of God.
When we obey the instruction to fix our eyes on things above, our minds will focus on Jesus, sitting victoriously at the right hand of the Father, as all His enemies are being made His footstool. We will be thinking about eternity, when we are raised to life with Christ, and will spend forever in glory.
Here’s where the spilled milk principle comes in. Think about the time in which your earthly problems will affect you, and try to compare that to eternity.
Supposing for argument’s sake that spilled milk was a problem that occupied 1% of the total duration of your earthly life, …if this is you, then you should really consider using lids on your cups… But for argument’s sake let’s give it a nice round number like 1%.
Now try to think of the troubles you face on earth in light of eternity. What percentage of your total existence will those problems involve? You realize quickly that you can’t actually give it a percentage, since the longer you spend in eternity, the smaller that percentage gets.
Supposing you live to be 100, and all of your days were filled with grief and calamity. What percentage of eternity is 100 years?
Once you have spent 10,000 years in the presence of the Lord, how significant will your earthly problems seem to you then? How about after 100,000 Years? 1 Million? 1 Billion? 100 Billion? Here’s the point; live your life in light of eternity. Forever is a long time. The spilled milk lesson is that we need to keep perspective. To paraphrase A.W. Tozer, we are relieved of ten thousand temporal problems when we see that these all have to do with matters which at the most, cannot concern us for very long.
Our considerations thus far have been about the question of quantity. Now let’s consider question of quality. The apostle Paul ties quality and quantity together in 2 Corinthians 4:17 as he compares our earthly afflictions to the glory that is to come. “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to things that are seen, but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”
Notice that he calls the sufferings of this life Light (quality) and momentary (quantity). Now we need to keep in mind that the apostle Paul knew suffering (read his list in 2 Corinthians 11:23-29 if you don’t believe me).
And yet he calls all earthly suffering both light and momentary. How can he do this? Is he downplaying the severity and duration of our sufferings? No. He’s simply looking at this life through the lens of eternity.
In comparison to eternity, the entirety of this life is momentary. And secondly, compared to the weight of glory that is to come, all of our sufferings no matter how severe they were, will be shown to be light in comparison. As he says, the weight of glory that is to come, is beyond all comparison.
The glory of being welcomed into the presence of our Lord, will be weighty. To put that level of glory on the scales comparing it to our earthly sufferings, Paul says is a fool’s errand. As he said in verse 17, our eternal weight of glory is beyond all comparison.
As he says also in Romans 8:18: “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”
Not only the quantity of time in eternity but the quality of what we’re inheriting is so great, so marvelous, so wonderful, that according to scripture it is not worth comparing.
It’s like imagining that spilling the milk could ruin the mood of a kid who found out he was going to disney world. Not worth comparing.
So consider this my invitation for you to join me in getting better at fixing our minds on heavenly things and not on earthly things. If we can gain the perspective of Scripture, if we can see things in light of eternity, in light of our eternal weight of glory, this will transform our lives now.
C.S. Lewis addressed the old saying, that some people are too heavenly-minded to be of any earthly good, and he argued that it’s actually just the opposite. He writes:
“If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next… It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this. Aim at Heaven and you will get earth ‘thrown in’: aim at earth and you will get neither (p. 134).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
If you know me well, you’ll know that I am not an escapist by any stretch of the imagination. I’m not picturing Christians huddled together in the closet, trying to wish themselves into heaven. Rather, I’m convinced, as the Apostle Paul was, that understanding these truths is one of the keys to gaining the courage necessary to engage the world. If our minds are on Christ, seated at the right hand of the Father, this will embolden us, as we are regularly reminded that however bleak the battle looks in front of us, it has already been won by Christ.
Death is dead, God has won, Christ is risen.
For the Unbelievers:
I’ve been addressing Christians, but the flip side of this coin is equally true. If you do not know Christ, then there is one pressing reality, which is bigger than all the problems that you think you have. As you well know, you are on an unavoidable collision course with death, and you also will spend eternity somewhere. It’s a classic question, which often evokes eye rolls, but I ask you to humour me, and actually ask yourself if you died today, do you know where you’re going? Deep down, we all know that we will face justice. As surely as we live, we will stand before the God who made us, and He has declared that He will judge us in righteousness. However good you might think you have been, it requires perfection to stand before God. You have sinned, and your good deeds will not be enough to earn you a place with God. And this is why He sent His Son. He payed the penalty that was due for sin, dying on the cross, and then rose again on the third day, breaking the power of death. The promise goes out to all: that whosoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life.
Repent and believe the good news!
As Christians, keeping an eternal perspective emboldens us for the present, and gives us hope for the future. An eternal perspective keeps us balanced. A person crying over spilled milk would not strike us as having a firm grip on reality. And the reality for the Christian is that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing to the glory that is to be revealed to us.
Soli Deo Gloria