By Robbie Castleman

In Need of a Heart Transplant

Heart transplant patients understand the concept of losing life to find life. For eighteen years I was a critical-care nurse specialist. I cared for many patients with heart problems that needed radical treatment. Some of them believed their doctor’s diagnosis, submitted to the recommended treatment and lived. In essence, they hated their life enough to risk losing it by submitting to radical treatment. Others denied the problem was as bad as it was. Ignoring symptoms, they didn’t take proper medication and refused surgical treatment, and most of them, if not all of them, died. They loved their life too much to admit its limits.

It’s a more desperate situation when dealing with our spiritual heart condition. Jesus is our best spiritual diagnostician. On our first visit to his “office” we hear him say, “You do not have what it takes to survive.” In the New Testament we are “poor in the spirit.” Indeed, we are “blessed” if we begin to believe this diagnosis for our spiritual condition (Matthew 5:3).

Some people believe it but choose to live with the malady. They know they’re sick but deny they’re too sick. They put off a return visit and party hardy. They push the limits and try alternative treatments when they feel bad, but continue to live their life, such as it is. Others continue to listen to the Great Physician and hear him say, “You are so sick that you have no alternative but to submit to my treatment.” This is heart-breaking news – in fact, the New Testament says these people are blessed if they “mourn” over the state of their spiritual health (Matthew 5:7). This goes beyond the recognition of spiritual ill-health – it causes deep sorrow.

Let Your Heart Break

One of the first steps in learning to hate your life is to let your heart break over the real condition of the human soul and spirit. People who mourn are those who take Jesus’ diagnosis of the problem more seriously than how they happen to feel at the moment. To seek healing, wholeness, and comfort, they ask Jesus about the cure.

The cure is not a quick fix or a symptom-covering pill. The cure is not the self-effort of a great diet and vigorous exercise. The cure is not even a bypass. The human heart is sick and dying; it must be replaced. The natural human heart is incapable of forever beating spiritually, so it must be replaced by a heart that will beat forever. And the donor heart is God’s.

Now I’ve had heart patients fully convinced of the severity of their illness, heartbroken over the prognosis of death, who still refuse to submit to the cure. It’s too radical – seems too risky – and it’s too dangerous. But I’ve also had patients so desperate to "try anything” that they’ve submitted to a transplant operation even though they knew it was radical, risky and dangerous.

Let Your Heart Be Replaced

In terms of the spiritual life, there are plenty of people fully convinced of their need and even grieving over their lives, but they still refuse the radical nature of the redeemed life. It can sound like, “If I become a Christian, I know I’d have to ___” (fill in the blank: quit sleeping around, stop bar-hopping with friends, end the affair, forgive my father, get off drugs, come clean with my boss, stop stealing from work, tell the truth). Many people love their lives too much to lose them – even if it means gaining the life of God. In the New Testament Jesus says people who are “meek” will be blessed (Matthew 5:5).

This exercise of meekness means a radical submission to the will of another. In this analogy, despite the danger, risk and radical nature of losing one’ life to gain the life of God, it means believing the Great Physician and submitting to his treatment. And our own hearts won’t survive the treatment. We must lose our hearts to gain the heart of God. In fact, the New Testament’s promise for the “meek” is that they will inherit all that God has wanted for them from the beginning of time.

Being a disciple begins with this radical transplant – the conversion of our hearts, the submission of our wills and the surrender of our lives. Being a disciple is a process of learning to hate our lives. We acknowledge our own inability to make ourselves well. We allow that fact to drive us to a sorrow that leads us to surrender our whole selves to God’s only cure for the problem: the cross of Jesus Christ.

Excerpt by Robbie Castleman from Faith on the Edge (IVP 1999). Used by permission of InterVarsity Press PO Box 1400 Downers Grove, IL 60515.

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