Earlier this year my wife and I purchased a 30-foot sailboat we use on weekends to take friends sailing. I recently took some of my students out for the day and had a wonderful time getting to know them outside of class. Sailing is one of those hobbies that’s fairly easy to do but can get you in a lot of trouble fast if you don’t know what you’re doing.

Several years ago when I was a youth pastor, I rented a large sailboat and brought four guys from my ministry to Catalina. Late in the afternoon I dropped the anchor and we settled in for the night. Unbeknown to me, it was low tide and I had only let out enough chain for the anchor to touch the bottom. At 3 a.m. I woke to a blood-curdling scream as one of the guys discovered we had drifted within inches of jagged rocks. As the tide came in, it lifted the anchor from its mooring and we drifted toward sudden peril without warning.

The same thing happens in the lives of believers. In fact, it happened to one of God’s greatest leaders of Israel. In I Kings 3:5 –14, we read the amazing account of God appearing to young Solomon in a dream to ask him what he wanted. Most scholars estimate his age in the mid-20s. Soon he would be thrust into making economic, political and military decisions that would impact the lives of thousands. One slight miscalculation and God’s nation would be on the rocks.

In his dream, rather than asking for personal fame, wealth, long life or any other self-centered request, Solomon asked God for a soft and sensitive heart (literally in Hebrew a hearing heart) to discern God’s voice. He knew he would need to hear it often in the years ahead.

The next seven chapters record Solomon’s young adult and mid-life years as king of God’s nation. It is what biblical scholars refer to as the Golden Age of King Solomon. He began his reign with such wisdom and spiritual discernment that it marveled even the pagan nations around Israel. During this time the nation experienced years of material prosperity and military security. But unfortunately, it didn’t last.

Fast forward to chapter 11, the record of the last days of Solomon’s life, as the curtain falls on his reign. There’s no way to sugarcoat the story. The great and mighty king of Israel has declined to a state of moral decay and spiritual dereliction. If this had been a democracy he would have been impeached.

What happened? What could cause this great man to fall so miserably from the stage of national and spiritual leadership? The answer is in the first nine verses of this chapter, which repeatedly reference Solomon’s heart. In essence, Solomon’s heart had grown insensitive toward spiritual things in his life — including his relationship with God. No longer could he hear the voice of God as he had during his young adult years.

It was during his mid-life years that something happened. Something slow but deliberate caused his heart to drift away from God. The text tells us it was the many women in his life. As a pastor for over 30 years, I’ve sat and listened to church members reflect on the cause of their own spiritual drift. It’s different things for different people. For some it is the quest for material possessions. For others, it happens while climbing the corporate ladder. Everyone faces mid-life drift, but not everyone has to fall victim to it.

How do you avoid the heart drift that removed Solomon from effective leadership? First, maintain a vibrant walk with the Lord through regular Bible study. Secondly, maintain an accountability relationship with someone you trust. This person must be willing to speak truth into your life when he or she sees you starting to drift perilously close to the rocks. Thirdly, remember where it all began: Take the time to reflect on your early days as a believer when Jesus was your first love. Maintain a posture of humility no matter how many ways God chooses to bless you.

The mid-life years should be a time for energy and vitality, but if you aren’t careful, they can also be marked by self-centeredness and the pursuit of interests that can turn you away from following God. Heart drift can sneak in without warning and cause you to run aground. Take it from Solomon, who had God appear to him twice during his life, yet still drifted away. If it can happen to a leader like that, it can happen to you as well. Stay alert and watch for the currents that can cause your heart to drift away from the things of God.