Fortunately, that’s not the end of the story…

 

If this were only my own story of wandering away from God, it might be of limited use or interest, but I have seen the same principles — both positive and negative — played out in the lives of so many of the people I have counseled over the years, people who have read my books and attended my seminars. My hope is that if you hear the inside story — and the rest of the story — it might inspire you to draw closer to God and to experience the same renewal, refreshment, and revitalization that I have experienced…

 

I’ve counseled enough people over the past thirty years to know that getting off track is a common problem. Still, it’s embarrassing to think about how far I actually wandered before God got my attention again. After all, I’ve been to seminary and served on a pastoral staff, and like a lot of other Christians, I’ve heard some of the best Bible teaching anyone could possibly hear. But even with all that, it didn’t take much for me to become distracted from my relationship with God by all the cares and concerns of life. The success itself became a distraction. The process was so gradual that I couldn’t see it for what it was — ugly, sinful, and destructive — until it was almost too late…

 

By the mid-1990s, Norma and I had moved to Branson and had begun a new organization, the Smalley Relationship Center. My three children — Kari, Greg, and Michael — had become involved in the ministry, and all indications were that we would continue to grow and prosper. We had already accomplished more than I had ever dreamed of, yet my personal walk with God had grown progressively colder and more distant. I felt spiritually dead inside. My motivation to continue with my ministry was gone. I was discouraged and confused. Boy, was I confused!

 

My relationships were suffering severely. After delivering a message at one of my seminars on how to get over anger and stress, I headed back to the hospitality room with my two sons, who were sharing the speaking responsibilities with me. Just minutes after teaching about anger, I had a disagreement with Michael and Greg about something and I lost my temper. That was the pattern in my life at that time. I let all my negative thoughts control me.

 

I remember Greg stepping back and saying to me, “Dad, why don’t you reread the book you wrote fifteen years ago called Joy That Lasts” I felt the sting of his words, and it made me even more angry and irritated…

 

In the wake of all this, I started to think that whatever I was going to accomplish in life I had already done. I didn’t have any new material to write about, and I didn’t have any really big dreams. I decided that God must be done with me, or at least I was done with ministry. It was like I plateaued. I just ended.

 

I sat in ministry meetings where everyone was discussing my retirement — or even more discouraging, discussing what would happen when I died! I began to believe I was done. I lost my vision for what God had called me to do. I lost my hunger for God’s Word because I had lost sight of who I was. I went to church, but usually I would end up critiquing the sermon…

 

I often reflect on this ten-year period of my life and wonder how I survived. Thankfully, God provided the wake-up call I needed. He knew I needed a crisis to shake me out of my preoccupation with myself.