Jesus Calling Podcast

Understanding and Kindness for Every Season: Will Smith & Amy Grant

Will Smith: My grandmother “missionized” me in the world—I’m not sure that’s a word, but it’s fun to say it. What she knew and what she trusted was that a concentration on love and service above all things can’t yield anything but greatness. And because she followed the doctrine of Christ, she also knew that you didn’t have to necessarily be applauded because what you were doing was right.


Understanding and Kindness for Every Season: Will Smith & Amy Grant – Episode #284

Narrator: Welcome to the Jesus Calling Podcast. This season is a time for giving, reflection and joy. But what if you’re having a hard time seeing God in the swirl of busyness that encompasses the holidays? Or what if you’re not connected with Him how you’d like to be? There’s a powerful verse in the Bible from 1 John 4:12 that says even though none of us here on earth have actually “seen” God, “if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.”  

Our guests today believe that love and understanding toward others, along with prayer and seeking Him are our primary connections to God and find their faith strengthened when they are acting in kindness and service. We’ll talk with Oscar-nominated actor and recent New York Times bestselling author Will Smith and Grammy Award-winning iconic Christian singer Amy Grant.

We’ll start with Will’s story. 

Will Smith: My name is Will Smith. I was born and raised in West Philadelphia. I am a rapper turned actor turned producer, and now a number-one New York Times bestselling author. 

I grew up in the seventies in West Philadelphia, middle-class background. My father was a former military, and he owned his own business. We sold ice, so we would bag and deliver ice in the summers. And those long freezer cases you see in the supermarkets with all the Swanson’s stuff in there, we used to install those freezer cases. 

My mother worked for the school board of Philadelphia. She went to Carnegie Mellon University, and everything was about education for my mother. My grandmother was Jesus’s homegirl, and everything for her was about God and love. She was that grandmother who would be at the church on Wednesdays, and she was very, very focused on her family’s devotion to God and to loving-kindness. So I think always in my mind, I imagine my father, mother, and grandmother in sort of a philosophical triangle in my head. My father was “discipline,” my mother was “education,” and my grandmother was “God” in the form of loving-kindness.

I was probably twelve years old when I got hip to “Rapper’s Delight.” “Rapper’s Delight” came out and it was the biggest thing in the world. It was a new form of music, and everybody started writing their own raps. So I got my speckled composition book, and I started writing my own raps. 

At that time, of course, you know, I’m twelve years old in Philly, so I had all of my four-letter words in there. I had all my poorly crafted profanity, and my grandmother found my rap book and she never said anything. But she wrote me a note in the front and [it said], “Dear Willard, truly intelligent people do not have to use words like this to express themselves. Please show the world that you are as smart as we think you are. Love, Gigi.”

I felt like I couldn’t hear the voice of God personally, but I felt like she could. So when she said something to me, it was as if I was getting a divine download. And I felt like anything she told me would put me in the grace of God, and I could harness the creative power of the universe if I just did what Gigi said. You know, that sort of empowered me. 

I didn’t curse in any of my records, and that was during a time with gangster rap and the dirty south was coming up. But I was able to remain firm in not cursing in the world because I just felt like I would offend the Divine. I always felt called to put things in the world that would not only gratify me, but at a very young age, I was thinking, How will my work affect my grandmother? And then ultimately, as an extension of that, How will my work affect other people’s grandmothers and other people’s kids? 

I never really lost that devotion to service.


External Success Doesn’t Fix You Internally 

Ambition became front and center in the building and creating of my life, and I turned into a similar kind of military-minded, goal-oriented husband and father that my father was. It was a process of realizing that just achieving your external goals, that money and success—and you hear people say it all the time, it is so cliche—that money and success and fame won’t make you happy. And I just had to learn it firsthand. 

God teaches through experience, and a part of the great benefit I had was that I was able to drive as hard as I could drive and realize that external success doesn’t fix your internal difficulties. It doesn’t fix your childhood trauma, and you can try to cake stuff on top of it as much as you’d like, but until we stop and take a really good look at ourselves and then begin the process of healing and cleansing and purifying, none of that stuff is going to work.

“External success doesn’t fix your internal difficulties.” – Will Smith

I’ll speak for me: there was not enough money to make me feel okay about having stood there while my father punched my mother in the face and I didn’t do anything. Right? So there’s no amount of success that makes that go away. 

I took about two years off when I realized, Okay, I’ve made as much money as I can make, and if money was going to cure me and make me happy, it would have by now. My kids are great. My family is exactly how I dreamed. I looked around at everything, and I was like, Okay, so if this is not divine ecstasy, then what is? And I started to understand what it meant to love yourself. Right? Because at the core of all of it, why I was doing everything I was doing, was because, at the center of everything, I felt like a coward. I felt like I wasn’t good enough, so I was trying to overcompensate with all of these things. And [I went through] that process of really taking a good, honest look at myself and forgiving myself for my misgivings and transgressions in my life, forgiving myself and coming into a place where I like myself outside of other people’s opinions of me. 

That was a long, difficult process, and the writing of the book was deeply cathartic. I went through my entire life, and you know, when you have to choose a descriptive of emotion, the level of self-examination it takes to pick the right adjective for how you felt, you get to know yourself in the process of writing. I think that everyone should write their story. 

In having to choose the words, you define for yourself how you really feel. And you get a sense of who you think you are, but what you also realize is that it’s just a story. You’re making a lot of it up, right? You’re harder on yourself in some areas and easier on yourself in some areas, and a good, honest, clear look at yourself comes out of the process of recalling experiences—especially if you can do it with people who were there. I did it with my siblings and with my mother and with all of my friends, and you realize nobody had your experience but you. You’re looking at people like, “What? That’s what you saw?” It’s emotionally cleansing in some ways because you realize that the character that you cast people in is not who they really are. The role that someone has in your story may have no bearing whatsoever on who they really are. And you don’t know who you are, so you couldn’t possibly know who somebody else is. 

So all of that was coming out, and it just created an environment of healing between my mother and I, my family and I, my friends. I was able to forgive myself and to start to see myself as a good person. I’m flawed, but so is everybody, and I get to be better moving forward.

“I’m flawed, but so is everybody, and I get to be better moving forward.” – Will Smith


A Mission to Correct the Lack of Love in the World

When my grandmother died, I didn’t have a hard time with her death. Her death was actually easy because she was so certain that she was going to Heaven that she had no fear of death. She was calm and comfortable. She felt like the work she had done here was finished. She was one of the only times I’ve ever—I haven’t been around a lot of dying people—but it was one of the only times I was around someone and I saw what the power of faith did for her emotionally. Right? She was looking at death not even neutrally. She was looking at it joyfully. So that was the one experience I was like, Oh, that’s why you hold faith. 

My grandmother missionized me in the world—I’m not sure that’s a word, but it’s fun to say it. I think what she knew and what she trusted in her life was that a concentration on love and service above all things can’t yield anything but greatness, right? And, you know, because she followed the doctrine of Christ, she also knew that you didn’t have to necessarily be applauded because what you were doing was right. She wanted to put me on the right track and not necessarily to seek applause as much as I was seeking divine alignment.

“A concentration on love and service above all things can’t yield anything but greatness.” – Will Smith

So in every situation, when I go away and pray on it, I’m looking for a deeper understanding of the divine laws. And I’m praying for an open, loving heart. And I know if there’s any emotion jumping up in me if there’s any anger jumping up in there, there’s any frustration jumping up in there, I know it’s based on a lack of understanding on my part. And if my emotional condition is anything less than joyous and affectionate, I know that there is a poison that I would inject this person with. So I will stay in my state of prayer before addressing them. 

It’s a beautiful time in my life, I am enjoying myself and I’m looking forward to creating and contributing, the mission being to correct the lack of love in the world. And I just love how that sits in my heart. I want to be an ambassador of God and goodness, trying to correct the lack of love in the world.

“I want to be an ambassador of God and goodness, trying to correct the lack of love in the world.” – Will Smith

Narrator: You can find Will’s new book, simply entitled Will, everywhere books are sold. 

Stay tuned to Amy Grant’s story after a brief message.


Start the New Year in Prayer, with Jesus Listens

Narrator: As a new year begins, are you looking for a way to go deeper in your daily prayer habit? There’s a brand-new 365 day devotional prayer book called Jesus Listens from Sarah Young, the author of Jesus Calling. With Jesus Listens, you can strengthen or renew your relationship with God through the continual conversation of prayer. Jesus Listens is perfect if you’re busy with life’s demands but want to grow in your prayer life. Looking for rest and hope from difficult times? Or, are not even sure how to pray? By praying scripture through this daily devotional prayer book, you’ll experience how intentional prayer connects you to God, changes your heart, and can even move mountains. Get a start on a deeper prayer life with the new 365-day devotional prayer book, Jesus Listens. To find out more visit www.jesuscalling.com/jesuslistens.


Narrator: Our next guest is beloved Christian singer Amy Grant

Amy has been making music since she was a teenager and made her first record for a label when she was only seventeen. Since that time, she’s made multi-platinum-selling records and found herself becoming a household name with #1 hits on both the Christan and pop charts. 

Through all the joys and opportunities, challenges, and heartache in her forty-plus years of making music, Amy’s core values remain the same—and her connection to God has never been stronger. She walks us through a little bit of her journey as a singer/songwriter, talks about a health scare recently that stopped her in her tracks, and shares why she believes the act of prayer is a force for change in all of our lives. 

Amy Grant: I’m Amy Grant, and I do a lot of things. I’ve had a forty-plus-year music career. I’m a wife and mom, I’m a grandmother, and I love creating spaces for people to come together. 

I grew up in Nashville, Tennessee, the youngest of four girls of Burton and Gloria Grant. When I was young, I lived on the same street with my grandmother, and our yard backed up to the farm owned by my great-grandparents. And so I just was always surrounded by family. I know I’ve tried to carry that tradition on, my mom and dad passed in the last decade, and our home is the gathering place for our five grown children, and now they’re marrying and having their own kids. Thanksgiving and Easter, when my sisters and all of ours show up, it always tops out somewhere around sixty or sixty-five, and that’s just blood. Then if we have extras, it goes up from there.


Amy Makes a Record

I started loving music, well honestly, when I was a little girl. We went to a church that didn’t have a choir or a piano or an organ, but it was just congregational singing. And I mean, they could sing. It was a denomination called the church of Christ, and it’s all a cappella. And I mean, people just grow up singing four-part harmony. It was a church where the doors were open Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night. So really, probably my earliest music memories are harmony singing all the old hymns, and it’s so much fun to meet somebody else that remembers even verse three and four of fifty hymns, you know, and to launch into four-part harmony with a handful of people. 

My sisters had record players, and my dad loved music. He was always singing, and he had records that he would spin and nobody in our family really, I guess, played an instrument. We sort of all took piano lessons. We took a few guitar lessons, but just growing up in Nashville, music was close at hand. I wrote my first song when I was fifteen. When I was a freshman in high school, I took guitar lessons at my high school. 

And then on Saturday nights, there was a coffee shop near our church on 16th Avenue, so it was down where all the studios and publishing houses were. It was just the early Jesus music coffee shop scene. I would get rides before I had my driver’s license, and so there was kind of the high school world, you know, people going to sporting events and kids hanging out and doing some things they should and some things they shouldn’t. But I do love the music that I would always find my way to the coffee shop on Saturday.

And while I was still fifteen, a friend of mine who was also our youth group leader, had some studio time at Belmont College. He actually had a job in a recording studio, but he was given studio time as part of a class he was taking. And he said, “Hey if you want to record some of these songs you’re working on…” 

So another musician friend and I went in and split that session time. My friend Bill Lokey played piano, I played guitar, barely. A record producer walked in and said, “Okay, there’s a company in Texas, Word Records, they’re looking for new artists who sing about their faith. They’re trying to sign people who do this.” 

And so I got a call. I mean, I’d barely done anything. When they said, “We need to create a bio,” I was like, “I sang at a slumber party once.” I had done nothing. But that’s where it started. 

I just slowly grew as a songwriter and as a singer, and I just kept growing up as a young woman. And little by little, my stage grew, and the audience grew, and my proficiency grew and took me places I never dreamed I would go. I’m really grateful and surprised how my life turned out. There have been hard times where I felt like there was just endless responsibility or juggling family with work. But when I look back, that’s not what you remember.

“Little by little, my stage grew, and the audience grew, and my proficiency grew and took me places I never dreamed I would go. I’m really grateful and surprised how my life turned out.” – Amy Grant


An Unexpected Health Scare & the Power of Prayer

I went with [my husband Vince Gill] to his doctor’s appointment, and we were in the middle of Christmas shows. I mean, it was a busy time. We went for his test results, and I mean, even though he’s like an egg and sausage and cheeseburger kind of guy, the doctor said, “Your heart looks great. You just need to exercise and eat more healthily.” 

And then the doctor looked at me and said, “We should check you out.” 

I said, “Well, who’s got time for that?” 

And he said, “Well, let’s make time as soon as the new year happens.” 

He was very persistent. And so I said, “Okay.” 

What they discovered was an undetected birth defect. I guess it’s a birth defect that would have shortened my life. He said, “We need to plan open-heart surgery, and we need to do it before you turn sixty. I was fifty-nine, and I was like, “Okay.” 

On purpose, I didn’t try to think about it ahead of time because, you know, no sense worrying about what’s going to happen four months away or three months away or two months away, and then suddenly it’s the day and you go, “Man, I woke up just like I normally do, only the alarm was earlier. And now we’re going.” And then I woke up after surgery, and I was so glad I woke up. 

I had a situation, it was fixable. I still had to take a lot of deep breaths, and there was a long period of recovery. I feel like I came through open-heart surgery with a whole new kind of compassion for people who are battling health issues that are not fixable. They go through things that are scary. 

Having gone through that experience where I needed help just makes me so grateful for caregivers, to my heroes in life, the people who help, and that can be somebody whose name you will never know, who opens the door when you’ve got an armload or even better says, “Let me carry that for you. Let me shoulder this burden. Let me help you with your job. Let me help you with your kids.” I mean, people who help, that was a game-changer. That’s the kind of person I want to be. 

The other thing that I really felt changed permanently with having open heart surgery was the palpable experience of people praying for you. And I’m telling you, prayer changes circumstances. It changes people, it changes the person who’s going through it, it changes the person who prays. And yeah, I believe prayer is an active, compassionate thought wrapped around another person.

“Prayer changes circumstances. It changes people, it changes the person who’s going through it, it changes the person who prays. I believe prayer is an active, compassionate thought wrapped around another person.” – Amy Grant

Anytime we wrap another person or their situation or their family or their trauma, if we just take our eyes off of what we’re doing and consider them, that’s a powerful prayer. I have such an awareness that I am in the back third of my life, and that’s if I outlive my mom and dad. It feels to me like the hardest physical work of my life is behind me: raising kids, the hardest days of touring. When I wake up in a day and I change my little manual calendar, one of the first things that come out of my mouth in the morning is, I say the month and the day, “This is the day the Lord has made. I will rejoice and be glad in it.” And I feel that joy. I’m so glad to be alive. I’m so glad with my guard down, in the middle of my chest, that I am alive. 

“One of the first things that comes out of my mouth in the morning is, ‘This is the day the Lord has made. I will rejoice and be glad in it.’ And I feel that joy. I’m so glad to be alive.” – Amy Grant

The words going through my head at sixty, they’re vastly less critical of myself and others than they were when I was a younger woman. I see that so much good can come through hard times in my life, in other people’s lives. I feel more confident about what prayer can do. I feel braver to pray for other people. And really, all conversation in my head feels like an ongoing conversation with God. 

The first copy I got of Jesus Calling was given to me by my cousin. She’s close to my mom’s age and a career English teacher. Her name is Glenda Higgins. And she just said, “This book has really helped me, and I think it will help you.” And I loved it. I have loved it for a long time. 

I think what’s so beautiful about a yearlong devotional of any kind is just how mysteriously, year by year, it perfectly relates to whatever the new circumstance is. How is it possible that now I’m going through this, you know, so many things have changed but the truth of these words? It’s just like they were written for this day. 

I remember the first time I read the introduction [to Jesus Calling] and how Sarah Young talked about the schooling that she had had, her faith journey. And I just love how the language of Jesus Calling has taken a lot of us who felt like we would experience the presence of God in circumstances few and far between and given us a language and understanding. All of that was God. 

This is from March 30th:

I AM TAKING CARE OF YOU. Trust Me at all times. Trust Me in all circumstances. Trust Me with all your heart. When you are weary and everything seems to be going wrong, you can still utter these four words: “I trust You, Jesus.” By doing so, you release matters into My control, and you fall back into the security of My everlasting arms. Before you arise from your bed in the morning, I have already arranged the events of your day. Every day provides many opportunities for you to learn My ways and grow closer to Me. Signs of My Presence brighten even the dullest day when you have eyes that really see. Search for Me as for hidden treasure. I will be found by you.

For every downside, there’s an upside. You know, it’s just like hard things and good things, they go hand in hand. Maybe I was naive when I was younger, and I would just think, Oh, this is just hard. But you know, even hospital stays or the death of a loved one or the loss of someone or circumstances changing, there is good in every hard thing. And a hard thing about working from the time I was young, even doing something I loved was that it required a lot of time and energy, and openness for somebody who’s really wired as an introvert. But the gift of that is all the stories of all the people that I’ve met, seeing life from a much bigger perspective than I think I was sort of naturally wired, and that’s beautiful. And the things I missed for my kids, you know, I hope as adults, I hope what they are inspired by in their mother is that they want to find something that they feel passionate about. 

The songs I have sung over the years, they’ve helped me more than they’ve helped anybody. And I’ve come to see maybe a different interpretation of the gifts that we get from God, whether it’s a gift of hospitality or a gift of music or a gift of creativity. But I think we’re all wired so uniquely that God gives us gifts because He knows that’s what we need to get through. And then when you enjoy that gift, it pours out on other people. 

I feel like music, from the time I was little, it was such a gift to me to appreciate and experience life and get through hard times and celebrate friendship and love. And, you know, if it’s helped me, I know it can help other people.

“I think we’re all wired so uniquely that God gives us gifts because He knows that’s what we need to get through. And then when you enjoy that gift, then it pours out on other people.” – Amy Grant

Narrator: To learn more about new projects from Amy or where you can catch her on tour, visit www.AmyGrant.com.

If you’d like to hear more stories about the power of love in the world, check out our interview with Lauren Akins.


Narrator: Next time on the Jesus Calling Podcast, we’ll learn about the Enneagram, a powerful personality typing tool through a spiritual lens, with experts Mark Eaton, Jackie Brewster, and Eve Annunziato

Mark Eaton: We’re created in the image of God, right? And so it’s incredibly complicated, this human condition. In fact, it’s even safe to say that God is infinitely in understandable. Humans are the same way. We are infinitely complicated, and that’s just a single person. So you put two people together, a couple together, and then add some children in the mix. There’s an algorithm of unlimited infinity in terms of those relationships and all the different dynamics that can happen inside of those. And that’s enough in and of itself to keep us incredibly humble and incredibly dependent on God and the insight that the Holy Spirit can give us.

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