There are many songs in our repertoire that are favorites of individuals and congregations because they contain the magic combination of an upbeat tempo, a positive message and generally memorable lyrics. “Higher Ground” is one such song. In fact, it is so well-liked that we have two versions in circulation, the original version and a more recent version that changes the musical time signature from 3/4 to 4/4 and has the male voices singing a counter-melody. The original is a staple of hymnals, while the variation appears in Hymns for Worship (Supplement) and some “home-made” church supplements. The overall message of the song is the Christian’s desire to continue to move toward the goal of heaven.
The scriptural basis for the general theme is Philippians 3:14, where Paul wrote to the Philippians, “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” The journey of a Christian never ends. Paul had abandoned his earthly status (“a Hebrew of Hebrews,” cf. Phil. 3:5) in favor of pursuing Christ. He acknowledged that he was not yet perfect (3:12), nor had he yet obtained that ultimate prize. However, if Paul were to reach that goal, he would have to continue working toward it.
We do not automatically receive the prize of heaven simply because we are baptized. We must continue to strive to follow God’s will. The life of a Christian is often compared to a battle. If we stop striving after baptism, it is as if we declared war but didn’t even start fighting.
I’m pressing on the upward way,
New heights I’m gaining every day;
Still praying as I onward bound,
“Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.”
As Christians, we must devote each day to growing closer to God. Peter made it quite clear in his second epistle that those who are not growing are falling back into the world. A Christian cannot stand still. Daily, we must pray to move closer to that “higher ground.”
My heart has no desire to stay
Where doubts arise and fears dismay;
Tho’ some may dwell where these abound,
My prayer, my aim is higher ground.
The thoughts of the second verse reflect Paul’s feelings in chapter 1 of Philippians. Paul wanted to move on beyond this life. From the perspective of eternity, this world holds nothing for us. As another song says, we’re just passing through this world. While those around us may never want this world to end, we must look toward the higher ground of heaven.
I want to live above the world,
Tho’ Satan’s darts at me are heard;
For faith has caught the joyful sound,
The song of saints on higher ground.
God has given us glimpses of the glory of heaven. We cannot fully conceive what heaven is like, but when we walk by faith, we can see and hear the little bit of heaven God has revealed to us. The hope of heaven should motivate us to live pure lives in spite of Satan’s efforts to ensnare us. God always provides a way of escape from temptation (1 Cor. 10:13), and the hope of heaven can give us strength to endure.
I want to scale the utmost height,
And catch a gleam of glory bright;
But still I’ll pray till heaven I’ve found,
“Lord, lead me on to higher ground.”
We desire heaven, but must recognize that we’re here until death or the second coming. In the meantime, we pray to God to lead us to heaven.
Lord, lift me up and let me stand,
By faith, on heaven’s tableland,
A higher plane than I have found;
Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.
Every Christian should pray for the Lord to help us reach for heaven. We cannot find it by our own wisdom. It is our faith in God, the trust we place in Him to direct our lives, that “plants our feet on higher ground.”