How appropriate in this Valentine week a classic tune by Percy Sledge cued up on the iPod “When a Man Loves a Woman” reached number one on both the Billboard Hot 100 and the R&B charts in 1966.

Percysledge

The song was number 54 in the 500 best songs of all time in a poll by Rolling Stone Magazine. Anyone who has ever been in love can feel these lyrics deep in your soul. I remember when I fell in love with the stunning Mrs.Burchett. I could have written these lyrics in those halcyon days of young love.

When a man loves a woman
Can’t keep his mind on nothin’ else
He’d trade the world
For a good thing he’s found
If she is bad, he can’t see it
She can do no wrong
Turn his back on his best friend If he puts her down

When a man loves a woman
Spend his very last dime
Trying to hold on to what he needs
He’d give up all his comforts
And sleep out in the rain
If she said that’s the way
It ought to be

I give you everything I’ve got (yeah)
Trying to hold on
To your precious love

Could there be a more powerful description of how it feels to be giddy in love? You really can’t think of anything else but your new love. I couldn’t help but reflect about this song in the context of my relationship with God. When I first became a Christian I was so happy, so relieved, and so grateful for forgiveness. I really, to borrow from Percy Sledge, couldn’t keep my mind on nothin’ else except this new relationship with Jesus. I was so sold out to my relationship with God that I believe I would have traded the whole world for the good thing I’d found. But, much like romantic love, things change over time if you are not careful.

It happened, sadly, with my romantic love. I am not proud to admit that I forgot for a few years how much this man loved his wife. The pursuit of career and status changed how I approached my marriage and it was a rocky time. Fortunately I realized what God had given me and I changed my ways. Thank God we hung tough and I love Joni more today than I did over thirty-five years ago.

The same thing happens at times with my relationship with God. I say I love Jesus but there are days that I can hardly force myself to think of spiritual things. There are times when talking to God and praying is a burden. And I wonder if I would trade the world now for the good thing I’ve found in Jesus? My pew-litically correct answer is of course I would. Then why can it be so difficult to sacrifice even a little bit of my comfort for others? If I am truly willing to trade the whole world maybe I should have a few less possessions and and a lot more giving. Wouldn’t that be a true indicator of my love for God? Would I give my last dime for Jesus? Or would I be like the rich young man of the Bible and turn away sadly at the cost He demands? Would I give up all my comforts if God called me to do that? Or would I rationalize that I can “do more” where I am? Do I give Him everything I’ve got?

The Psalms are a great place to meditate on loving God. Here is just a sample.

Love the LORD, all his faithful people!
   The LORD preserves those who are true to him,
   but the proud he pays back in full. . Psalm 31, NIV

But I will sing of your strength,
   in the morning I will sing of your love;
for you are my fortress,
   my refuge in times of trouble. Psalm 59, NIV

It is good to praise the LORD
   and make music to your name, O Most High,
proclaiming your love in the morning
   and your faithfulness at night,  Psalm 92, NIV

I love the LORD, for he heard my voice;
   he heard my cry for mercy.  Psalm 116, NIV

But here is where this love relationship with Jesus is so different from the romantic love that Percy Sledge describes. I don’t have to do those things and give everything I’ve got to try and hold on to His precious love. That is already done.  God’s love is always there. It was signed, sealed, and delivered at Calvary. When I accepted that gift of mercy I no longer had to try to hold on or earn that love. When a man loves God he does so out of gratitude. Because God extended grace to a person who did not deserve it. When a man (or woman) loves God there is nothing you can do to earn that love. But there is much that you can do to show it. “You can give without loving. But you cannot love without giving.” That was the insightful quote from Amy Carmichael, a missionary to India. That is true when a man loves a woman. And also when a man or woman loves God.