What will be the biggest surprise when you get to heaven?
Will it be who is there and who isn't? Will it be the kind of work God assigns you to do? Will it be learning why some things happened in your life?
I think the biggest surprise we'll get in heaven will be realizing, for the first time, just how much God loves us.
We often make the mistake of judging God's love for us by how well our life is going. If we're healthy, have enough money and are relatively problem-free, we feel like God's favorite child. But just let hard times hit, and we think God has forgotten us, is punishing us, or has turned a deaf ear to our prayers.
As I look back over my own life, I thank God for not answering some of my prayers the way I wanted. I was immature to think that what I asked for would have made me happy. In hindsight I see that it only would have made me miserable.
God loves us so much that he spares us a lot of misery in ways we don't even know: accidents and illnesses avoided, toxic relationships ended, and hundreds of catastrophes that we would have gotten ourselves into if it hadn't been for his protection.
Sometimes we behave like children who want to live on a steady diet of ice cream and candy. We think we know what's best for us, but we forget that God knows not only our present situation but the future as well. When he makes us "eat our vegetables," so to speak, we whine and complain about how unfair he is.
We tend to compare God's love for us to the imperfect love we receive from other human beings. Even in the best relationships with people, we can be hurt and disappointed when things don't go the way we'd like. And if we're honest, we have to admit that the love we give to others leaves much to be desired, too.
But God isn't like us and his love isn't like any other love we're used to. His love is unselfish, unconditional, forgiving, and so overpowering that when we feel even a tiny fraction of it, it brings tears to our eyes.
God loves us when we hurt him. He loves us when we forget him. God loves us even when we blame him for things that aren't his fault. In heaven we'll know God and his love for us perfectly.
Maybe you don't feel God's love in your life. Maybe you pray and nothing seems to happen, or you go to church and feel the same coming out as you did going in. Maybe bad things have been happening to you and you think that if God really loved you, he would prevent them.
Don't let the bad things in your life fool you into thinking God has turned his back on you. If you're sick, or unemployed, lonely, angry, afraid or discouraged and hurting so much you don't know what to do, be assured that God is with you in your pain and longs for you to know that. God is in heaven, but through the Holy Spirit, he's also as close as your breath, living inside your heart. God's love is the only sure thing when your world is falling apart.
If there is one truth I've learned over the years, it's that our feelings can't always be trusted, but our God can.
To show how God the Father loves us, Jesus told the parable of the prodigal son, found in Luke 15:11-32. The most beautiful part of the story is verse 20: "While he (the son) was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him."
That's how God chases after you. No matter what you've done, no matter how you feel, God is pursuing you and he won't give up on you. All that matters to him is bringing you home to heaven to be with him again.
One of the most profound descriptions I've ever heard of God's love came from one of my former pastors, Rev. Ernie Pizzamiglio. "It's okay to be humble," he once said, "because with God you're Number One."
My pastor was right. Only this astounding God who created us out of pure love could have the unexplainable ability to hold all of his children first place in his heart. That's how special you are to God.
You are so important to him that he sacrificed his son Jesus on the cross for you. Then he sent the Holy Spirit to live within you, to help you spread the gift of his love to others. It's a frightening responsibility, but it's something you're able to do, through God's strength and grace.
If you surrender your heart to God, he will pour so much love into you that it will overflow into every person you meet. That's how it was with Jesus, the apostles, and the saints. That's how it still is today.
So don't wait until you get to heaven to claim all the love God wants to give you. It won't spoil the surprise if you start enjoying it right here, right now.