These two men of faith strive every day to use their platforms for good: multi-platinum country artist Josh Turner and NASCAR driver Michael McDowell. Throughout his career, Josh Turner has spoken frequently about his Christian faith, and he just released his first gospel album called I Serve a Savior. Josh tells us about his deep roots in the church and gospel music, how he and his family joined Bill and Gloria Gaither to produce the album, and why he feels compelled to be a good example for his fans. Michael McDowell has been racing since he was three years old, and always dreamed of becoming a NASCAR driver. He achieved this dream, but not without challenges along the way. He tells us about the ups and downs throughout his career, and how, through it all, he’s learned to surrender control and rely on God for true success.
Serving Our Savior in the Spotlight: Josh Turner and Michael McDowell – Jesus Calling Episode #119
Narrator: Welcome to the Jesus Calling Podcast. Today we talk with two men of faith who strive every day to use their platforms for good: multi-platinum country artist Josh Turner and NASCAR driver Michael McDowell.
First, we welcome back country music star Josh Turner to the show. Throughout his career, Josh has spoken frequently about his Christian faith, and he just released his first gospel album called I Serve a Savior. Josh tells us about his deep roots in the church and gospel music, how he and his family joined Bill and Gloria Gaither to produce the album, and why he feels compelled to be a good example for his fans.
Josh Turner: I’m Josh Turner. And I grew up in rural South Carolina. It was just basically a small tobacco farming community, and our church was right down the road. Our school was right down the road. Spent a lot of time outdoors.
I grew up in a close knit Christian family. My grandparents were both sets and my grandparents were right down the road too, so everybody was pretty close. I just had a pretty ideal childhood, and I’m very thankful for that because ever since I left home things have just been kind of crazy and chaotic, with just the lifestyle and schedule demands and everything of my job and my career.
Music Roots in the Church
When I was a freshman or sophomore in high school, I was in church one Sunday and the older men’s quartet in our church—they were called The Victory Quartet—they were singing a few songs, and I always looked up to the guy who sang bass in that quartet. I just thought he was that was the coolest guy around. And I just got to thinking as they were up there singing that morning, Man, I could find three other guys my age and we could start our own quartet.
So I started thinking about who would be a good fit. I found three guys we got together. We found a lady there in the church that started playing the piano for us and started working with us on singing parts and the harmonies and started picking out songs and all that kind of stuff. And it was it was so exciting for me because, obviously, I had no way of knowing what I would end up doing later in life. But it was just right up my alley. It was my forte of just being creative, working on songs like that, breaking them down, picking out songs and all that. And so that’s what we did. We weren’t all that great, but it was fun to do. We sang a lot at our church, and then we started going around to other churches and singing. But people loved what we did while we did it. So it was fun.
When I formed the quartet, we started singing songs that we didn’t normally sing in church. We started singing a lot of Southern Gospel kind of stuff. And we sang some hymns too, but we delved into a different genre of gospel music. And so that kind of opened my eyes and kind of broadened my horizons musically. So that was a good experience for me.
How I Serve a Savior Was Born
This project is a co-venture with Gaither Music. And I was so honored and thrilled about working alongside Bill Gaither and Gloria and all of them, and just that whole company.
When I went up to the Gaither Music Studios in Indiana, I didn’t really know what to expect, but it was such an incredible experience because they made everybody feel right at home. All the production and the photography and the audio stuff, everything was top notch.
Bill and Gloria both are just a joy to be around. And it’s obvious to see why they’ve been so successful in music. Like I said, when you get around them, they kind of make you feel like you’ve known them your whole life, and they just have that way about them. I love that about them. Even in the interview portion, like I say, I just felt completely comfortable with Bill. And he told him that if he ever if the gospel music thing didn’t work out he could always become an interviewer.
“Bill and Gloria both are just a joy to be around. And it’s obvious to see why they’ve been so successful in music.” – Josh Turner
We Were Created to Praise Him
The title track is called “I Serve a Savior,” and it’s a song I wrote with a buddy of mine, Mark Narmore. I told him that I’d love to write kind of like a modern day hymn, if we could. And the cool thing about it was, I was not working on this record. I had no clue that I would end up doing this record this year. I was actually still in the thick of working toward my last country record—the Deep South record—and we wrote the song. And it went into my catalog, and I didn’t think about it really again until this record process came along. I started going back through old songs, and I found that I’m like, Man, this would be perfect for this project.
The gist of the song is basically how we were made to serve God and praise and worship Him. That’s was our ultimate reason for being created. I didn’t want to just put my own thoughts and my own opinions in this song. I wanted to put Jesus’s words in there, where He’s actually talking about servitude and exactly what that entails and what that means.
Turns out it’s the title track, and I’m very proud of the way this song came together.
Passing On the Faith
The River of Happiness was written by my wife Jennifer and my oldest son Hampton.
When I was actually in a production meeting for this record, she had sent me a work tape of that song, just to kind of see what I thought about it. We had talked about possibly having the boys sing on the record in some kind of capacity. And when I heard the song, I was thinking, Man, I’ll actually do this on their own.They don’t even need me as a part of it because they’re all talented in their own right.
And when I listen to the words of it, it basically talks about when when the Lord comes back and creates the new earth, and just how the the river of life is running through the New Jerusalem and all that. And so it paints a mental image, and I just felt like it would be a good addition to this record and would be totally different from anything else on it. I’m proud of them for writing it and performing it as well as they did.
Relying on God to Give Us Strength
Narrator: Josh has a favorite gospel hymn entitled “Without Him.” This song reminds him how much we need a Savior and how we rely on God daily to give us strength. Much like the song, Josh enjoys reading Jesus Calling for the same reasons. He shares the March 21 entry of Jesus Calling to remind us of these truths.
Trust me and don’t be afraid for I am your Strength and Song. Think what it means to have Me as your Strength. I spoke the universe into existence. My Power is absolutely unlimited! Human weakness, consecrated to Me, is like a magnet drawing My Power into your neediness. However, fear can block the flow of My Strength into you. Instead of trying to fight your fears, concentrate on trusting Me. When you relate to Me in confident trust, there’s no limit to how much I can strengthen you.
Remember that I am also your Song. I want you to share My Joy, living in conscious awareness of My Presence. Rejoice as we journey together toward heaven; join me in singing My Song.
Separate from Him, we’re pretty insignificant. And so, just talking about how He’s our strength and our song, I could go out there with all kinds of grand schemes and plans about how I want things to work out. But if He’s not a part of that, then everything is going to just fall apart and fall flat.
“Separate from [God], we’re pretty insignificant.” – Josh Turner
I think that’s pretty poignant for somebody who’s out there trying to control things on their own or chart their own path.
Changing Lives for Him
I’ve always felt called into country music, and I’ve felt like there was always a specific purpose for me to get into the music business. And so this hasn’t been about me, even from day one. When I was a lot younger, that appealed to me the whole fame and fortune aspect of it. But as I started walking through it, the Lord kept showing me that this is really not about me. This is about the people that I can or will influence by way of the talent that He’s given me.
“[My purpose in music] is about the people that I can or will influence by way of the talent that He’s given me.” – Josh Turner
And so with every project that I’ve done, with every show that I’ve done, I’ve viewed it as a responsibility to actually go out and not squander that opportunity, not go out there in vain and just waste a night or waste my effort and waste my time on performing or creating music, or whatever it may be. Because I have to think that there’s always going to be at least one person out there that’s just hanging onto every word that I say, that’s watching every move that I make. And something that I do or say could potentially change their life for the better.
I actually had a fan just recently in Massachusetts who was a vet, and he had done several tours of duty in Iraq. He talked about how my music had really kind of turned his life around while he was in the service. Stories like kinda help solidify the fact that I have a platform, and I can either use it or abuse it. And at the end of the day, I choose to use it for good.
Narrator: Josh’s new album I Serve a Savior is available from your favorite music retailer today.
We’ll be right back after this brief message about an exciting new product from Jesus Calling.
Hi, this is Mark Lowry. And I want to tell you about a great offer from Jesus Calling and Christian Book Distributors. When you buy the brand new Jesus Calling Christmas Devotional, you’ll get a beautiful tote bag, a package of Christmas cards, a mug and a Handel’s Messiah music CD, all for only $19.95, while supplies last. Go to ChristianBook.com. And while you’re there, be sure to check out my book-CD combo, Mary, Did You Know?
Narrator: We got a chance to catch up with our next guest live in Bristol, Tennessee, during the NASCAR Cup Series. Michael McDowell has been racing since he was three years old, and always dreamed of becoming a NASCAR driver. He achieved this dream, but not without challenges along the way. He tells us about the ups and downs throughout his career, and how, through it all, he’s learned to surrender control and rely on God for true success.
Michael McDowell: I’m Michael McDowell. I’m a driver and the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup series. I’ve been racing in NASCAR for over 11 years, and this is what I do. I get paid to go around in circles.
Racing from an Early Age
I grew up in Phoenix, Arizona. I was born and raised in Phoenix with a great family, one older brother. And I just grew up very modestly. My dad was a newspaper delivery man and had a newspaper route, and we just we grew up very humbly but had a lot of great experiences. We were very family driven, and racing was a big part of that.
I started racing at an early age, and that was kind of the glue that kept us all together and gave us something to do every weekend and look forward to. It was a big part of my upbringing and my brother’s as well.
“I started racing at an early age, and that was kind of the glue that kept us all together and gave us something to do every weekend and look forward to.” – Michael McDowell
I started racing BMX bikes at 3 years old. That grew into racing more cycles and dirt bikes. And then from there, I started racing go karts, and that was really the transition where I go, Okay, this is what I want to do. It wasn’t a hobby anymore. It was a profession, and that was only at 11 years old. So it was pretty crazy.
Struggling to Accept His Gift of Grace
I grew up in a great home, but not in a Christian home.
We weren’t really engaged in church, but my parents were great and morally sound. It was a great upbringing, but God really wasn’t a part of it. Really, racing was my god. It’s what I focused on. It’s what drove me to do everything that I did. If I got good grades in school, it’s because I had to because I was working towards a goal of being a race car driver.
“My parents were great and morally sound. It was a great upbringing, but God really wasn’t a part of it.” – Michael McDowell
And through that process, I met a couple individuals that lived their lives differently. Their lives look different, their families looked different. What separated them from other people was just that love for Jesus, and that was very attractive to me. I wanted to know why they were who they were and what made them tick.
God really started pursuing me and in my young adult age of 17, 18 years old. Time and time again, I’d meet somebody else that was a Christian, and they would be influential in my life. And then somebody else and somebody else. I got to a point where I really just felt like the Lord was pursuing me, and I wanted to know what that looked like and what it looked like to be on a faith journey.
“I really just felt like the Lord was pursuing me, and I wanted to know what that looked like and what it looked like to be on a faith journey.” – Michael McDowell
So after becoming a Christian, it’s really interesting because you hear people that these miraculous stories, right? They get saved and everything changes in their life, and that really wasn’t the case for me. I had a lot of questions.
To back up a little bit, my wife’s aunt and uncle invited us to church, and this was right after I felt like God was pursuing me. The pastor was talking about that you couldn’t earn God’s grace, that it was a free gift. You couldn’t purchase it, you couldn’t work for it—it was just a gift. And in my world of racing, you worked for everything. If you wanted to go faster, you purchased better parts and better pieces and better motors and better people. So it was hard for me to wrap my head around it, but I knew that I wanted that debt-free gift of salvation and what it would do for me waslove
. He said I could have a fresh start, a clean slate. I could start over today. And I didn’t know what that looked like. I just knew I wanted and wanted it.
So that really began my faith journey. I started reading the Bible and asking lots of questions and really seeking to know more about who God is and what He says and what He expects from me and what does it look like. So that was a process over the years. I feel like, for me, I let God into certain areas of my life. But racing is one area where I said, “Hey, I’ve got this.”
“I let God into certain areas of my life. But racing is one area where I said, ‘Hey, I’ve got this.’” – Michael McDowell
“I’ll Take Care of the Rest”
I’ve had a great career leading up to NASCAR. I’ve won lots of races and championships. I was kind of that cocky, arrogant guy that, Yeah, I can do it. I’ve always had success. Why would that stop now?
And then I got to NASCAR. Very humbling. Everybody at this level this is the highest level in motorsports. Everybody’s won races and championships, so you’re just one of those guys instead of being an all-star stand out. So it’s a very humbling sport.
It hasn’t looked how I’ve planned it. I planned to come in and win races and championships. And instead I’ve been just on the bottom scraping, crawling, and just fighting hard.
Shortly after signing a multi-year, multi-million-dollar deal, six months into it I was jobless. And it’s hard to really wrap your heads around that. But the sport of racing is like any other professional sport. It can be challenging, and teams make decisions and you get cut loose. I was feeling really secure and feeling really good. I had a three year deal, kind of made it to the level I wanted to make it. And then I was jobless with my wife pregnant with our first child and going, Okay, God. You’ve got a funny of humor. I’m really looking forward to what you’re going to do next.
In the next few years, I was able to just scrape together rides here and there—and nothing full-time, only part-time. Just trying to stay in the sport and provide for my family.
And it was at the end of 2010 where I really felt like God was closing the door on racing, and I was finally at a point where I felt like I was ready to let go and move on.
“I really felt like God was closing the door on racing, and I was finally at a point where I felt like I was ready to let go and move on.” – Michael McDowell
I really was passionate about orphan care—orphan care ministry, in particular. My wife and I started the process of adopting, but we really felt like God was calling us to more than that. And so we went to Monterrey, Mexico, and spent a couple of weeks at a few orphanages there with Back2Back Ministries. I didn’t bring my phone and computer. I shut everything off and I was just like what, What do you want me to do, God?
And it was a very first time I really heard God clearly. I want to be careful how I say that—it wasn’t an audible voice. I had this thought that was so loud. And it was over and over, You keep doing what you’re doing. I’ll take care of the rest. You keep doing what you’re doing and I’ll take care of the rest.
And so I didn’t know what that looked like. But the God of the universe that created everything out of nothing said He’s going to take care of it, so I can be confident that He’s going to take care of it.
“The God of the universe that created everything out of nothing said He’s going to take care of it, so I can be confident that He’s going to take care of it.” – Michael McDowell
I got home, and a few days after that trip, I got fired from my racing job. I just said, Okay, God, this is just His next step. He’s taking care of it.
It’s very easy to rely on yourself, even in those moments. And I started thinking about like, Maybe I’m not good enough. Maybe I don’t have the ability to do it. The enemy wants to whispered doubts into you. And I was just reminded right then and there the same voice say, “You keep doing what you’re doing, and I’ll take care of the rest.”
That very night, I got a call from Joe Gibbs to come drive their race car. And so it’s times where you feel like God’s closing the door, and He is—He is preparing you and opening up another one.
“It’s times where you feel like God’s closing the door, and He is—He is preparing you and opening up another one.” – Michael McDowell
But without that, I think my faith journey would look very different. I’ve been fully reliant and dependent on God to provide those opportunities instead of feeling like I got it and I’m going to be able to and I’m going to be doing this and I, I, I. And instead, it’s really, What you want me to do, and how do you want me to do it?
It was not until I was at a point of full surrender, where I had nothing and I just said, Okay, God. Everything I have, ability, talent, whatever, it is it’s all yours what do you want me to do with it. And that really I think was the turning point of God being able to mold and shape me into who He wants me to be, and that’s a long process that’s ongoing.
Using His Gifts to Help Others
So in 2008 I was a rookie in the Cup series. I’ve made it, I’ve arrived, I’m at the highest level in the racing—and I had a terrifying, horrific crash. One of the worst crashes in NASCAR history. Nobody thought I’d walk away, and it was nothing short of miraculous to get out of the car and to race the next day.
But it was a turning point in my career and my walk that it wasn’t about me. And all of a sudden, I went from this rookie nobody knew to having this huge wreck. I went on The Today Show and the Ellen show, and every show that you can imagine. They were showing my wreck and interviewing me, and I was really challenged with, Is this going to be about me or this going to be about God? And what am I going to be about. And am I trying to be famous or am I trying to make God famous? And so. Do I want to be known or do I want to make Him known?
And so that was a turning point for me, to realize that this career and this platform that I have isn’t about me and it’s not about my career. It’s about sharing the gospel and being able to do that with the tools and abilities and platform that He’s given me.
“That was a turning point for me, to realize that this career and this platform that I have isn’t about me and it’s not about my career. It’s about sharing the gospel and being able to do that with the tools and abilities and platform that He’s given me.” – Michael McDowell
Our sport is very fan interactive, right? So it doesn’t take much of walking through the garage and seeing that fans have access to drivers, and crews, and teams, and now with social media and everything that’s available, our platforms are greater now than they’ve ever been. We have a bigger microphone than we ever have had. And so for me, it’s just being a good steward of that, of knowing that just because I have a big microphone doesn’t necessarily mean that I need to have a big mouth. And the things that I say are important, and so I just try to be smart with it and try to just be prayerful about it. Especially as an athlete and somebody that’s high profile and in the sense of the public’s eye, I just try to make those moments count.
But the interactions that I have with fans are great. I mean everybody knows who I am, and what I stand for, and I’ve never been shy about it. And so sometimes that’s good, and people really respect it, and like it, and appreciate it, and inspires them. Sometimes you catch the wrath of it too. But for me, I just feel like it’s an amazing opportunity to have to share the good news.
Find Quiet Time with God Whenever You Can
Narrator: Michael has a big heart for helping other people, and he tries to maintain a strong relationship with God so that he can pass on God’s love to others. Michael admits that keeping a strong connection to God in such a fast-paced world isn’t always easy.
Michael McDowell: I believe that what we allow in is what comes out. So if we’re in the Word, and if we’re listening to podcasts, or if we’re listening to, for me, KLOVE or Christian radio, it really affects every aspect of what we do during the day. For me, the way that the stay plugged in is to be plugged in and to be plugged into the right sources: being in God’s word daily and being in prayer daily. Now that’s inconsistent and it’s messy and it doesn’t always look good. It might be 30 seconds one day and it might be three hours the next. But just those moments.
“I believe that what we allow in is what comes out.” – Michael McDowell
And for me I found with kids in particular it’s really difficult. You have carpooling and drop off and pick up, and you’ve got lunches and messes and fights and all these things. And so I’ve tried to create these transition periods whether it’s when I’m driving before I get home or before I go into a meeting or before I go to the shop of just being intentional of of breaking up those days. I’m like, Okay, God, I’m going here. What you want me to do? How do you want me to do it? Who needs an encouragement today? And then just being in those short moments, being able to just reorient your heart and your mind around what God has for you, in this world that’s busy with lots of distractions.
And in racing it’s loud, and you guys can hear it in the background now. There’s people everywhere. There’s media, and there’s things happening. Even in a quiet place, it’s not quiet. And so just finding those opportunities to just get in to be still and listen to the Lord. Like I said, it’s messy. I don’t have it right. But I’ve learned to have that gut check. I know when I’m veering off.
And that’s what’s so awesome about God is that He doesn’t go, Man, you screwed up. You missed it. It’s been four days since you had a quiet time. You can stop in the instant, hit Reset. I mean, it’s no different than that first message that I heard: having a fresh start and a clean slate. You can do that daily. You can do that hourly. You can do that by the minute. And so when I feel myself getting agitated and short and I just see my flesh roaring its head up, I know, Okay, it’s time to stop time hit Reset.
God Fights Our Battles for Us
A friend of mine, Trevor Bayne, we have Bible study together here at the racetrack. He’s probably my closest friend and just a Godly man. And him and his wife got [Jesus Calling] and he said, “You’ve got check it out.” And so I got one and download the app, and the first month it was so impactful. It literally felt like God was talking to me daily. I even started to question, like, Okay, how did this book get written. How is it inspired? Because it is like every single day the Lord had a word for me through this devotional.
And even today when I picked it up, I just looked back at yesterday, and yesterday it was such a struggle. We had such high hopes and expectations, and we had a trial after trial after trial. This morning, to open up Jesus Calling and read the devotional of facing adversity and what that looks like and how we’re going to respond to it was like . . . even today, it still hits home. And so in God’s Word, we know that’s what it does, that it’s alive and active. And we just have to be in it.
Today’s August 18th, and we’re at Bristol Motor Speedway. And after having a real struggle yesterday. I opened up Jesus Calling and read this morning that on August 18th:
Expect to encounter adversity in your life, remembering that you live in a deeply fallen world. Stop trying to find a way to circumvent difficulties. The main problem with an easy life is that it masks your need for Me. When you became a Christian, I infused My very life into you empowering you to live on a supernatural plane by depending on me. Anticipate coming face to face with impossibilities situations totally beyond your ability to handle this awareness of your inadequacy. It’s not something you should try to be. It is precisely where I want you the best place to encounter me and my glory and power. When problems marching towards you cry out to me. Allow me to fight for you. Watch me work on your behalf and there rests in the shadow of my almighty presence.
And so that hit home for me. That with these trials that we face, God knew they were coming. He doesn’t wake up and go, “Man. I didn’t see that coming.” We feel like that but he saw it coming and he fights those battles for us.
God Knocks Down Walls for Us
Narrator: Every Saturday morning, Michael participates in a NASCAR Bible Study for other drivers. He talks about the group’s humble beginnings and the joy of watching the group flourish under God’s hand.
Michael: We started in 2009, and it was things where we’re like, Oh man, only one or two of us are going to show up. And the first few weeks, we just said, “Okay, let’s get together. Let’s pick a spot, pick a time. We’ll study God’s word pray together and we’ll do this weekly.”
In the first couple of weeks, there is there is just three of us. But we knew that God called us to do it, and so we stayed faithful. A few months later, we went from three to four. God was just moving, and people were getting saved. There were 5, and 10 and 15, and it just started growing and growing. And since then, people have moved on to different careers and different areas and things, but it’s the one thing that I come to every week in this racing community where it’s my reset that we talked about. Just getting God’s Word and having accountability and doing life together, just being real and being real with people in.
This sport is very challenging to have real relationships because everybody thinks you’re after their job and you’re after their sponsorship. And this is not a team sport. There are teams, but it’s the individual driver that’s driving the car on Sunday. And as you advance in your career, you’re moving up. And when you move up, you take someone’s job. And so everybody has their guard up and everybody’s defensive.
So to see God just taking those walls down over years, it’s been awesome. There’s just so much that has come from this study, from people getting saved. From their families being restored to their wives going, “Okay, what happened to my husband? What did you do? He’s changed so much.” Now they started a women’s Bible study and they meet at homes during the week.
We are not created to be loners and to do it by ourselves. God created us with that need for community and that need for Him. There’s nothing like being surrounded by a group of believers and watching people grow and flourish and change. It’s really cool.
“We are not created to be loners and to do it by ourselves. God created us with that need for community and that need for Him.” – Michael McDowell
God has just revived this community, and I’m thankful that I got to be a part of it.
God Has Us Where He Wants
I always thought that I would be in full-time ministry and doing something radical and living in third-world countries as a missionary. But God has me right here. This is my mission field. Even in the times that I’ve tried to leave, God continues to open the door, but it doesn’t come without trials. And it’s part of our walk. It doesn’t take very many stories in the Bible to see that God’s people struggled, and it was it was hard. You just had to have faith, and you have to keep being obedient.
“I always thought that I would be in full-time ministry and doing something radical and living in third-world countries as a missionary. But God has me right here. This is my mission field.” – Michael McDowell
God would provide [for people in the Bible], but it didn’t mean it was easy. There’s a lot of times in this sport where I wish it was different and I wish it looked different. But I just know that God is faithful, and He has me where He has me. And I’m going to be faithful and obedient in the process.
Narrator: You can catch Michael driving in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series every Sunday. Check your local listings.
Narrator: Next time on the Jesus Calling Podcast, we talk with Joni Eareckson Tada. Joni is an evangelical author, radio host, and founder of Joni and Friends, an organization accelerating Christian ministry in the disability community.
Joni Eareckson Tada: God takes no pleasure in diseases and disability, strokes, a cancer diagnosis. No. But God will permit what He hates to accomplish something that He loves. And what could He possibly love about quadriplegia and chronic pain? How about Christ in me the hope of glory?