The critical issue for most men rests on a decision to value their wife and love her sacrificially one day at a time. That single decision is as crucial to the health of your marriage as was Shammah’s decision to defend his field of beans and David’s decision to fight for his family.

If any of David’s mighty men questioned their leader’s commitment to his family and theirs, they found the answer wrapped in smoke and written in soot. While returning to Ziklag, a village they had made home, the exhausted men longed for their families. But while they were still miles away, they saw smoke billowing into the sky.

Once in the village of Ziklag they found a terrible scene — a village so desolate, so battered, so burned it assaulted credulity. Where there should have been smiling wives and laughing children, the terrain belched smoke. The overwhelming magnitude of the loss threw the men to the ground, where they wept until they were too exhausted to weep.

Grief soon erupted into anger and the men considered stoning their leader. David turned to God, who told him to pursue the raiders and promised him success. Driven by a love for their families and a confidence in God, the men pursued their enemies and engaged them in a ferocious battle that lasted a night and a day. Finally every raider lay dead except those who fled on camels.

As the sun snuggled up to the western horizon, David and his men searched for their families. The biblical text tells us, “Nothing was missing: young or old, boy or girl, plunder or anything else they had taken. David brought everything back” (1 Samuel 30:19).

Hundreds of men were reunited with their wives and children. Every man who embraced his wife did so because he was willing to sacrifice his life for her.

I believe I would have fought beside those men — wouldn’t you? Most men would die for their wife. The bigger challenge is living for her. Such sacrificial love isn’t easy to practice because it requires choosing to put her before yourself one day at a time. That’s no doubt why the apostle Peter told husbands to live with their wives in “an understanding way” and treat them with “honor” (1 Peter 3:7 NASB). God wants us to have insight into the way our wife thinks and feels so we can be aware of her needs and meet them.

If you wonder how you’re doing, ask your wife these questions:

Do you feel I give you my undivided attention when you’re talking to me?

Do I show you enough nonsexual affection?

Do you think we pray together enough?

Do we spend enough time together?

Curious as to my own performance, I recently asked Cindy these questions. She smiled and said, “You haven’t arrived yet.”

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These aren’t sophisticated questions that need deciphering by a code breaker. If your wife indicates you need to work on these areas, you’ll find they aren’t complex activities that require years of coaching. What they do demand is a determination to allow Jesus to live through you and enable you to love your wife sacrificially. And they require that you throw away passivity like a dull razor.

Such sacrificial love serves a high purpose. Jesus gave himself for the church so that he might “make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish” (Ephesians 5:26).

Our aim should be to love our wife so as to strengthen her spiritually. We must fight for her heart as we do our own. Our passion should be to have a cleansing effect on her so that both her thoughts and actions are pure. We must serve as her “spiritual windshield wiper” — continually removing anything that blurs her vision and threatens her safety.

I grieve the fact that I too often forget the high value God places on my wife and the honor he wants me to give her. At times I treat her like a used Pinto rather than a shiny new Porsche. I find a reminder of her value in Genesis. It’s there we read that God “built” Eve from a rib he took from Adam’s side.

The Hebrew word for “built” is the same one used in reference to God building his sanctuary (Psalm 78:69) and a house (Psalm 127:1). It’s also the word used when speaking of the construction of Solomon’s temple (1 Kings 7:1-2).

Before you move past this too fast, consider the fact that each of those building projects flowed from a plan aimed at meeting a specific need. The same is true of Eve. God designed her so that she would meet Adam’s need for a companion — and so he would also meet her need. Nothing in all of creation compared with the work of genius God demonstrated when he created Adam. And I believe he exceeded that masterpiece when he built Eve and brought her to Adam. In my estimation, nothing in all of creation matches the beauty of a woman.

No wonder Solomon said, “He who finds a wife finds what is good and receives favor from the Lord” (Proverbs 18:22). He must have realized this truth in a fresh way when he looked upon his bride and said, “How beautiful you are, my darling! How beautiful!” (Song of Songs 1:15).

In his book The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, Dr. Oliver Sacks, a neurologist, tells the story about a man who suffered from a disorder called visual agnosia. Dr. P., a well-known musician and teacher, possessed excellent musical and reasoning skills. But because he had visual agnosia he often mistook one object, or body part, for something or someone else.

Dr. Sacks recounted the first time the two met at his clinic. During the examination Dr. Sacks had his patient remove a shoe so he could perform a reflex test on the sole of his foot. Once the test was completed, Dr. P. could not put his shoe back on because he thought his shoe was his foot and his foot his shoe.

A more surprising mistake occurred later when Dr. P. thought the examination was over and he started to look around for his hat. He “reached out his hand and took hold of his wife’s head, tried to lift it off, to put it on. He had apparently mistaken his wife for a hat!” And how did his wife respond? Oliver Sacks wrote, “His wife looked as if she was used to such things.”

I’m not sure which is sadder, a man who thinks his wife is a hat, or a wife accustomed to such treatment. Sometimes I think we men fail to see our wives as a masterpiece of God’s creation. While we may not treat them like a hat, we don’t treat them like fellow-heirs of the gracious gift of life (1 Peter 3:7). And tragically, they often become used to such treatment.

While Dr. Sacks found no cure for Dr. P.’s malady, such isn’t the case for our marriages. We can determine to stand our ground and fight the spiritual battle necessary to love our wife as Christ loved the church. We must diligently choose to put her needs before our own. We must daily see her as a fellow heir of God’s grace. It’s crucial we remember that we’re each fighting a battle, not only for our own heart, but for that of our wife and children as well. And you are the only man with the God-given responsibility to protect the heart of your wife.

Adapted from Six Battles Every Man Must Win. Used by permission. Copyright © 2004 Tyndale House Publishers.