Friends with God: Michael W. Smith's three decades of singing praise

Published: Saturday, July 21 2012 5:00 a.m. MDT

Michael W. Smith's album cover for "Glory"

Russ Harrington,

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — It was a dark time for Michael W. Smith.

"I was young and I thought I could play with the fire and not get burned," he said in a telephone interview with the Deseret News. "I got selfish and I got deceived."

It was November 1979, and the person who would become one of Christian music's icons was a desperate 22-year-old lying on the floor of his kitchen in Nashville, broken from substance abuse and a life that was going nowhere. "It was crazy," he said.

His parents knew what he had become and prayed for him every day. And on that floor, their son lying in convulsions, their prayers were answered.

"I just really felt that God just came down and laid on the floor with me," Smith said. "And I have really not been the same since that night. I have really not been the same."

From that place at the bottom, Michael W. Smith — or "Smitty," as his friends call him — began a new life's journey touched by love and success. Over the past three decades, that success has led to three Grammy Awards (out of 13 nominations), 44 Gospel Music Association Dove Awards, 33 No. 1 radio hits, 15 million album sales and a fan base that spans the world.


His path to prominence began with playing keyboard and writing songs for Christian singer-songwriter Amy Grant.

Then one day a friend of his, Bill Jackson, was moving to another state. Jackson was part of a Bible study group with Smith, and that night was the last time they would all get together before he moved away. Smith's wife, Debbie, told him, "Hey, you know what, we should write him a song."

"That's great," he told her. "We'll write him a song and send it to him."

"What if we wrote it today?"

Smith blew it off, thinking, "You know, I just don't think that's possible."

Less than half an hour later, she came out to where Smith was playing in the backyard and handed him the lyrics she had just written.

"And I just looked at it and thought, 'Wow!' " he said. "And literally, we both walked into the house, and I sat down at the piano, and I started just writing the music. And I wrote the music, and there it was, in three minutes, I mean I had it. It was just one of those things where we looked at each other and went, 'Wow!' "

He sang it that evening for his friend, and its impact was profound.

"And friends are friends forever

If the Lord's the Lord of them

And a friend will not say never

'Cause the welcome will not end

Though it's hard to let you go

In the Father's hands we know

That a lifetime's not too long to live as friends."

He mentioned the song later in an elevator to his manager: "You know, I think Amy could cut this song and knock it out of the park."

"You know what?" his manager replied. "YOU need to cut this song." And he did, debuting the song "Friends" in 1983 on his first album, "The Michael W. Smith Project."

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