Priscilla Shirer: So, your behaviors don’t define you. Your past doesn’t define you. What other people have called you doesn’t define you. Even what you call yourself, that doesn’t define you. Only the person who made you has the right to give you your label and the right to determine your significance.
Overcomers Are Defined and Refined by God: Priscilla Shirer & Jeremy Ray Taylor – Episode #162
Narrator: Welcome to the Jesus Calling Podcast. Today’s guests are two people who were surprised by the circumstances that led them to star in feature films. Now they work to share God’s love in a bigger way than they ever could have imagined, while remembering that their identity is found only in Christ: author and speaker Priscilla Shirer and actor Jeremy Ray Taylor.
First up, as the daughter of Tony Evans, for decades Priscilla Shirer has seen the powerful way God’s love can be communicated through words. She followed in her father’s footsteps when she started her own ministry, talking to women and writing books that spoke to their hearts. Today Priscilla tells us how God can use our unique traits to bring Him glory—and what she hopes people will learn about God’s kingdom from her new movie called Overcomer.
Priscilla Shirer: My name’s Priscilla Shirer with Going Beyond Ministries. I’ve had the privilege of being in ministry for about 20 years now, specifically women’s ministry, and it’s been just amazing to go on this adventure with the Lord.
Full-time ministry was not even near the plan I had for my life. It’s not what I thought I’d be doing, but here we are 20 years later, in a ministry where I’ve had the privilege to, most of the time, stand on a platform and share God’s Word and His truths with His women and with people. And then in writing, the Lord sort of opened up that opportunity via books or Bible studies. And then film is something that the Lord has brought sort of into my life as well—shock of all shocks. You could have never told me that I’d be in a movie, but here we are on the third one, and it’s been such a gift to be able to be a part of telling His story on such a broad stage using the medium of film.
Your Uniqueness Has a Purpose
When I look back on myself, I wish I could tell myself something that I understand now: there would need to be somebody of my demographic, with my skin color and my hair and the nuances of my experiences to be able to, onscreen, communicate these stories, that I could have not known in a million years the Lord would allow me to be a part of sort of this resurgence of powerful faith-based films. So He needed me to look exactly like I look to be able to participate in His purposes in this day and age.
And so sometimes we are wishing away the very things about our uniqueness that are designed to be used for a purpose we can’t even comprehend. We’d never even consider the radical ways that God intends to reflect His glory through our uniqueness. So it means that even our weaknesses and our personality, they aren’t liabilities. They are a platform for the strength of God to be displayed. So we’ve got to look at the whole of our lives and go, “Lord, I’m going to celebrate this. And I’m gonna begin to affirm the differences of other people. I’m not competing, I’m not comparing, and I’m just going to present to you my entire self as a living sacrifice for you to use for your glory.”
“Sometimes we are wishing away the very things about our uniqueness that are designed to be used for a purpose we can’t even comprehend.” – Priscilla Shirer
If your identity and your significance and your value is tied to success, that can be up one day, but gone the next, or up in one decade of your life and gone the next decade of your life. Or, if it’s connected to beauty or if it’s connected to the applause or appreciation of people—like how many people liked your Instagram post or who didn’t. If it’s connected to that we’re gonna be constantly disappointed and devastated because life changes, people change, circumstances change. The way we feel—it might be the way we feel, but it doesn’t define us. Or the things we’ve done—they may be the things we’ve done, yes, but that doesn’t mean that’s who you are.
I think sometimes we need a devotional to help open up the possibilities of the new direction that we’re headed in our relationship with God, and sometimes just allowing the way someone describes something or the way that they record their thoughts about a portion of scripture, it’s a springboard for you in your prayer life. It’s a springboard for you to a new sort of trajectory in your relationship with God.
This is a passage of Jesus Calling from March 9th:
Rest in My radiant Presence. The world around you seems to spin faster and faster, till everything is a blur. Yet there is a cushion of calm at the center of your life, where you live in union with Me. Return to this soothing Center as often as you can, for this is where you are energized: filled with My Love, Joy, and Peace.
The world is a needy place; do not go there for sustenance. Instead, come to Me. Learn to depend on Me alone, and your weakness will become saturated with My Power. When you find your completeness in Me, you can help other people without using them to meet your own needs. Live in the Light of My Presence, and your light will shine brightly into the lives of others.
Each and every one of us have to decide who or what we’re gonna give permission to identify us, to label us, to name us. And so many of us find our significance in things outside of eternal things. And see, that’s the problem, is that they’re temporal, so we’ve got to go back to God’s Word and say, “Okay, what does His Word say about me, both in my immaterial parts and my material parts?” Meaning that if He says I’m created in the image of God, in my physicality, all of the nuances that make me different and unique.
“Each and every one of us have to decide who or what we’re gonna give permission to identify us, to label us, to name us.” – Priscilla Shirer
I can remember as a teenager, and I know teenagers and young adults and even grown women, we struggle with this now in the areas where our bodies are different than the “norm”—we’ve got to go back to the Word of God and remember: He actually made me this way on purpose, so that I can be a unique reflection of His glory.
God Helps You Become an Overcomer
You know, ten, fifteen, twenty years ago Christians were embarrassed to go to faith-based films. We didn’t want to take our friends because the technical excellence wasn’t there, the storytelling wasn’t there. We were just like, “Oh man, we wanna enjoy this. We want to extend our dollars towards it to support it,” but the excellence wasn’t there.
But all of a sudden, in the past five, six, seven years, you’ve got filmmakers who are writing stories we can relate to, who have the dollars to be able to present it in a way that is technically excellent, and they’re unapologetic about Jesus! And so, all of those things come together in a resurgence.
I remember last year, the USA Today after I Can Only Imagine came out, and it [earned] like $90 million dollars at the box office. I remember USA Today wrote a story and the headline was something like “Hollywood Needs to Stop Being Surprised.” In other words, this is a norm now. People want Jesus. They don’t want a watered-down version of Him—they want not a watered-down, faith-based motivational film, but they want the gospel.
[Overcomer] centers in on Hannah, a 15-year-old girl who is with her identity. She has feelings of abandonment and lack of significance. She lives with a grandmother, not her parents, she’s never lived with her parents. And as teenagers tend to struggle anyway, hers is compounded just by the difficulty of her life.
She goes to a school where there is a man there that is a coach, John Harrison, played by Alex Kendrick. And John is struggling with his identity, because the entire community is suffering because of an economic downturn, lots of layoffs. People are losing their jobs, people are having to move out of the community. And his sense of significance and value has been tied up in his job, which is stripped away. And that’s true for a lot of people: their jobs are stripped away, and that’s where they drew their sense of value. And so you see a grown man struggling with his significance.
So we’ve got all these people that are in their own way struggling to determine and to believe that they are enough and that they are valuable. And all their stories sort of swirled together. And kind of as a centerpiece to all of this chaos is Olivia Brooks, and that’s the principal that I play. She has the privilege to kind of help these characters see the value of who God has made them to be, see that there is potential in them, see that even when circumstances are chaotic that that does not mean your life has to be. That doesn’t mean that you have to be disappointed and devastated just because your circumstances aren’t going the way that you would prefer for them to be. That who you are in God can still anchor you even when there is chaos swirling around you.
“Who you are in God can still anchor you even when there is chaos swirling around you.” – Priscilla Shirer
So you’ve got all these different kinds of characters and different dynamics and they’re in their families and lives. But it all comes back to this one lesson: What [defines] you? Who have you given that authority to? And in the end, it better be God, because everything else is up one day and gone tomorrow. But what God says about you remains, no matter what happens in this life.
“What [defines] you? Who have you given that authority to? And in the end, it better be God, because everything else is up one day and gone tomorrow. But what God says about you remains, no matter what happens in this life.” – Priscilla Shirer
For the Kendrick brothers, just organically the way the Lord told them, you know, kind of instructed them or prompted them to write this story, was from the vantage point of an African-American family. They could hear Miss Clara praying with the passion of an older African-American woman. And they said so, it’s just the way, the tone, and the texture of the film lent itself to that.
And so I told them how much I celebrated that, I celebrated the nuances of it. They were very humble about [my experiences as an African-American] and tender about [it] and asked questions about [it]. I told them that it was important, for example, that my hair wasn’t straight for my role, that my hair is allowed to be its unruly, textured, Afroed self is important so that people can see that we can be who we are, be Christians—followers of Jesus Christ—and also that “as we are” is enough to be depicted on screen. It’s beautiful.
“I’ve just enjoyed the creative outlet of doing something different, and yet the same, in the sense that it’s an opportunity to still share the love of Jesus just in a different way.” – Priscilla Shirer
What is an overcomer?
To me, overcoming, the whole sense of it is that there’s something that you have to overcome. That means everything isn’t great, we are constantly praying for the good life. We want pain to dissipate, we want disappointment to be no more. Soon as we get the diagnosis, our first prayer is for healing. Our first prayer is for everything to go back to the good. It’s not that we can’t pray for those things because He says, “Listen,” God says boldly, “Come, come. Make your request known.”
So, I’m so grateful for a God who lets us make our requests known. But our perspective should first be at the sign of difficulty, “Lord, help me to be an overcomer. Lord, show me what it means to have a faith that is strengthened and to have an opportunity to give you glory while I suffer. And then I can pray for healing, I can pray for change, I can pray, Lord, that you would make this circumstance turn around.”
Yes, He can do that and He will do that, but also, “Lord, will you find me faithful while I struggle.” That’s what overcoming is. It’s having a peace that literally passes your understanding. You literally don’t understand how you have peace in the midst of the storm that you are suffering and struggling through. You don’t get why you have joy. And we’ve met people like that: people who’ve got stuff going on in their lives and you know what’s going on, but somehow they’re steady, and they’re strong, and they’re still smiling, and they’re still giving to other people, and they’re concerned about others. What kind of person is that? That right there is an overcomer.
“That’s what overcoming is. It’s having a peace that literally passes your understanding. You literally don’t understand how you have peace in the midst of the storm that you are suffering and struggling through.” – Priscilla Shirer
Narrator: To find out where you can see Overcomer at a theater near you, check your local listings.
Stay tuned for our interview with Jeremy Ray Taylor and his mom Tracy after a brief message about the Jesus Calling Weekly Prayer Call!
Did you know that Sarah Young, the author of Jesus Calling, prays for her readers each day? In that spirit, we want to extend the Jesus Calling prayer community out to you in a more personal way. Each Tuesday morning, you can dial in to the Jesus Calling weekly prayer call, where the team from Jesus Calling and special guests will minister to us during a ten-minute call to reflect on that day’s passage from Jesus Calling, read scripture references, and pray together for each other and our world. Prayer call times are 8:00 a.m. Eastern, 7:00 a.m. Central, 6:00 a.m. Mountain, and 5:00 a.m. Pacific and are for U.S. only.
For more information on the Jesus Calling weekly prayer call, or to submit prayer requests, please visit www.jesuscalling.com/prayer-call. Again, to join us in this community of prayer every Tuesday morning, please visit www.jesuscalling.com/prayer-call.
Narrator: Sometimes God opens doors you never expect, even when you’re a kid on a farm in East Tennessee. That’s what happened for Jeremy Ray Taylor, when he was discovered as an actor and landed his first role when he was only 8 years old. Acting started as a fun project and has since blossomed into a lifelong passion for Jeremy as he spreads God’s love on the world stage. Today he and his mom Tracy talk about his journey from farm to film set, and how they’re navigating the unfamiliar territory of Hollywood and fame while staying close to God.
Jeremy: My name is Jeremy Ray Taylor. I am 15 years old. I am the youngest of six, which is a lot of siblings. I grew up here in Bluff City, Tennessee, and I live on a farm.
Tracy: And you are what? Why are we here?
Jeremy: I am an actor. Forgot that part.
Tracy: I’m Tracy Taylor, and I am the momager and mom to Jeremy Ray Taylor.
Preparing for Life on a Film Set
Jeremy: Well I mean, when I was little, I always would do anything for a laugh—like, anything.
Tracy: Yeah, I think as a mom you try to look for your kid’s passion, or what their gift is when they’re young, and so you watch them and try to figure out, you know, are they gifted with piano, are they going to be a sportsman, you know, how is that gonna all gel? And he definitely was the entertainer of the family, always, like he said, always trying to get a laugh, always being silly when we go to a restaurant. He performed for me, you know, he just was all over the place.
As a mom, it never really entered my mind that the entertainment industry would be the way for him to go, although that seems ridiculously silly now. So, in the way that I knew how, we put him in piano lessons and vocal lessons and church plays and things like that, just to try to tap into those [and] into that outlet, but not really knowing, you know, how to go about that. Because I don’t think as a mom you sometimes really know how to [start. You just say to yourself], Okay, I have to facilitate this the best way I know how. And for us it was piano and vocal and then in plays. And so we started there.
Jeremy: But I never really realized that I was ever going to be an actor. That was never on the plate for us, ever.
“Life on a farm definitely has prepared me for acting. It definitely built a work ethic, I’d say.” – Jeremy Ray Taylor
My mom here manages a band and we were going to Nashville to promote them—we were working with them for a little bit. And the person that they were working with kept noticing how I was very different and how I would always do anything for a laugh. So, she kind of noticed that and told us, “You need to do this acting thing. And we were like, “No.” We don’t want to do it like that. It was never on the table, there was never a thought in her mind that I’d ever become an actor, because it was so different from what we knew. We live in a small town in Tennessee.
So, yeah, she sent in an agency where, finally, we’re like, “Okay, we’ll do it.” And she picked me up instantly and it was hard at first. We didn’t know how to tape, we didn’t know how to audition, and I didn’t know how to do these things. We were freaking out. It was a lot to take in, but I finally got my first role and we were like, “I think this is what we want to do.”
So I was eight years old, I was filming on this set, and it was a little intimidating because there’s so many people and there’s cameras everywhere. So it was scary, but it was fun. And I actually didn’t recognize Harrison Ford at the start. I just like, everybody started getting quiet, and took it really seriously all of a sudden.
I was like, “What’s happening?”
And everybody’s like, “Harry’s here.”
And I’m like, “Who’s Harry?”
And I see him walk in, and he’s wearing a fat suit and he has prosthetics on, so he [was] very different. And all I knew him from was Han Solo, so I didn’t recognize him at the start.
Jeremy: And then I recognized [him] and I was like, “Oh gosh, that’s Harrison Ford,” and he’s just a normal guy, too. That was one crazy thing that I realized is that everybody is just normal. All these people are just normal. I’m just a normal kid from a farm. But I film movies and people think I’m this crazy kid, but I’m just a normal kid. So that was very crazy to figure out that everybody’s just a normal person.
“I recognized [him] and I was like, “Oh gosh, that’s Harrison Ford,” and he’s just a normal guy, too. That was one crazy thing that I realized is that everybody [in Hollywood] is just normal.” – Jeremy Ray Taylor
Staying Connected to God in a Hectic Schedule
Tracy: When we started down the acting path, it was a little intimidating, and it was scary because you’re going into a place where some people are so different from us and they believe so differently than we do. But what we found, even though it’s been scary along the way, is that we just love people.
Jeremy: One of my favorite parts about acting is meeting everybody, because like she said, we love people. So, being able to meet people like Harrison Ford and Paul Rudd and Hugh Jackman, Emma Watson—like it’s crazy to be able to meet all of those people and them also know who you are. That was like . . . the big thing.
Tracy: It’s like the more we’re around people [in the film industry], the more we love it, and the more we’re just able to love on people. I think that that’s been something I’ve done my whole life, and now having this opportunity to be in this place, Jeremy and I like to help anyone navigate it a little bit easier.
“The more we’re around people [in the film industry], the more we love it, and the more we’re just able to love on people.” – Tracy Taylor
I think for us, staying connected to God, that’s important as a conversation, and it’s just trying to keep that focus, to keep that the center of what you do and where you are. I find [that] night, is when I find peace and quiet time in my world to be able to do that and, you know, we do start the day off with prayer, and spend time in devotional each day just to to center ourselves. Sometimes I do it [devotionals] at night, I know most people like to do it in the morning to start their day.
“For us, staying connected to God, that’s important as a conversation. And it’s just trying to keep that focus, to keep that the center of what you do and where you are.” – Tracy Taylor
Jeremy: I liked Jesus Calling a lot because it was so simple for me. It’s like wow, God put that in front of me for a reason. It’s little, but it still packs a lot of punch, so I think I love how simple it is.
Tracy: And sometimes we have to remind each other. And we’re not perfect. I miss days [here and] there. You know, time goes by, and you think [to yourself] “I haven’t spoken to God today,” or I’m like, “Buddy, you need to pray cause [you need] an attitude check.” He does the same to me. Yeah, it’s a daily reminder from God about things that can pertain to your day. And what’s amazing is that sometimes you can open it—I don’t always read the day I’m supposed to read, [but you] see what’s in front of you, and it can just be exactly what you need when you need it. Jesus Calling breaks it down and gives you simple bite-sized chunks that you can read and really see the hand of God in.
I think in Jesus Calling one of my favorites was the passage from April 22nd. It says:
Listen to Me continually. I have much to communicate to you, so many people and situations in need of prayer. I am training you to set your mind on Me more and more, tuning out distractions through the help of My SPirit.
Walk with Me in holy trust, responding to My initiatives rather than trying to make things fit your plans. I died to set you free, and that includes freedom from compulsive planning. When your mind spins with a multitude of thoughts, you cannot hear My voice. A mind preoccupied with planning pays homage to the idol of control. Turn from this idolatry back to Me. Listen to Me and live abundantly!
Jeremy: Listening continually is a big part of it. And Him opening doors for us is great, and He closes door for us. And it’s scary for me because I can see the big picture, and I want to break through the doors He’s closing because I just want to keep going. But I have to look back and listen to Him, because He knows what’s best for me and He knows what He needs to give me. So trying to not bust through those doors that He’s closing for us is difficult for me.
Tracy: This whole journey has been a whirlwind. It’s very important to us to make sure he stays grounded. And so it’s kind of convenient that we have a farm, because we’re able to come home and do normal, very normal farm things, activities on the farm [like] cleaning chicken coops [and] running cattle, you know, taking care of the gardens. And so, we’re very fortunate that we have that life to come back to. It is crazy when I’m on the red carpet one day and then two days later I’m driving a tractor [and] baling hay with my baseball cap and my cowboy boots. It’s crazy.
We wanted them to grow up in faith and understand that there was a God who loved them and [who} was more powerful than anything that they could imagine and was always going to hold them in the palm of His hand.
Jeremy: When you take a step back and look at it, God is love. That’s really what He is. And He wants you to spread the word about Him because He wants everybody to know that He loves everyone. Because He does, He loves everyone.
Narrator: To learn more about Jeremy, you can follow him on your favorite social media platforms @jeremyraytaylor.
If you’d like to hear more stories about believers showing their faith in the spotlight, check out our interview with country singer Josh Turner and NASCAR driver Michael McDowell.
Narrator: Next time on the Jesus Calling Podcast, we speak with NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Kurt Warner. Kurt’s dream of playing in the NFL didn’t come as soon as he expected, and a series of twists and turns left him wondering if he would ever achieve his goals. When he finally did see his dream come to light, he was able to look back and see how God was preparing him not only athletically, but spiritually as well.
Kurt Warner: I was fortunate to have a lot of success in the game, but the biggest part of things is how many people can associate with my story and the fact that life doesn’t always play out as you want it to, and sometimes there are struggles and perseverance that you have to have along the way to ultimately accomplish your goals. So through all those ups and downs, I finally got that second chance in the league and was fortunate to turn it into a pretty good career and [I] finished it up just a couple of years ago by being selected for the Hall of Fame.
Narrator: Do you love hearing these stories of faith weekly from people like you whose lives have been changed by a closer walk with God? Then be sure to subscribe to the Jesus Calling: Stories of Faith Podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, or wherever you listen to your podcasts. If you like what you’re hearing, leave us a review so that we can reach others with these inspirational stories. And, you can also see these interviews on video as part of our original web series with a new interview premiering every other Sunday on Facebook live. Find previously broadcasted interviews on our Youtube channel, on IGTV, or on www.jesuscalling.com/media/video