(Photo art courtesy of Mason Wing and Tony Smith)
“Scared to Life: Tales of a Good God Who Reveals His Heart When Ours is Racing” – Article Excerpt
Excerpted from “Scared to Life: Tales of a Good God Who Reveals His Heart When Ours is Racing” by Ryan George (Copyright 2021). Used with permission from Punchline Publishers. punchlineagency.com/literary
Yes, I am an adrenaline junkie. I’ve been to all seven continents and both polar circles to bungee jump, paraglide, ice climb and surf in the arctic.
I used to think I had to redeem my adventures, especially my adrenaline rushes. I felt ashamed to go bungee jumping in South Africa while my friends spent their vacation days on dusty streets, working with rescued victims of human trafficking. I felt embarrassed that I went to Nepal—not to mentor students my church supported but to play in the skies above the Himalayan Mountains. I wrestled with whether or not the spiritual moments I had experienced in the Arctic Circle or on helicopter expeditions or during aerobatic flights were worth what I had spent to enjoy them.
While Jesus walked on water during a storm, his biographers didn’t mention whether or not he liked to surf. There’s no account of Jesus kayaking the Jordan River after a good rain or jumping off a mountain under a nylon wing. A whisper in me said he wouldn’t have spent his evenings in an ultralight, his Saturdays in a race car, or his sabbaticals on Canadian glacier treks.
I know where that line of thinking started in me.
As a high school student, I wanted to work in automotive design, marketing, or journalism. I lived on a beach highway where 250,000 cars passed my house on summer weekends, and I studied the vehicles that passed our front yard. I read and re-read my grandpa’s hand- me-down Popular Mechanics. I went to the library to devour Car & Driver, Motor Trend, and Road & Track. I designed scores of vehicle concepts, one of which became standard issue on Ford F-150 pickups while I was in college.
My pastor during those years told me that my passion was materialistic—specifically, that there would be no cars in heaven. His exact words are probably true. I mean, those gold streets deserve better than tire marks. But his sentiment left its mark on my soul. What I heard was, “Ryan, what interests you doesn’t interest God.”
Fast forward about a decade through four out-of-state moves to 2006. I joined the parking lot greeter team at my new church, where I quickly memorized the names, stories, and parking preferences of the folks that went with specific vehicles. I was part of a team that made our megachurch seem smaller and more intimate—at least more personable. I could help drivers feel seen when I asked them about their cars, their license plates, or their window stickers. Within a few years, I led one of the parking lot teams. That allowed me to tend a spiritual incubator, where almost-believers and new followers of Christ fell in love with Jesus.
Shortly after the tragedy of George Floyd’s murder in 2020, two of my pastors interviewed one of the Black senior saints in our church on stage and let him ask them hard questions in return. At one point in the public conversation, Woody asked Melvin what had helped him and his wife feel welcomed and comfortable in our predominantly white church. Dr. Pride referenced an early encounter with Woody’s mom and then added, “The parking team here.” I was sitting on the front row, and Woody looked at me like no pastor ever has. I can’t recall if I got a lump in my throat and moist eyes at that moment—or just right now while remembering it.
What I did know after that moment was that what interested me also interested God.
See, my passion for everything about cars wasn’t redeemed. It didn’t have to be. It was hard-wired into a skinny kid who lived on the southern side of an eastbound highway. Jesus wanted me to hang out with people around cars—ministering to them directly or preparing their hearts for a holy encounter inside the church building. And so, almost every Sunday morning of my 30s and 40s has been spent in parking lots. I’m still as enamored as ever by the lines and designs of cars and trucks and SUVs. But now I know they weren’t meant to be my profession—just the accoutrement of my calling.
I share in my book, Scared to Life: Tales of a Good God Who Reveals His Heart When Ours is Racing, that I had just gone through a season where I had learned (the hard way) about the prudence of asking Jesus for his permission instead of his blessing. As I wrestled with the dream of going to Antarctica, I went for a prayer walk in our subdivision. “God, I want to go, but I don’t want to spend this money if you don’t want me to.” I told Jesus that I looked forward to finding him in Antarctica, to seeing his glory there—but only if he wanted me to go. I vividly remember what the sky looked like as I looked up into it and told Jesus about my dream. I chuckle now because he knew that dream better than I did or ever will. I had stopped walking and was standing at a bend in a road named Crystal Lane when the answer came back crystal-clear. This sounds weird, but I didn’t just sense “yes” or “go.” I heard it in the way a grandfather smiles, almost laughing, when he says you can drive his boat, his truck, or his tractor. As I sped down the hill to our house to book the tickets, it was as if he called from where I’d been standing,
“I’ll see you there!”
And he did. Some of the conversations on that Antarctica trip left a cumulative mark on my soul.
What I’ve come to realize about physical adventures and even adrenaline rushes is that I don’t have to bring Jesus into any of them. He’s already there. He has probably been waiting for me at each one. I picture him patting his knees and standing when I arrive. “Oh, good! You made it. Let’s get going.”
Jesus designed my adrenal system. He scheduled my birth for when bungee jumping and paragliding would be commercial ventures and when I could use Google to find vendors to do them. The Holy Spirit knew the men who would enter my life and what a shared adventure would do for our hearts, our relationships, and our respective ministries. The Father knew the prayers I’d offer beforehand and the worship I’d exclaim afterward. He knew I would see him, recognize his movement, and want to share what I saw.
God has shown me that the greatest adventures start with Advent— his arrival, his participation, and his infusions. Jesus, for sure, redeems many things: pain and trauma, loss and even poor choices. He doesn’t waste a teachable moment, a horrible tragedy, or an unfinished story. He flexes his sovereignty and flashes his compassion in those redemptive narratives. But what I’ve found—and what you’re about to read in the following pages—is that he can leverage our passions too. He can align circumstances to how he programmed us at the factory. He can reveal himself at any time, in any place, to anyone.
Find out more about Ryan George by visiting explorience.org