“I don’t think he is going to live. It was a very serious suicide attempt.”
It was part of my daily routine on the inpatient psychiatric unit. I would review the previous night’s emergency room visits for possible transfers to our unit.
There was only one patient the night before. A young man transferred to intensive care. I was told he probably wouldn’t survive.
A few weeks later he miraculously arrived and I was assigned his case.
After 35 years of working in mental health, certain patients have left a permanent impression. He was one of those individuals.
The tragedies in his life were crushing. Unbelievable darkness and loss. I wondered how anyone could survive.
I worked with him for more than two years. What I remember most is that he had a heart of compassion. It was contagious. His heart for others overshadowed his darkness and tragedies of life.
Years later he sent me a letter. He became a nurse, married, and was happy. He wrote to thank me for our work together.
I thought of that young man the other day when reading these words from the prophet Jeremiah:
“This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,” declares the Lord. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts.” (Jeremiah 31:33)
To put something in one’s heart implies resolve, passion, and dedication. Like my patient who became a nurse. Having a heart for something triumphs over personal weakness and life’s tragedies.
When we say, “That person has heart” we all know what it means. Like the scrawny football player, who seems too small, yet amazes the crowd because he has heart.
When you have heart it overshadows your skills, personal deficiencies, or the obstacles of life. Having heart captures the intimate, beautiful passion of everything we consider valuable. It is the core of who we are, what drives us, and what is most important. It is the heart of the matter.
What did God mean when He said that one day he would put his law into our hearts?
Did God mean that anyone before the time of Christ did not have a heart and passion for God’s law?
Not according to the Psalms. To the contrary God’s law was the heartbeat and passion of the Jews:
"Blessed is the man whose delight is the law of the Lord." (Psalm 1:2)
The Jews had a heart for God’s law. But there is a difference between what YOU put in your heart, verses what God puts into your heart. The former implies self-sufficiency, the latter God’s power working in you.
You might love God’s law but you will never keep it perfectly. No one has perfected morality resulting in guaranteed happiness. There are no “10 steps to the perfect life,” because we aren’t perfect. The experience of “happiness” is as fragile and fickle as human behavior.
So how is God’s law of morality and holiness different if HE puts it into our hearts?
Here is the key:
"I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts.….for I will remember their sins no more." (Hebrews 8:10-12)
Forgiveness is a heart experience. It is a gift that arouses an attitude of thankfulness and the ability to share in God’s holiness. His grace and forgiveness is so amazing it creates a heart for God, for those who love him.
Christians know that God is looking at our heart and desire to follow his law, even though we don’t keep it perfectly. When we fall short Christ’s grace is in us fulfilling the requirements of the law. (Romans 8: 3-4) And that creates heart!
It is like the scrawny football player who has heart. The coach is ready to put him in the game because there is a 40 point lead. The coach says, “Look kid go out there and give it your best. Just remember the team is behind you and the game is already won. So go out there and have fun.” That player will have more heart than all the superstars on the team.
When you are a Christian and God has put his law into your heart the real touchdown is the love and grace of God. It is the purpose and goal of his law and the heart’s desire for those who love him.
As the apostle Paul wrote, “Love is the fulfillment of the law.”(Romans 13:10)
Dr. David Zuccolotto is a former pastor and clinical psychologist. For 35 years he has worked for hospitals, addiction treatment centers, outpatient clinics and private practice. He is the author of The Love of God: A 70 Day Journey of Forgiveness.