If you got to train with one of the nation’s top strength and conditioning coaches what would you say is the best part about it? For musician Michael W. Smith, the power is in the prayer. We met with him while he was training at the Tennessee Titan’s camp to get a glimpse into the role fitness plays in his life. A tough workout, a conversation about grace-based performance: Michael W. Smith is strong – and his God is sovereign strong.
Faith & Fitness Magazine: Thanks for doing a photo shoot with us prior to your tour in Europe. People often imagine the life of a celebrity musician to be rather leisure and luxurious built around a few concerts. How physically and spiritually demanding is it?
Michael W. Smith: I think the road life is difficult. A lot of people think getting on a bus and traveling around the world is a beautiful thing – and it is. It’s fabulous and what I was made to do. But you have to take care of yourself. For me I’m not just out there playing around on the piano, I pour my heart and soul into it. So, it really takes a lot out of you emotionally. I don’t know how to do it any other way other than to give it my 110%. I eat right, take care of myself and workout. For 57, I feel really great.
[Being] spiritually [strong] is the most important thing. I go on stage and sing my songs like it is the first time. I keep it fresh and find that the team of people around me is very important. That shapes our motivation and posture.
For anyone who is a celebrity and has thousands of people following you, that can easily go to your head. So, keeping that in perspective is important. I’m better at doing that than I ever have been. When I was younger I used to be worried about being #1, getting that Grammy Award and how many records I was selling. I’m wiser now and those things are not so much a temptation. Now it is more of just staying focused and being honest.
We’ve got to get real, and reflect the heart of God to people.
Faith & Fitness Magazine: So, we’ve been following you for a while – since the early ‘80’s to be more specific. You’ve stayed in good shape. That’s often a family legacy passed forward. Give us a brief “tour” of your physical fitness from your childhood days, through your career and now as you have children and grandchildren. How has fitness and being active been an important part of your life?
Michael W. Smith: It’s been a real important part of my life. It’s why I’m healthy and active now. I grew up playing piano at age five. I was a musician but I was also an athlete. I played every sport. My dad was a great baseball player. He was my coach. I wanted to play professional baseball. I love throwing the ball. I’m into anything with a ball, winning and losing, I’m very competitive.
I didn’t make the All-Stars when I was age fifteen because the music just really captivated my heart. I knew that was going to be a big part of my destiny somehow. So, I dove right into music. But – I never stopped playing ball. I’ve been active my whole life through some sporting activity or whatever.
As I’ve gotten a little older I’ve met a great friend at the Titan’s Camp named Steve Watterson. I consider him to be one of the best strength and conditioning coaches in the world. He started training me fifteen years ago.
I still love doing stuff with the ball. This past Mother’s Day, while all the adults were inside, I was outside playing ball with my grandkids. I kind of have a feeling I’m going to be like that the rest of my life.
Faith & Fitness Magazine: You were just talking about training with Tennessee Titan’s Strength and Conditioning Coach, Steve Watterson. What’s it like to be guided by that kind of leadership? What is distinctive in your training and in the day-to-day practice of your faith?
Michael W. Smith: I don’t think he would mind me saying [my first impressions of him] when I first met him: He’s a tough guy! He said, “Give me just ten weeks in the gym.” I didn’t know what he was talking about. He put the pressure on me. I found along the way that I was over at the Titan’s camp for more than just physical training. I felt I was a mentor to him to encourage him in his faith.
In the middle of huffing and puffing and sweating we find time to talk about life and what God has done in our lives.
When we train, we often talk about the Lord. We talk about our kids and our wives. We share our victories and weaknesses. We pray for each other and that is the real key of what we do.
On the physical side, I’ve never been stronger. I’ve never felt better. It’s pretty unbelievable to be trained by someone of that caliber. He’s very smart and knowledgeable about nutrition as well. It’s fun to lift together. I don’t get off the hook. It’s tough but I enjoy it. I really enjoy doing it with him. I initially lost some weight and I’ve maintained my weight ever since.
We have a rapport. He corrects me on my kettle bell moves or whatever. In the middle of huffing and puffing and sweating we find time to talk about life and what God has done in our lives. We do that even more after the workout. We might talk about a book we’re reading or whatever. We never know what we may discuss but we always end up talking about God.
Faith & Fitness Magazine: Looks like you use the TRX cables and kettlebells quite a bit. Describe your workouts.
Michael W. Smith: We do a lot of kettle bells. That is my favorite thing to do. We also do [resistance] bands, weights, ropes and cardio. We change it a lot. I never know what he wants to do. You don’t want to get in the same old routine of doing the same thing every day. We do arms one day and legs the next. It’s much of the same [kind of] strength and conditioning he does with the Titan’s.
Faith & Fitness Magazine: Talk about nutrition for a moment. What do you do to eat healthy? How challenging is it for you to maintain a good diet? In what ways do you see readily available junk food affecting lives?
Michael W. Smith: Yeah! Junk food is bad. I had my share of it growing up. Having pizzas on the bus after a show --- those days are over. You know what, I think you can do some things in moderation. I don’t think there is anything wrong with pizza. But, you can’t eat pizza every day. I’ve never been a big desert guy so that has never been an issue for me.
I’m big into greens. I eat salads daily like kale salad and chicken salad. I eat a lot of fish like salmon. I hardly ever have anything fried. Water intake is really important. I had a bad habit for quite a while. I was somewhat addicted to Diet Coke. I pretty much kicked that habit but it was a challenge.
I’m a big breakfast guy with whole grains and eggs. I think that is real important. I don’t eat a lot of bread. I don’t think I’m allergic to gluten but I find I feel a lot better if I don’t eat much bread.
Faith & Fitness Magazine: Relate ‘diet’ to music, media, personalities and cultural attitudes. How are you seeing these influences shape our nation and what can be done to confront social obesity and spiritual malnutrition?
Michael W. Smith: It’s a real issue. The bad is getting worse. Thankfully the good is getting better. When I talk with anybody we have to reconnect with why we are here. Why are you here? You’re not here by mistake. There is a purpose for your life. He came to give you a future and a hope. Put God in the equation.
There is a new generation of kids they are calling, “nons”. They don’t believe in anything. At the end of the day it is warfare. The devil wants to kill, steal and destroy and deceive people. He is reeking havoc on a whole new generation of people. The way to combat that is to pray. We have just got to pray. That is what is going to turn the nation around. It is the prayers of [Christians] the church that will rise up and do warfare. That is how it is going to get done.
Faith & Fitness Magazine: Many of our readers are discovering how physical activity can significantly strengthen their family spiritually. Describe how fitness has been woven into the relationship that you and your wife have and share how God has strengthened all of you as a family through vigorous exercise and play.
Michael W. Smith: My wife was working out before I met her. We walk a lot. We’re big hikers. We love to hike the mountains in Colorado. That’s good. It’s similar to when I workout with Steve. When you’re walking with your wife your talking about life. You get physical activity but you’re also praying. We do a lot of that together. That is a huge strength for our family.
Our kids are actors, musician and writers. They didn’t grow up doing a whole lot of sports. Now we’re watching them developing habits of working out and taking care of themselves. Not that they haven’t taken care of themselves in the past. But, I think they’re taking the lead from Deb my wife and me. My older son Ryan for example who has always had a lean physique has recently started coming to our house daily to workout on the treadmill. They know it is the right thing to do.
Everybody’s diet has totally changed too. They’re on a health kick, which is wonderful. We’re not legalistic about it. We have five children and eleven grandchildren. To watch our kids eat right and really take care of themselves now that they are all moms and dads is a really sweet thing. It’s a good chapter for us.
Come to the full realization of what grace really is. Transition out of performance mode into knowing there’s not a thing you can do to earn it.
Faith & Fitness Magazine: Our human tendency can be to segregate God and our faith from our daily activities and experiences. In what ways does our physical journey through life help us to more fully discover a sovereign God (His leadership over us and His boundless power)?
Michael W. Smith: I’m a big worship guy – 24/7. I think a lot of people think of worship as music. I think about it all day long. I just took a walk this morning in an amazing park near my studio. It did a fast walk and got my blood pumping with my headphones. Believe it or not, it was my Cracker Barrel album with old hymns. I thought, “I’m just going to concentrate on what these words mean.” Then I listened to the whole book of Ephesians from the New Testament of the Bible. So, I’m listening to scripture and song, watching the clouds sweep through the sky and thinking, “God, you’re so cool.” I experience God multiple times every day on some level. It might be while looking at a tree or a flower bloom or it might be when I run into somebody.
Faith & Fitness Magazine: What do you think is key for a Christian to transition from simply believing in God to becoming fully confident, serving Him without reservation and pursuing opportunities to proclaim Him?
Michael W. Smith: I think [the key] is coming to the full realization of what grace really is. You transition out of performance mode into knowing there’s not a thing you can do to earn it. He simply loves you and calls you His own like a son, like a daughter. To really know that, has been the biggest game changer of my life. [For the] people that I know who are really strong in their faith, that is what has totally transitioned them into [being] powerful people of faith in knowing that you are just loved.
When you think about all your junk and say, “Oh man I’m a mess” you realize, “He just loves me in spite of my messiness.” That is the key. Once you get that piece, you can do anything.
I often find that people who struggle with that are abused in some way physically, emotionally or sexually. They may have a missing mother or father. When I get up and share about the father-heart of God I share about my dad. He was a great example and still is. He has dementia. That is a whole other chapter for us. It is hard but we’re getting through it. My dad played ball with me every single day. He is my coach and my biggest fan. My dad has given me a picture of the heart of God. Some people who don’t have a good father are bitter. But I believe God can father you.
My mom was left on the doorstep at age eight. Her mother walked out of the house that day and never came back. My mom could have been bitter for the rest of her life. My mom chose to just let God mother her. My mom [today] is unbelievable. There is a way. It’s like a revelation. That switch goes ‘on’ and all of a sudden you realize, “This is true. He really does love me.”
Faith & Fitness Magazine: The Pew Research Center recently completed a study, titled America’s Changing Religious Landscape. The share of Christians in the population declined some but the unaffiliated grew significantly. How can Christians have a stronger presence and what might they do differently or better?
Michael W. Smith: We’ve got to get real, and reflect the heart of God to people not just on Sunday but also in the workplace. Everyone who is a believer is in some sort of ministry. We have to be transparent and start doing that. Take the attention off of our self and reflect who He is. [People] can’t help but be drawn to that. We’re here for so little time on earth and eternity goes on forever. Pray that God will use you. Live in the present. We’ve got one shot at this. There isn’t a ‘plan B’. We’re it.
Michael W. Smith is featured on the June/July 2015 issue of Faith & Fitness Magazine. For concert dates, downloads, information and more visit his website. Download the full length interview as a podcast and listen to it while you exercise.