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Never have I feared for my life more than the day we almost hit a donkey and barely escaped being flattened by a semi-truck—all within seven seconds! It happened on the streets of Cairo, Egypt.

Unless you’ve been to Cairo, it’s hard to imagine the chaos, so let me paint the picture. The four-lane road holds seven lanes of traffic, because people are driving on both shoulders and have managed to squeeze an extra lane down the middle. But nobody stays in one lane. They weave and swerve chaotically across all lanes at will.

And pedestrians walk right through the middle of the mayhem, not bothering to look or yield! Motorcycles dodge cars as if they were at a carnival. Horns honk, and the squeal of brakes is the repeating soundtrack. As if this weren’t enough, donkey carts join in the feet high with palm branches that would break every single “Wide Load” rule on the books.

Just when my near heart attack had subsided from the semi-truck merging into us, our driver slammed on the brakes to avoid hitting the braying donkey that was carrying a mountain of chicken crates.

Until that moment, I hadn’t realized just how much I love traffic laws. But suddenly it became clear just how deeply I adore our American system of speed limits, lane restrictions, and the general forbidding of animal-drawn vehicles on freeways.

Laws can seem stifling—until you need them! Or, until you realize just how much pain they can save you. It’s the same with God’s laws in the biblical Ten Commandments. They seem kind of stuffy, outdated, and restrictive in this day and age, don’t they? Until you destroy your marriage, ruin your reputation with dishonesty, or end up working 85-hour weeks without any time off. Suddenly, God’s laws don’t look so bad after all! In fact, they just might help you live a better life.

That’s exactly why God gave us His laws—because He was showing us the best way to live. He wanted to help us enjoy life in the most pain-free way possible. Many people feel that the Ten Commandments deny us freedom. But when we take a second look at them, it’s easy to see that they actually add freedom to our lives. Everything God asks us to do for Him actually ends up immensely benefiting us! We’re able to become respectable citizens, protect the relationships that matter most, and free up space in our lives and hearts to pursue our God-given purposes.

I know I want to live this way—but how can I? I try to do everything right, but often I end up failing and feeling discouraged. How can you and I learn to keep God’s laws consistently, so we can reap the benefits of this better way of living? There is a way, and it isn’t just by trying harder.

The summer I was 12, my mom went to work full time, and I was left in charge of caring for my three younger siblings. I changed diapers, prepared breakfasts and lunches, and managed naptime schedules. I cleaned up vomit, refereed fights, and tried to keep everyone happy and safe.

My parents praised me for the incredible job I was doing and the maturity I exhibited that summer. But in all honesty, I hated every single moment of it. It was pure misery, slavery of the cruelest form, taking away my summer break when other kids were out swimming and building tree forts and riding their bikes in the hills—and I instead was put in charge of three brats who wanted nothing more than to disobey me all day. I vowed never to have children of my own! I couldn’t understand why anyone in their right mind would have babies on purpose and commit themselves to a life of such drudgery and servitude.

Then I had my own baby!

The work was not the same as it was back when I was 12—it was worse! My body suffered. My sleep did not exist. It was far more taxing than any work I’d ever done before.

But what I hadn’t counted on was the love. I never fathomed how much I would love this tiny human being. I loved my siblings, as any big sister would, of course, but I had no idea how strong the love between a mother and child could be. Finally, I understood why people endure the drudgery and the chores and the messes. The love I had for my baby made it all worth it! I hardly even thought about the work, because I adored my baby so much.

Trying to keep God’s laws without having our hearts in the right place can feel a lot like watching a house full of bratty kids all day—who would ever enjoy that? But love changes everything. When we have love in our hearts, things that seemed like awful trials can suddenly feel like joys.

And God offers to make this switch for us when He promises to write His law on our hearts. He said so right in the Bible: “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts” (Jeremiah 31:33). It sounds simple, but it’s actually a profound paradigm shift, an entirely new way of living. Many of us have tried and tried and tried to do all the right things and keep all of God’s laws, but we fail miserably because our focus is on our actions.

However, when God writes the law on our hearts, He changes something deep inside of us. He creates a desire in our hearts that we didn’t have before. He grows love where love didn’t exist. His Spirit somehow miraculously helps us to want to keep those difficult old laws, and what’s more, we become able to keep them.

That’s what I want to be—a person who not only wants to keep God’s laws but who’s able to keep them.

So where do we get in line for this remarkable heart transplant that changes everything? Unlike a real heart surgery, it isn’t a one-time event. Rather, it’s a consistent journey that we embark on with Jesus, a daily walking and talking and growing together with Him. “I am the vine; you are the branches,” Jesus explains. “If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).

What I love about this change is that the focus is no longer on my behavior, all the things I should be doing, or all the ways I’m failing. Instead the focus is on remaining in a friendship, a daily walk, with the Creator of the universe.

I can’t really explain the process by which the Holy Spirit changes my heart and enables me to keep God’s law. I don’t quite understand how I can see myself noticeably changing from a person who’s attracted to a specific sin into a person who no longer desires that sin at all.

But I don’t think it’s necessary to explain it. I just know that it’s happened to me, and it continues to happen all the time. When I focus on remaining—taking time to be with Jesus—things inside me begin to change that I couldn’t change myself, and that’s all I need to know.

This method isn’t foolproof. I still make mistakes. I still fail to keep God’s law perfectly. I’m still a work in progress. But the difference is that it’s getting easier and easier to want to do better. When I make a mistake, I know that all I need to do is confess it to Jesus and ask for His forgiveness, and the heart-transplant process just keeps continuing on as if I hadn’t interrupted it at all. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

I know that the process of writing God’s law on my heart won’t fully be completed until I reach heaven. But that’s OK, because I still get to enjoy the blessings of the writing process now.

So use my heart as a tablet, Jesus, and keep on writing Your laws!

Learning to Love God's law

by Melissa Howell
From the September 2014 Signs