From the outside, she appears to be another bright-eyed, smiley, charismatic teen girl who was tossed into the Disney star-making machine.
Debby's dream role as Bailey on The Sweet Life on Deck gave her instant stardom as a new Disney Princess.
Even though Debby has dazzling hair and a flawless complexion, there is more to this girl than what meets the eye.
She is one of few, true Christians in Hollywood.
She has chosen to make some noise on the world stage in many ways. Choosing not to date until she turned eighteen, refusing to drink at parties and starting a Bible Study with other Christians in Hollywood, Debby has dared to be different.
Debby grew up in a Christian family
with a story similar to many of us. Debby's parents loved the Lord
and dragged her to church every Sunday.
Debby was forced to listen to the pastor drone on and memorize scripture verses and Bible stories.
Despite her parents best efforts to ignite a fiery faith in their daughter, Debby rebelled.
She refused to conform to the mold her parents desired she fit into. In no way was she going to be that Sunday-School-Goody-Two-Shoes-Church-Girl!
In fact, she wasn't even sure if she believed in the whole “God thing.”
All those stories learned in Sunday school seemed a little hard to swallow. What if her parent's faith was just a fairytale? What if there was no God? That would make her parents total fruitcakes!
Debby didn't want to follow the crowd and do what everyone else at church was doing.
If there was a real God...she needed to know for herself.
Debby still remembers the first real conversation she had with the God she could not see.
"God, no disrespect . . . but how am I supposed to have a relationship with You? I mean, people talk to You and sing to You. I can’t see You, so if I'm meant to be with You, let me feel You beyond a shadow of a doubt."
Debby said it wasn't long before she started to feel His presence, "I felt His presence like He was sitting next to me. God was like, 'Don't you understand? I want to love you. I created you. I sacrificed for you. And I want to spend time with you.'"
Debby's candid conversation with God might surprise some of us.
Being real with God isn't something that many of us know how to do.
We know how to repeat our rehearsed prayers before dinner and before we crawl into bed. We know all the lines to every song at church, we know when to raise our hands, and when to use our church-girl-lingo.
But when are we real with God?
When do we, like Debby, ever shout at the ceiling and say, “God, where are you?! Why can't I feel you!? I know what I'm supposed to be...this happy-go-lucky Christian girl whose got everything together...but why do I feel so miserable sometimes?”
You might be thinking, a girl should never pray like that! God would get so offended!
But would He really?
Would He shake his head and say, “Oh, you pathetic little human being. Why do you question me? You my dear, are supposed to be perfect and have everything all together. Never ask me hard questions.”
God is big enough to handle our hard questions.
Sometimes I think we as Christians sound like broken records when we pray. “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep....” and, “God is great, God is good, let us thank Him for our food...”
Are these the only kind of prayers that are acceptable to Christ? Does He get offended and angry when we ask Him hard things? What if we, like Debby said... “If I'm meant to be with you, let me feel your presence without a shadow of a doubt.”
What if we dared to be real, with a very real God? Why do we wear masks of perfection when we pray anyway? Who are we kidding?
For many Christian girls, prayer has become such a stale thing. It feels like a boring chore, the mundane, and we're lucky if we can get through ten minutes of it a day.
It's hard to pray because we can only say so much before a Holy God, right? If we bare our hearts and let them be totally open before God, He would see too much. Instead we keep things nice and covered up, and rehearse the things we have been taught to say to a perfect God.
But what if we spoke with Him about our hopes, dreams, and harrowing disappointments? What if we told Him how much we struggle to trust Him? What if we asked Him about our future, cry for things we've lost and the ones we love? What if we express what makes us angry, and tell Him what we don't understand. What if we told Him how sick and tired we are of pretending to be perfect? What if we asked to feel His presence like never before?
Would we be out of line?
Read the Psalms. David never hesitated to let the Lord know what was on His mind. David was passionate and even mellow dramatic at times. Sometimes his heart overruled his head. Sometimes he said too much. Sometimes we think, “Wow David...too much information!”
Sometimes he was hot-headed and wanted to kill his enemies. Sometimes he cried and thought he was an utter failure.
David was brave, afraid, a lover, a fighter and a writer...but more than that, he was real.
Authentic to the point of occasionally making us cringe.
Listen to the passionate words of Psalm 6:3-7:
“My soul is in anguish. How long, O Lord, how long?
Turn, O Lord, and deliver me; save me because of Your unfailing love.
No one remembers you when he is dead. Who praises you from the grave?
I am worn out from groaning; all night long I flood my bed with weeping and drench my couch with tears. My eyes grow weak with sorrow; they fail because of all my foes.”
David's friends and fellow worshipers, the Sons of Korah, were just as passionate in their prayers and pursuit for God's presence. (Psalm 42:1-3
“As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. Where can I go and meet with God? My tears have been my food day and night, while men say to me all day long, “Where is your God?””
When is the last time you felt starved for God's presence? When have your tears been your food because you felt so far away, so alone and so unfulfilled?
The Sons of Korah might sound like they should be writing Shakespeare plays, but the truth is that we are all like deer panting and starved for streams of water...for God's presence.
Of course we don't sit around playing a harp, crying out, depressed because we don't feel God's presence...but we are starving and parched in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
How do I know this?
Because of the way we run. We run from empty wishing well, to empty wishing well, searching for something, but always coming up dry. We run to friends, guys, television, magazines, ice-cream containers, pretty pins on Pinterest, movies, shopping malls, credit cards and ladders of success...longing for something but always feeling empty.
This generation is starved for love. We want it so bad. Our hearts ache but we can never quite find it. Not even in the movie theater, or our boyfriend's eyes. We long for something even greater, more powerful...we are starved for God's love. We are starved for His presence.
I believe that God is waiting for someone to wake up and quit praying those wimpy, memorized prayers. He's waiting for someone to be real and share what's going on inside. He's waiting for someone to ask Him a hard question. He's waiting for someone to ask Him to reveal His presence.
He's waiting for someone to be real.
He's waiting for someone to say, “I feel so unsatisfied! I get happy for three seconds or three days, and suddenly the feeling is gone. I feel Your presence in church on Sunday then stuffer through the week wondering, God where are you?”
Will we dare to pray Debby's prayer?
“I can’t see You, so if I'm meant to be with You, let me feel You beyond a shadow of a doubt."
Let's pray this daily, moment by moment, second by second. Let's be real and tell God how starved we are for Him and His love! We need to experience His presence!
The God-sized hole that can only be filled with God's presence is never going to be met by anyone or anything else.
As a Christian in Hollywood, Debby started a Bible study with a group of kids in underground Hollywood who all have a heart for God.
She's trying her best to live out Romans 12:2.
“Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is. His good, pleasing and perfect will.”
What is the pattern of this world?
The world tells us that drinking, crazy partying, arguing with our parents, and rebelling against church and God is totally the cool thing to do.
It's funny, our friends at school say they're such rebels, rebelling against the light. Those who follow the flesh, serving themselves as kings and queens, doing whatever they want whenever they want., are not very brave or hardcore at all. In fact, they are doing the easy thing.
They are weak and spineless, helpless slaves to sin.
But doing what Debby did...making the choice to be a rebel to this world... that takes some serious guts. If you want to be hardcore, an absolute rebel and totally cool...rebel to this world! Give yourself to Christ, surrender your selfishness and you will be one of the bravest on this planet.
Christians in Hollywood have been called to a difficult mission. We all know how challenging it is to swim upstream and refuse to conform to the worldly pattern of living and thinking.
But just like Debby, every time we rebel to this world, we are able to test and approve what God's will is. Meaning, we get a little taste of heaven. We experience what life was originally supposed to be like.
Doing things God's way means we can experience the fullness of this fabulous life!
It's hard, but it's totally worth it.
"Every time I say 'no' to a drink at a party or I offer to pray with someone and it might be super, super scary, it's a little tent peg. A little boldness, just like Jael—my own tent peg through the darkness."
Daring to be different takes guts. But with the light of Christ in her, Debby is sure to poke holes of light into the darkness of this world.
Watch Debby Ryan on Disney Channel, on The Suite Life on Deck, Jessie, and in her Disney Channel Original Movies, Sixteen Wishes, Radio Rebel, and her latest movie What If...