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Jesus Cares About Your Pain: Pastor Johnny Baker and Singer Jason Crabb

Jesus Cares About Your Pain: Pastor Johnny Baker and Singer Jason Crabb

Today we visit with two men who have experienced the healing power of sharing with others the pain of their personal struggles. Pastor Johnny Baker is the Pastor of Celebrate Recovery at Saddleback Church. As an adult child of an alcoholic who experienced addiction to alcohol, Johnny is passionate about breaking the cycle of dysfunction and pain by sharing his story and helping others find freedom through Christ. Jason Crabb is a GRAMMY and Dove Award winning singer. Jason and his wife Shellye learned the healing power of sharing their struggles with others after they experienced two devastating miscarriages. Jason connects others to God through his music, helping them to see how God has chosen them and that they are loved.  

Jesus Cares About Your Pain: Pastor Johnny Baker and Singer Jason Crabb – Jesus Calling Episode #101

Narrator: Welcome to the Jesus Calling Podcast. Today, we visit with two guests who have experienced the healing power of sharing with others the pain of their personal struggles: Pastor Johnny Baker and Christian singer Jason Crabb. First up, Pastor Johnny Baker has been on staff at Celebrate Recovery since 2004 and has been the Pastor of Celebrate Recovery at Saddleback Church since 2012.  As an adult child of an alcoholic who also dealt with alcoholism in his own life, Johnny is passionate about breaking the cycle of dysfunction for families and helping them find The Road to Freedom which is also the title of his new book.  Here’s Pastor Baker:

Finding Identity in Jesus

Pastor Johnny Baker, Celebrate Recovery at Saddleback Church

Johnny Baker: I’m Johnny Baker. I’m the pastor of Celebrate Recovery here at Saddleback Church. And I’m also the author of a brand new book called The Road to Freedom.

And that’s what I do and something about me.

But normally, I introduce myself to people at Celebrate Recovery this way: “Hi, my name is Johnny. I’m a grateful believer in Jesus, and I struggle with alcoholism and codependency.” It’s just the way that we talk to each other in Celebrate Recovery, to kind of say, “Here’s who I am and why I’m here.”

An important thing to point out, before we get too much further, is to tell you this: my identity is found in Jesus Christ, not in my hurt, my hang up, or my habit. And that’s just a big component of self-recovery.

“My identity is found in Jesus Christ, not in my hurt, my hang up, or my habit.” – Johnny Baker

Alcohol Shatters a Young Family

Although I was born in Wisconsin, and when we moved around a lot when I was a kid, I spent most of my life here in Lake Forest. I grew up going to a local church, a small local church. I went there as a preschool student, and when I first started attending preschool, my family didn’t really go to church often. But for some reason, they put me in a Christian preschool, and it was the best thing that could have happened for me. It was there that I met Jesus and I got to know all about Him and hear stories about Him.

My preschool teacher Ellie said, “Hey, you love hearing stories about Jesus. If you want to hear more, you should come back on the weekend and bring your family with you.”

And so I thought that was great idea. So I invited my parents to come to church with us, come to church with me, and we started going to church.

It was during that time that my parents separated. See, my dad is now a recovering alcoholic, but at the time he was a practicing alcoholic. And it caused a lot of pain in our family. He left, and they were separated for about 13 months. And in that time, my mom and I and my sister— the three of us—began attending church here at Saddleback.

It was here that things really changed for us in so many ways. We chose this church because it was huge. At the time, we were meeting in a high school gym. We kind of wanted to hide a little bit. We were going through pain, and we weren’t really sure what to do with it.

How Celebrate Recovery Was Born

At the same time we were attending church here, my dad was attending AA meetings up in L.A. After reconnecting and doing some really important things in recovery and with our family, he came back. And one of the things that showed us that he was really different was as he asked if he could come to church with us. So he attended church with us here at Saddleback and heard Pastor Rick Warren speak and, in that moment, had experienced a lot of us have when we hear Pastor Rick speak because he felt like he was talking directly to him. He had that experience and everything’s, again, changed for him.

Celebrate Reovery's pastor Johnny Baker and his parents

And so he was inspired. He looked around, and he thought there’s got to be other people in a church this size who are struggling with issues like he was. And so he did the only natural thing: he sat down and wrote Pastor Rick a short, concise, 13-page, single-spaced letter—it’s kind of famous now in Celebrate Recovery circles—and sent it into him, completely confident that Pastor Rick would find the right man to lead this ministry.

And a couple weeks later, my dad found himself in Pastor Rick’s office. And Rick said, “Great, John, you do it.” And in that moment Celebrate Recovery was really born.

One of the hardest parts for me to explain with my story is how my dad could have gone through what he did—a separation and losing his family and starting a recovery ministry—and yet I still decided to experiment with, and act out with, and eventually become addicted to alcohol.

Something that is really important that I want to point out about Celebrate Recovery is that it’s not just for people with drug addiction or alcohol abuse issues. It certainly is for us, but we make up only about a third of the people who attend Celebrate Recovery. But thank God it is for us as well.

“Why did I decide to start drinking?”

Celebrate Recovery Pastor Johnny Baker from Saddleback Church teaches God cares about our addiction

Why would I do that? Why would I look at my dad’s life and decide to even ever start drinking? And now, as a parent of three kids, I’m hoping that they don’t make that mistake as well. I think there must have been a part of me who felt like he just didn’t know how to do it, he couldn’t control it, or he didn’t know what he was doing, or that I would do it better, or that I learned from his mistakes. As long as I’ve been in recovery—it’s been a long time now—but even still I’m not sure why.

See, I even grew up going to Celebrate Recovery. As the first team leader of the first teens group, I would go to Celebrate Recovery. And so theoretically, I should have known better. I shouldn’t have done that stuff.

Some of my biggest moments of shame that I still feel sometimes, that I have to remind myself I’ve been forgiven for, is that pain that I must have caused my dad and my mom as they watched me begin my struggle with alcoholism.

“That pain that I must have caused my dad and my mom as they watched me begin my struggle with alcoholism.” – Johnny Baker

Breaking the Cycle of Dysfunction

And I’ll never forget: in December of 1999, I had gotten pulled over and eventually arrested for a DUI, for driving under the influence. That night I went to Orange County Jail, and it was about 3:30 in the morning, and I’ll never forget: I got to make one phone call, and I called my dad.

And in that moment I was really afraid because I wasn’t just calling my father, but I was also calling the pastor and founder of Celebrate Recovery. But he was so gracious to me. He was so kind to me. He did say to me, “You know, Johnny, I think you’ve got some issues. You need to take a look at why you’re doing the things you’re doing. But it’s up to you to do it.”

“I wish I could say that, in that moment, I stopped drinking and I never drank again. But the truth is it took me four more years.” – Johnny Baker

My wife and I got married later on, in the year 2000, just a few months after that arrest. And man, I thought she was going to leave. I was convinced she was going to leave. Thank God she didn’t. We got married in May, and it was about four years after that that we got pregnant with our first daughter Maggie.

And although I never drank and drove again, I certainly kept drinking. I just wouldn’t get behind the wheel of a car. I wasn’t ready to stop drinking—just driving after I had.

I remember celebrating that we’d gotten pregnant with our first daughter Maggie and thinking, Man, if I were to start drinking and then Jenny went into labor, I couldn’t drive her to the hospital.

At that time, I’d been drinking in secret and my whole facade would have been up, so I knew at that moment I needed to change. Thankfully, I had worked through the steps and principles of Celebrate Recovery as a teenager with a mentor of mine, and I had done a lot of work as a codependent, or somebody who’s got another person in their life who has issues that they’re working with. I had a basis to go back to.

Pastor Johnny Baker (Celebrate Recovery - God cares about addiction) and family

So I went right back to Celebrate Recovery and began working the program for myself, and I’m so thankful I did. My life changed again when I did that.

I came to Celebrate Recovery when my life was in shambles and I needed a way to stop drinking. Because I didn’t want to repeat that cycle of alcoholism, that cycle of dysfunction that had been a part of my family. I came to Celebrate Recovery and dug into the principles and dug into step study and worked through my own recovery process just because I needed it.

“I came to Celebrate Recovery when my life was in shambles and I needed a way to stop drinking.” – Johnny Baker

I would go to my group for men who struggle with chemical dependency. I did that for a while, and then I was ready to go into a “step study.” And a step study is where we go through the workbooks that Pastor John Baker wrote—my dad wrote—they’re four workbooks and we now call them The Journey Begins. Now we now have four more that he and I wrote together called The Journey Continues. And those eight workbooks help us go through the Celebrate Recovery principles to help us grow closer to God.

Because that’s the secret of Celebrate Recovery: it’s really a sanctification process. It’s really a process of helping me go from one place to another, one place where I don’t look much like Jesus, and then go through a transition period where, as I go through it, I want to become more and more like Jesus. I want to Him to strip away all of my hurts, my hangups, and habits. It’s not just about my alcoholism—it’s about every part of my life.

“[Celebrate Recovery] is not just about my alcoholism—it’s about every part of my life.” – Johnny Baker

So I get to be the pastor of what we call the “Model Ministry of Celebrate Recovery.” There are 30,000 Celebrate Recovery Ministries all over the world that do exactly what we do here at Saddleback. I just get to be here doing it. I love that opportunity, and I love that I get to serve in that way. And so it’s overseeing the ministry, it’s helping people one-on-one as they come in. I get to do a lot of counseling and a lot of care of people as they’re struggling.

And one thing I love is that I get to see people on days where their days are really bad. In many cases I get to watch men who are like me. They come in, they’ve got their arms folded, and they don’t want to be there. And then as they come for a while, you see their arms raised in worship. And you see them reaching out to other people and serving other people. And you see their whole lives change.

You see women come who are afraid, or they’re scared, or they’re a little bit confused about why they are there, or they know why they’re there. But then they don’t want to be, or maybe they want to be but they’re in so much pain. Men and women can be in so much pain that they’re not exactly sure what’s next.

“Men and women can be in so much pain that they’re not exactly sure what’s next.” – Johnny Baker

And I get to watch God work in their lives and slowly change them over time. It’s an incredible experience, and it’s one that I’ll never get tired of.

Stepping on the Road to Freedom

The Road to Freedom book by Celebrate Recovery's pastor, Johnny Baker

I wrote The Road to Freedom because it’s one of those things that I just had to get out. It’s ten life lessons that I learned over my course of being involved in Celebrate Recovery. There are ten lessons that apply to all areas of our life.

For example: admitting you have a problem doesn’t make you weak. So many of us are afraid to admit our problems. Well, the first principle recovery realize I’m not God. I admit that I’m powerless to change, that my life has become unmanageable. And basically that’s the beginning of recovery. We don’t change if we don’t admit we have a problem. But so many of us are afraid to admit we have a problem. And so just saying, “Hey, I’ve got a problem,” it doesn’t make you weak, it actually makes you strong. And the converse of that is covering up a problem always makes things worse. It might feel like you’re doing something about it, but it’s really just delaying the inevitable.

“Admitting you have a problem doesn’t make you weak.” – Johnny Baker

One of the chapters is that “Jesus Cares Deeply About Your Pain.” And I think that’s something we can miss if we’re not careful, that Jesus really cares about our pain. It’s not just He understands, but He cares about us.

“Jesus really cares about our pain. It’s not just He understands, but He cares about us.” – Johnny Baker

So much of The Road to Freedom is my personal story and how God has worked in recovery or through recovery in my life. And so I hope that they’ll be encouraged that’s not all of us have it all together. I certainly don’t. And I make no bones about it in the book that I’m a mess, I’m trying. And I’m getting better but by no means perfect. I saw lots of areas of my life that I hope Jesus helps me in as we peel that onion and get deeper and deeper and deeper to the core of my life.

And so my hope is that it’s going to help people, it’s going to help people apply truth to their recovery. And it’s going to help people find the truth that they need to be in recovery. And it’s going to help people who maybe are discouraged find some encouragement.

We have a devotional for Celebrate Recovery, and the whole idea is that we may not have time to read a whole book every day, but there are times where I can read a page or two.

There’s Hope and There’s Help for You

And Jesus Calling has been really important for me because it helps me see how Jesus loves me. I’m so thrilled with that.

Jesus Calling has been really important for me because it helps me see how Jesus loves me.” – Johnny Baker

What I really love is that so many of the daily entries have to do with anxiety or fear. And those are two things I certainly struggle with.

The Bible says we’ve all been hurt, or we’ve all sinned and fall short of the glory of God, which means we’ve all been hurt and we’ve all hurt other people. And so the first thing I’d say is if you’re hurting, there’s there is a hope and a help for you.

If you’ve got a hang up where you’re angry or you’re judgy or you’re codependent, which means relationships with people can be out of whack, there’s hope and there’s help for you.

And if you’re struggling with an addiction, a habit, and you feel lost and trapped, there’s hope and there’s help for you. And I know that because God has helped me with all of those things in my life.

Admit Your Problem and Ask for Help

Let me just say: if you’re struggling with an addiction issue right now, if you’re really hurting right now, take the first step. The first step is admitting you have a problem. It starts with maybe even looking yourself literally in the mirror and saying, “I have a problem.”

And then pray about it. Tell God, “God, I know this is an issue for me. I have a problem.” But here’s here’s a really important part of it: tell somebody else. It gets really real when you tell someone else.

Take the first step admit you have a problem. Tell yourself, admit you have a problem to God. Tell Him and ask Him for help. And then tell somebody else and say to them, “Help me figure out what to do next.”

What I would encourage you to do is to go to and find a group there. There’s a group finder—you can click right on it—and you can search by your zip code or or there’s a number of ways you can search. And like I said, there are churches all over the world that do Celebrate Recovery, and I would encourage you to check that out.

But this is the really important thing: you’ve got to go. You’ve got to go to the recovery group that you check out. When you find one online, go to it. Check it out. Show up, and give it a few weeks. I guarantee you the first time you go in, you’re going to feel like, Oh, this is wrong. This is weird. Maybe I don’t belong here.

Come back. Come back a few times before you make the decision.

“Don’t quit before your miracle happens.” – Johnny Baker

Narrator: If you or someone you know needs help with an addiction or substance abuse problem, please visit to find a Celebrate Recovery group near you. You can also find Pastor Johnny Baker’s new book The Road to Freedom at Amazon and everywhere books are sold.

Narrator: Stay with us for the second part of our show after a brief message about a free offer from Jesus Calling.

Jesus Calling Daily Email image with coffee cup

Want a daily reminder that we can have hope, peace and joy each day in Jesus? Now it’s as easy as opening an email. The Jesus Calling Daily Email brings you a thought from the Jesus Calling family of devotionals every day. Brighten up your inbox with this little reminder and take a minute to connect with God during your day. To sign up to get your free, daily thought from Jesus Calling, please visit Jesus

From Small-Town Kentucky to the GRAMMY Stage

Narrator: Our next guest is Jason Crabb, a GRAMMY and Dove Award-winning artist who has been named Gospel Music Association’s Artist and Male Vocalist of the Year. Early in their marriage, Jason and his wife Shellye learned the healing power of sharing their struggles with others after they experienced two devastating miscarriages. Jason has a passion for connecting others to God through his music, to help them see how God has chosen them and they are loved. His latest record, Unexpected, was released earlier this year.

Christian musician, Jason Crabb as featured on the Jesus Calling podcast

Jason Crabb: I’m Jason Crabb. I’m 41 years old. I’m married going on 20 years and have two beautiful children, Ashley and Emma. They’re 15 and 12, enjoying life. I’ve been traveling on the road doing music now for 20, almost 25 years. I started when I was 15, 16 years old. I homeschooled half of high school to be on the road. And now here I am today.

I grew up in a little small town called Beaver Dam, Kentucky. It is in Ohio county, which is between Bowling Green and Owensboro, Kentucky. Huge basketball fans, of course, that’s . . . anybody from Kentucky had to be.

Raised in church, you know, always went to church, looked for an excuse to go to church. My father was a pastor for many years of my life.

The Power of a Praying Grandmother

My grandmother was probably the greatest prayer warrior I’ve ever ran into. I remember going with my summers like when I was 12, 13 years old, helping my grandfather out on the farm and spending my summer there. I’d wake up in the middle of the night, two, three o’clock in the morning, and my grandmother would have her Bible out. And because my room was right across from hers, you could hear those little thin pages turning. And you could hear her talking to God. As she was reading, she’d say, “Thank you, Lord, for this Word.” Talking to Him just like I’m talking to you right now. And it was a realness not just for church. You just hope and pray that God moves in those kinds of things, and and you see it happen. But when it becomes the fabric of a person’s life that two o’clock in the morning, there’s nobody watching, there’s nobody that’s paying attention to you know her or she’s getting self-gratification from others. She’s just talking with our Savior. And I got to witness that.

And when I went through a very, just a very tough, low moment on the road. I looked through my phone and I was just trying to—nobody around me was acting right. And I went through my phone and I was trying to find somebody to call and just to talk to. There’s no reason. And first person came to my mind was my grandmother. So I called her. She said “Jase.” That’s what she calls me. She called me. She said, “Jase, when you get to the end of your rope, tie a big knot in the end of it. Hang on with all your might. And then while you’re hanging on, know this: that He’s holding onto you. He’s got you.”

I really do miss her a lot. There’s been many times that I’d give anything in the world to call her, go sit with her talk with her. So all you grandmamas out there and all you mamas, know you have a big job. The impact that you’re making on your grandchildren’s lives and on your children’s lives is amazing.

Trusting God to Work All Things for Good

I remember growing up I’d love to say that everything was just, you know, kind of Little House On The Prairie kind of thing. But it wasn’t. You know, there were some tough moments and there were some tough things that happened in life.

My parents divorced. My dad remarried and so immediately I had some new sisters.

My dad made things right with the Lord, and felt that he needed to minister, and started a church in Philpot, Kentucky. Next thing you know, all of us kids are interested in singing. We’re interested in music, and so we buy a little old bus and head out on the road traveling totally by the grace of God. And that’s kind of how it all began.

Jason Crabb sings, reminding crowd that God cares for you and your pain

Around 16 years old when I went out on the road, traveling and singing. I didn’t know what I was doing. But you know, we knew who we were singing about because we really had to . . . we trusted in Him. Every day that we were on the road, it was just trust in Him because we didn’t know where the next dime was going to come from to put fuel on the bus. We just relied on God.

“Every day that we were on the road, it was just trust in Him because we didn’t know where the next dime was going to come from to put fuel on the bus. We just relied on God.” – Jason Crabb

I really love watching God work in people’s lives. There’s nothing in the world that I love more than standing on stage and watching God work in a person’s life that’s at the altar praying. I love that because you can tell a lot of times people that are hurting people that are going through trouble or rejoicing. There are some that come to the altar that just rejoice because of the great thing that they have found, a treasure that they have found in Jesus. And it’s a wonderful thing. You can see tears of joy and thankfulness.

I think it’s very important that we share a lot of the pieces of our lives. I think that’s what God has called us to, is to share moments of our lives where He’s pulled us and helped us and there’s victory.

“God has called us to share moments of our lives where He’s pulled us and helped us and there’s victory.” – Jason Crabb

The Healing Power of Sharing Our Pain

Me and my wife, we went through two miscarriages, right back to back. You know, the rest of the family were having children around us. It was very trying.

I remember our song “Through the Fire” just came out, and I’m singing that on stage each and every night, singing it to myself and my wife. You know,

“He never promised the cross would not get heavy, or the hill would not be hard to climb. He never offered victories without fighting, but He said help would always come in time.” – Jason Crabb, “Through the Fire” 

And so me and Shellye, we clung to the promises. We had people praying over us and tell us, you know, “It’s going to happen.” Then we tried to hang on with all that we could possibly hang onto that.

And right after that, at our third we—we found out that we were expecting after two miscarriages, our third. There was something in our heart that just felt right. Before we were nervous. And at this moment we give it to God, we quit worrying about it. And then it happened. And Ashley, she is here now, 15 years old. And she just got her permit.

And I’m just . . . I don’t know what I’d . . . I’m very very thankful for my children and thankful that God allowed this to happen. And thankful also that I get to share the tough days with others that are struggling. My wife gets to share that, to help other women that are going through those very same problems.

I think one of the biggest attacks of the enemy is he wants to make us feel alone in our situations. And the more that we talk about not only our blessings, which I think is great, but also the pain—talk about the pain, talk about what God has done, how He brings us through—it just helps and helps others. I think that’s what we’re all supposed to do, to help others.

“One of the biggest attacks of the enemy is he wants to make us feel alone in our situations.” – Jason Crabb

Expect the Unexpected from God

Jason Crabb Unexpected CD

I’ve got a new record that’s coming out, Unexpected. I think it’s kind of neat to expect the unexpected.

When you read in God’s Word, all the things that the Lord did for his people and is doing and has done is going to. On the third day Jesus rose from the grave. I mean how awesome is that? Then He’s coming back for us. And He said, “All these things that you’ve seen me do?” He said, “You’ll see greater things.” That’s what God’s Word says.

So why not expect the unexpected? Expect that the abnormal. It’s easy to wake up in the morning and drink a cup of coffee and just go through the regular day. But when you’re talking about the Creator of heaven and the universe, the One who told the seas, “You can only go this far,” and created every flying bird and every star and put it into its place, that loves us like He does? When you’re talking about a God like that, you can expect some great miracles, some great things.

One of the songs right now that I’m experiencing in life is called “Short Are the Years.” And it’s got the underlying message of, you know, “appreciate the things that you’re facing and appreciate the things that God has given you right now in life.” That’s the season of life that I’m living right now is because our kids are growing up so fast.

I used to hear people say, “The older you get, the faster time goes.” Now I used to laugh because I wasn’t you know I was young then and I’d be like, “I’m just waiting for time to catch up!” And now I understand it. Yesterday I was bringing my children home from the hospital because they was just born. And today they’re 12 and 15. They’re driving. And so that song really gets me. So for all the grandmothers and grandfathers and grandparents and mommies and daddies and those empty nested, get you some Kleenexes out. It’s one of those.

Handpicked by God for This Generation

Well the first time that I heard of Jesus Calling was from my brother-in-law and my sister, from Brian and Krystal. They were doing a Bible study, and they were doing a group, and they were going through and using Jesus Calling in their devotionals with each other. And they said, “You need to get this.”

Probably the thing that I love—another thing about Sarah’s writing is the message of hope is so strong. I think people today are looking, and she brings it in such a way of there’s hope for humanity. There’s hope for you. I long in God, you know. God saying, “I want to spend time with you. I long for this.” Sarah brings that out in such a wonderful way that it makes you feel like,

“No matter what, Jesus loves me and I’m going to make it, and He’s for me.” – Jason Crabb

I’d love to to share with you a little out of Jesus Calling right here. And this is great one.

I have loved you with an everlasting Love. Before time began, I knew you. For years you swam around in a sea of meaninglessness, searching for Love, hoping for hope. All that time I was pursuing you, aching to embrace you My compassionate arms.”


And I think that’s just a piece of it. But I think that’s fantastic, knowing that we are called people, we are chosen people God handpicked us. Out of everybody that’s ever existed, God handpicked us for this moment. Breathed life into our very beings for this time, for this generation. And that He loves us so much, that He cares for us. And so it kind of covers everything, just to let you know how much that He cares for you.

I want people to know that they are handpicked by God to be in this generation that we’re live in and how important they are.

It’s only by the grace of God that I can do what I do. Every good gift is given from Him. And I know who I am, and I know that I’m nothing without Him. And so to God be all the glory for anything and for any accolade: for change of clothes that I have, a different pair of shoes that I could put on my feet. He gave it. He’s the giver of all great things. And so I can’t take credit for it, and I can’t hold on to it. I just give it all back to Him.

Narrator: To find out more about Jason’s music and his latest album Unexpected, visit

Narrator: Next time on the Jesus Calling Podcast, we speak with Air Force Veteran Rodney D. Bullard, who is now Executive Director of the Chick-fil-A Foundation. He shares about powerful ways we can reach out to others to become everyday heroes and create a legacy of service.

Rodney Bullard: We don’t have to see heroes as this big, glamorous thing and heroes as those who have given the ultimate sacrifice. Those are heroes without question. But heroism is an everyday act. And there is an everyday opportunity to be someone else’s hero, and it can be speaking to somebody who thousands of people pass by and never speak to, but you speak to them. And you make their day. You were the hero in that moment for that day.

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