When was the last time you heard a sermon about heaven?
American negro slaves sang regularly of heaven ("Swing low, Sweet Chariot, coming for to carry me home"). Former generations sang about heaven ("We're marching to Zion." "Shall we gather at the river?")
Not quite so these days. In Christianity, there may be less interest in heaven than at any other time in history. Having settled that they'll go there one day (not by living a good life, or going to church, or doing good deeds, but by trusting in the atoning work of the Saviour) Christians seem in no particular hurry to get there. The truth is they seem to be having too comfortable a life down here, thank you.
In a new book about heaven*, Edward Donnelly bemoans the fact that many people who think they are going to heaven aren't.
"There is no evidence in their lives that they are joined to Christ. They are nurturing a false hope. We hear the flippant comments that are passed when famous men and women die. Someone says that they are looking down from above, pleasantly surprised by the large and impressive attendance at their funeral. We hear about how golfers are enjoying playing golf and fishermen are getting huge catches in heaven. They may have shown little interest in the things of God, they may never have professed faith in the Saviour, but it is taken for granted that heaven is where they now find themselves. To suggest otherwise is to be branded a ghoulish bigot. We talk to people who assume that they are going to heaven and yet they have no good reason for their careless assumption. They are facing a most appalling shock."
God offers to sinful, miserable human beings an eternity of unimaginable happiness. Jesus can bring you to glory forever. But Donnelly says we are not telling people that.
He goes on: "Most of the teaching about heaven in Scripture is not for evangelism but for pastoring the people of God. He explains heaven in his Word primarily for his own children's sake, to help and comfort us, to encourage and strengthen us, to make us more holy, to fill us with joy. . . It is an immense blessing to know much more about heaven. And we can know. . . With his Word in our hands we can know about heaven."
The apostle Paul wrote to the church at Philippi:
For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labour; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell.
For I am hard pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better.
Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you. Phil 1:21 - 24.
When David Watson became ill with cancer, David Pawson wrote to him and pointed out that there is a difference between being willing to go to be with the Lord, but eager to stay, and being eager to be with the Lord, but willing to stay. It's said that David Watson took the words to heart, and prayed through until he was eager to go, but willing to stay.
I have no desire to go before my life's work is done, but the moment that time comes I want to experience the glories of heaven, and I long to see my Saviour's face.
"Eye has not seen, nor ear heard,
Nor have entered into the heart of man
The things which God has prepared for those who love him."
But God has revealed them to us through his Spirit. 1 Cor 2:9, 10.
* Biblical Teaching on the Doctrines of Heaven and Hell. Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust.