Geroge Jones performs at Harrah’s Metropolis in Metropolis, IL, in June 2002. (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.)

Have you ever heard the story about how country singing legend George Jones met God? It may sound like an unlikely conversion, as the singer drank heavily and partied hard for most of his adult life. But his conversion at age 67 turned him around and possibly extended his life.

Jones, who died at age 81 in 2013, was in the news again recently when a PBS Great Performances program honored him on the 10th anniversary of his death. The network called the singer “one of the most influential, storied and beloved country music icons in history.”

If you know much about Jones’s story, you know the singer lived a life of incredible highs and profound lows. He was often called “the greatest living country singer,” and Rolling Stone ranked him among the top 25 “Greatest Singers of All Time.”

However, Jones partied hard, drank heavily and became addicted to drugs. His relationships with women were turbulent, as he married four times and divorced three.

He seemed like a hopeless wreck of a man for most of his adult life until something broke the cycle. That “something” was profound. George Jones met God.

A Window into George Jones’s Life

Jones’s songs give listeners the feeling they are glimpsing into his life of heavy drinking, drug addiction and one failed relationship after another.

One of his most mournful songs was He Stopped Loving Her Today. It shares the story of a man who cannot forget the estranged love of his life. Only when the man dies does he stop loving her. As you listen to the song, you feel as if you’re sharing the man’s heartbreak thanks to the sorrow-filled lyrics and Jones’s poignant delivery.

The Rev. Jesse Owens, pastor of Immanuel Church in Gallatin, TN, said this about Jones: “Part of what I find so alluring about his music is that it provides direct insight into the sorrow of sin….

“Even though his music is filled with references to alcohol and cheating, it never glorifies them. In fact, his music really highlights the consequences of alcohol abuse and of unfaithfulness. It’s this human element, this form of honest lament, that draws the listener in.”

George Jones’s Faith Journey

Several people helped introduce Jones to God in a meaningful way. One of them was Jones’s best friend, Earl “Peanutt” Montgomery. Montgomery, who wrote more than 70 songs for Jones, bonded with the singer over their shared love of alcohol.

But Mongomery gave his life to God in 1976, and from that point on, he drastically changed his life, though Jones didn’t change his. Montgomery stopped drinking and carousing with Jones and started traveling and preaching.

“I couldn’t live that life no more. I couldn’t do that and then try to preach to people. It wouldn’t be right,” a Helwys Society Forum story quoted Montgomery as saying. The forum is an online Christian organization that focuses on ministry, theology, spirituality and culture.

Yet, the two men remained close friends.

Montgomery talked to Jones about God and once took the country legend to a tent revival. “As Jones heard the singing and then the invitation at the end, he got out of the car and fell on his knees in prayer,” HSF said. “This wasn’t a conversion experience, but it was a sign of the great conviction Jones felt.”

“Peanutt” Montgomery and his wife Charlene joined a Free Will Baptist church in northern Alabama and invited Jones to attend services with them. Jones went several times and was even moved to tears at some services, but he wasn’t ready to commit himself to God.

Another contributing player in the story of how George Jones met God was Tom Malone. Malone was a pastor who later became president of Welch College, a private Free Will Baptist college in Gallatin, TN.

He and Jones became friends during the time Jones lived in Florence, AL. Malone tried to share the gospel with the singer, but Jones wasn’t ready and did his best to steer conversations away for God and faith.

When George Jones Met God – For Real

Jones later said he knew about God and realized he was a sinner, but he struggled against giving his life to God.

In an interview on The 700 Club, a Christian talk show, the country music legend described one dark period in his life and the role his fourth wife Nancy played in bringing him to God.

“You forget even that God exists or anybody does,” he said. “My first wives or family or any of those things didn’t matter any more,” he explained. “The only thing that mattered to me was the thrill and fun of what I was doing.”

But his life wasn’t all fun and games. “I got down to 105 pounds, and I had met Nancy,” he said. “The doctor told me that I wouldn’t last another two months if things didn’t change. I went into Birmingham to the hospital, and she was there by my side.

“I went through 30 days of reading the Bible, keeping my mind off anything else, and the Bible was one of the books that I really believed in but never lived or read like I should have until I was in the hospital.

“I saw a different life. I didn’t know there was a way back. There was no way. But then I started reading the Bible, and I found that way back with the Lord’s help and Nancy staying by my side,” Patheos contributor Tony Rossi quotes Jones as saying.

A Deal with God

But it took a serious DWI-related car wreck in 1999 for George Jones to finally turn his attention to God. He was driving near Franklin, TN, in the Nashville area, when he lost control of his SUV and hit a concrete bridge railing. Rescuers spent almost two hours extracting the singer from the wreck.

Jones spent nearly two weeks in Nashville’s Vanderbilt University Medical Center for treatment of severe injuries. He sustained a significant injury to his liver, a collapsed lung and internal bleeding, and he remained in critical condition for several days.

Police found an open pint of vodka in his car, and he later pleaded guilty to DWI. He received a $550 fine but escaped a jail sentence and promised to get help for his drinking.

A Taste of Country reported, “He made good on that promise. At age 67, Jones got clean and sober for good, even giving up his smoking habit, and continued to tour nearly up to his death in 2013.”

Nancy Jones, his wife of 30 years, told The Nashville Tennessean after the singer’s death that the car accident was a “pivotal turning point” in her husband’s life. She had confronted him about drinking shortly before the accident and said his response was, “’Let me go in our pasture and pray to God to hit me in the head with a sledgehammer.’ And He did. The next thing I know, George had hit a bridge.”

Nancy explained that her husband made a deal with God. “He said, ‘God, if you let me get over this, I’ll never touch a cigarette or buy liquor again.’ This time he meant it.”

Jones Goes Gospel

Jones recorded numerous gospel songs in his later life. Many of them are on YouTube. And you also may watch the PBS special honoring him, Great Performances – George Jones: Still Playing’ Possum here.

The program features performances by Travis Tritt, Lorrie Morgan, Sara Evans, Trace Adkins and The Isaacs, Tanya Tucker, Jelly Roll, Wynonna and Brad Paisley, among others.

Still Playin’ Possum: Music & Memories of George Jones received Telly Award gold as Best Music Performance (Television), bronze for Best Entertainment Program (Television) and bronze for Best Live Event & Experience (Television).

“George Jones achieved 79 top 10 hits and 10 no. 1 hits including He Stopped Loving Her Today,’ which is widely recognized as the greatest country song of all time,” PBS said.

He also sold more than 20 million albums and was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Grand Ole Opry in 1992. The Kennedy Center honored him in 2008, and he was the recipient of the National Medal of Arts award in 2002 and the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2012.

The New York Times called him the “definitive country singer of the last half-century.” And USA Today said, “Hank Williams may have set country music’s mythology and Johnny Cash its attitude, but Jones gave the genre its ultimate voice… Jones influenced generations of country singers and was considered by many to be the greatest of them all.”

He died of respiratory failure at Vanderbilt University Medical Center on April 26, 2013. But his legend — and the story of how George Jones met God — live on.

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