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Like a River

Granger Smith Like a River

Not too long ago a friend asked me, “Hey, did you hear that Granger Smith is now a student at Southern Seminary?” “No, I hadn’t heard that,” I replied. Then I surreptitiously Googled “Who is Granger Smith?” I learned that he is—or was, at least—a country music singer, and apparently a tremendously successful one. But he had chosen to leave touring behind to focus instead on becoming a pastor. It seemed like there must be a story to tell, but I didn’t think much more about it until last week when I saw a book with his name on the cover listed among Amazon’s daily Kindle deals. I bought it, read it in a day, and was glad that I did. There was, indeed, a story to tell—a story that was tragic but inspiring and encouraging.

In 2019 Granger Smith was flying high. His career was booming, his albums were selling, and his fan base was building. He was filling concert halls and performing in stadiums. It was all he had ever dreamed of. And it was just then, at the height of his success, that he encountered a terrible tragedy. One day he was playing outdoors with his children when he suddenly noticed that his three-year-old son River had disappeared. He sprinted to the pool and found his son face down. Despite his efforts and the efforts of paramedics and doctors, there was nothing that could be done. River was gone.

River was gone and his father soon realized he was not equipped to deal with such a loss. A self-professed “Dog-Tag Christian”—someone who was just Christian enough to have it stamped on his dog tags if he was a soldier being sent to war—Granger quickly turned to a rigorous regimen of self-help techniques and life on the road. “The truth is, I had no idea how to deal with this kind of pain. It broke into my world like a thief and stole my joy, my passion for life, my sanity, and it replaced them with something far more sinister: guilt.” He found some comfort in marijuana and alcohol, but only some.

It did not take long before the sorrow and guilt caught up with him. One evening, drunk and high and alone, he got within moments of taking his life. A gun was in his mouth and his finger was on the trigger when suddenly he became aware of the presence of evil around him. “There was an intruder in my presence. I was paralyzed by this new realization—I wasn’t alone in the room that night. I had been hunted, ambushed, flanked, surrounded, and put under attack by an enemy far beyond my ability to defeat.” He ripped the gun from his mouth and spontaneously cried out to Jesus. “My God, my Jesus! Save me! Save me, Jesus!” And that was the start, the prequel perhaps, of a whole new chapter in his life. 

In that moment I was reborn! Right there in that truck on a small county road in Texas, the old me died.

Granger Smith

A short time later he was listening to a message by John Piper—a message about God’s love for his people—when “my eyes were opened to see things like never before. I was loved! I felt it. Not because of anything I had done. In fact, I certainly didn’t deserve it, yet He had adopted me as a son. That revelation while hearing the gospel triggered a flood—not the hopeless flood I had felt after losing River but God’s covenant flood of His Spirit to live in me and walk with me. … In that moment I was reborn! Right there in that truck on a small county road in Texas, the old me died.”

The old me had died and the new me had much different passions and desires. That transformation equipped him to come to peace with his loss and eventually led to the decision that my friend had asked me about in the opening words of this review: “Did you hear that Granger Smith is now a student at Southern Seminary?” 

I will leave it to you to read Like a River and learn why and how he stepped away from touring to prepare for pastoral ministry. And I’ll leave it to you to read his reflections on God’s purposes and comforts in grief. I’ll leave it to you to read about how God blessed him and his family in the aftermath of their great loss. Whether you’ve heard of Granger Smith before now or not, and whether you know him as a multi-platinum recording artist or a Greek-memorizing seminary student, I think you’ll be blessed by reading his story.

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