When my sister started learning to play the guitar (mercifully, not for long), this was her signature song. For the Christian, this should be axiomatic. After all, Jesus himself said “Don’t hoard treasure down here; stockpile treasure in heaven. The place where your treasure is, is the place you will most want to be.”
This concept was indeed very real to the southern black slaves who composed this spiritual, and to Albert Brumley who popularised it (he grew up picking cotton in Oklahoma); it greatly resonates too with millions of persecuted Christians around the world. But many Western believers think and understand little about heaven. With a lot of treasure on earth, isn’t here where our home actually is? Perhaps this is why most with extensive or recurrent cancer pursue medical intervention, usually unpleasant and unlikely to be curative. When prayer is (rightly) included, this is nearly always for healing - even though very uncommon - yet people shy away from seeking God’s help to prepare themselves and families for their death, as if this implies lack of faith.
But where there is a strong hope of heaven, faith and life can be very different, and this was something that my wife Ruth and I quite often talked about over the years. It became personal at age 62 when she was told that her breast cancer, previously fully treated medically, had returned with widespread bone secondaries. While welcoming palliation for these, Ruth declined further chemotherapy, for the above reasons. Moreover God made it clear to her that the prayers of us and others should be about embracing the situation and preparing for her real home, rather than for healing.
I remember a lovely November day as we strolled through a National Trust estate. One outside wall of the house, covered with a variety of plants, was stunningly beautiful, prompting Ruth to comment “That’s what I’ve ordered for my heavenly mansion”. She spent the months before her death inviting Jesus into her experiences, including fears and doubts, because she was deeply confident in His plans for her, and in many ways was more alive than ever before.
The song also talks about being beckoned “to heaven’s open door”. When that moment came, it was very special.
Dr Andrew Miller