Jeremiah Johnston: How to Find Peace (When You Don’t Know Where to Look)
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Wondering how to find peace for real? Scholar and author Jeremiah Johnston shells out practical ways to choose and implement the shalom you crave.
Jeremiah Johnston: How to Find Peace (When You Don’t Know Where to Look)
Jeremiah: Panic is as dangerous as any other pathogen. We live in a crisis of panic right now. There has been a 51 percent increase in in-patient hospitalizations among youth, age 12-18; the majority of those are females. We know there is an anxiety crisis in our country. We know that this is also, I think, the most important question the church can answer—we have the answer for anxiety—it’s shalom; it’s Jesus. We need to help people get there and then live in it.
Ann: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.
Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on our FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today!
Dave: I developed sort of a bad habit during the pandemic.
Ann: You wore sweatpants every day?
Dave: That was part of it;—
Ann: That’s what I did.
Dave: —every meeting was on Zoom.
No, it was: I literally started waking up, grabbing my phone—and instead of opening to the Word of God, which has been a practice of mine for decades—I found myself going to the news—
Ann: I did the same thing.
Dave: —like first thing,—
Ann: Yes, because—
Dave: —like New York Times: “What are the latest numbers? What is happening around the world? What is the pandemic doing in Michigan?” I would be anxious; I would be scared. I would be like, “Oh my goodness! It’s worse than—how can it get worse?!” It kept getting worse and worse.
I just/it hit me, two or three weeks in, like, “What are you doing? You are filling your mind with negativity, and you are starting the day nervous and scared.” I thought, “I need to start with the Word of God.”
Dave: I’m not saying, “Never look at the news, not know what is going on in the world,” but I literally had to discipline myself: “Don’t reach for that phone.
Dave: “You can find out later.”
Ann: We had to turn off notifications because they’d pop up; and you’re like, “What?” Then you get sucked into the world of fear is what I would say.
Dave: Yes, I think fear and anxiety is rampant. It’s always been a struggle; but right now, even sort of post-pandemic, it’s still with us. We need to talk about it.
Dave: We’ve got Jeremiah Johnston back in the studio with us.
Jeremiah: It’s so great to be here. Thank you. Love you guys; it’s awesome to be here.
Dave: I mean, we spent a day already talking a little bit about—I love the title of your book—Unleashing Peace: Experiencing God’s Shalom in Your Pursuit of Happiness.
You mentioned yesterday you went through a valley. I want to hear more about that valley, because I’m guessing there was a little anxiety in that valley.
Dave: How did you find God’s peace in the middle of that?
Jeremiah: Yes; you know, anxiety comes when we have large transitions in our life—major transitions—a move, a transfer, a ministry change, health challenge—
Jeremiah: —babies, triplets.
Jeremiah: You know, I have been just blowing and going, running and gunning, my whole life, just loving the Lord and following Him—and just hit a wall at the pandemic—where I ended up having a major unplanned abdominal surgery, where I had to have a piece of my colon cut out, after 400 workouts; no one could explain to me why this was happening; I was angry.
In the midst of this, we had major events—and to have those just cancelled, one after another—
Dave: I mean, some of that had to be financial.
Jeremiah: Oh, yes, significant; absolutely.
Dave: That’s how you live: is you speak.
Jeremiah: Absolutely. Praise God, we’re a debt-free ministry—but we have to cash flow the ministry, and we have to actually do ministry—it was so challenging and all those reasons. It began to affect me mentally, where I would just/was living in anxiety and not living in the peace of God.
I always joke with people now: “You know, the worst thing you can do, if you want the peace of God, is to write a book on it.” [Laughter] It took me a minute to really allow these truths to permeate my life at the most practical levels.
Ann: —you are married; and you have five kids.
Jeremiah: —who are watching me every day, listening to me every day, emulating my moods. They see all the non-verbal signals that we give.
It was challenging, and I realized I didn’t have a care team. I realized I needed to talk to professionals. I realized that I needed to help people manage—and also, I’m sorry—they don’t give you a manual. You can have two seminary degrees and a PhD, but they don’t tell you how to handle, when God is just opening all kinds of opportunities, how to regulate that, and be a dad, and be a husband, and to do it with success. I’m not going to leave my family behind in my ministry; I’m going to say, “No,” for anything that gets in the way of that.
So then, the pandemic on top of that—we all kind of forgot how to be social—and it made us all socially awkward. We all have high-grade/low-grade PTSD, coming out of this pandemic, where we have to learn how to be sociable again and love people. I’m a hugger; I’m that Type A guy—I just love being around people—I love being in community. So all of this had shifted in my life; and I saw a Christian psychologist, who was life-changing to me. He helped me really start thinking about how I was thinking and how I was processing things. That’s where so much of the truth of this book—I know it works, because it works in my own life—the Word of God.
But we need to have a care team; we need to establish peace for ourselves. Like you said—such a practical thing—not beginning the day in fear and panic. It turns out that panic is as dangerous as any other pathogen, and we live in a crisis of panic right now. There has been a 51 percent increase in in-patient hospitalizations this year among youth, age 12-18; and the majority of those are females.
I’m not a Christian boogeyman or anything—I don’t always have to have a boogeyman in the room—but we should pay attention to the metrics. We know there is an anxiety crisis in our country. We know this is also, I think, the most important question the church can answer—that’s why I start the book this way—"We have the answer for anxiety: it’s shalom; it’s Jesus. We need to help people get there and then live in it.”
So having lived in it through my own life, and then developing this peace plan—and you all, I want to tell you what I did; this is what comes out of writing a book, 70,000 words on the peace of God—1 page, 20 steps of how I live in the peace of God for my life. These are the non-negotiables.
I don’t do these with perfection; but again, I’ve eliminated “all or nothing” thinking from my life—it’s not “all or nothing” thinking—the Christian life isn’t “all or nothing”: “Oh, I messed up today; so I’m just not going to live for the Lord anymore,”—no! But so many of us have that “all or nothing” thinking, and that brings anxiety as well.
My number one—are you ready for this, Dave?—
Dave: Practical Ways to Implement Shalom: I want to hear it.
Jeremiah: “Stop obsessively checking the news.” [Laughter]
Ann: There you go!—yes.
Dave: You just wrote that five minutes ago; that was your number one?
Jeremiah: Listen, that was my number one, because our minds are not geared to read a body count every single day.
Ann: We have a lot of listeners, who have kids who are teenagers; and they have that phone with them, and they are constantly checking that. So as parents, as your kids are getting older, how will you help navigate that?
Jeremiah: Well, first off, it’s the greatest conflict in our personal home. I get it; I live in that tension with five kids and devices. We have to limit these things in our kids’ lives.
There is an entire industry out there, Ann—and you know this—they are betting on the fact that they can click bait you to death, and they can get you to engage in all kinds of fights with people you don’t even know on social media—they don’t know you; you don’t know them—and you’re just/it’s just the rage machine. We’re not going to live in the peace of God, Dave, if we’re just constantly living in I’m-provoked City over everything.
I mean, the Roman Empire was way worse than it was today. Paul could have been provoked by every time he opened his eyes; he stayed central to the gospel of Jesus Christ. That is why I love FamilyLife Today—central to the gospel and its power to change lives—that’s why it is such an honor to be on this program with you.
Dave: I’ve even found, in reference to that, I can get caught up in the comment section.
Jeremiah: Yes; absolutely.
Dave: Somebody posts something—and it might be sort of just mild—but then the comments go crazy.
Now, when you were walking through that valley, was worry a big part of it?
Jeremiah: Absolutely—not knowing—we had just taken a major step of faith in 2019 and expand as a ministry; and it’s like the floor fell out. I’ve been involved in church life for as long as I can remember—and I just love it—this whole thing of: “Stay home,” “Don’t talk to your neighbors,” “Don’t…”—it was killing me.
The sword of the Spirit is the Word of God, and huge for us. When stress or anxiety fills my mind—I need to replace it with key verses—that is how I’m going to have shalom in my life.
Ann: I love the language that is used in Scripture, too: “Take every thought captive...”; when Jesus said, “I came to set the captive free.” I think of taking those thoughts—and I’m taking them and putting them in a cell—and I will not let them out. Learning how to do that, for me, has been huge: “I’m not going to think that”; and to use Scripture in replacing that—
Ann: —transforms our lives.
Jeremiah: It literally will rewire the way you think; I can attest to that in my own life.
Dave: Here is another one: 1 Peter 5: “Cast all your anxiety”—you’ve got to do that over, and over, and over.
Jeremiah: —all day; maybe, 5,000 times today.
Dave: It doesn’t happen once.
Jeremiah: The force of the language is even more than “casting”—I like J.B. Phillips [version]—“You’ve got to slam dunk your worries on God. You’ve just got to crush them down on God.” That is what He wants you to do—trust me—He can take it.
Dave: That’s good.
Jeremiah: Yale University’s most popular class of all time is a class on happiness, and the big outcome of that class is a gratitude journal. Well, the Scripture has been telling us to do that for 2,000 years. They can call it a gratitude journal today at Yale; the Bible calls it “counting your blessings.” You’re a lot healthier person when you focus on the blessings in your life. We’ve all been around people and benefitted from people—they just focus on the positive—don’t you love being around people like that?
Jeremiah: We can’t stand the Negative Nellie, who is always in the room, and reminding us of what we can’t do, didn’t do, [what] didn’t happen.
Jeremiah: We don’t want that.
Ann: Last week, I ended up going on a walk. A lot of times, I’ll listen to podcasts/I’ll listen to Scripture. So this time, I left my phone at home—went for a long walk—and as I was walking and praying—it was beautiful, out in Florida—I thought, “Lord, for this entire time, all I’m going to do is thank You and praise You.”
Jeremiah: Yes; huge on that one—a true sabbatical is huge—a time of rest to do what feeds my soul, resting my mind, not thinking about the next sermon.
Dave: The Sabbath rest is something, I think, we just don’t think is that important; it’s a Ten Commandment.
Jeremiah: It is; and it is part of shalom. God says: “Rest, chill out, relax, do something fun.”
Dave: So in your crazy busy schedule, do you Sabbath?
Jeremiah: Absolutely; we have a lot of fun Sabbath-ing too.
Jeremiah: Sabbath isn’t boring; it’s fun.
Ann: —but even when you Sabbath, you are not thinking about—
Jeremiah: Oh, yes, we can’t Sabbath and check our phones 2,000 times that day and be present with our family.
Jeremiah: So we have to have those moments, and they are holy moments where you just say, “No, I’m not available. Sorry. I’m going to be with my kids today. I’m going to go and have a blast, and make weird noises, and get down here and just have fun and travel.” I’m a big travel narrator when we travel—I am pointing things out—I’m a travel guide in the car. So they kind of get worn out with that.
Big one for me—and again, as the Lord blesses you, wherever you are in life—and you’re going to have opportunities. There was a time in my life, where I said, “Yes,” to everything; because I’m just trying to be faithful and see our ministry grow.
Ann: I have a husband, who can say that too.
Jeremiah: But I had to learn—
Dave: —say what?
Ann: —say, “Yes,” to everything. [Laughter]
Jeremiah: I had to learn the power of saying, “No, I’m sorry; I can’t do that.” I realized I had 11 different inboxes; I had to start telling people, “I don’t respond to this inbox; text me or email me.” I just didn’t have time; I was in a season of months of discouragement. You have to make decisions, at some point, in that time period; but I was in a funk.
That is where—like we talked about—having that care team was so helpful; because sometimes, you need people to come alongside and help you think right, and just say, “You know, Jeremiah, you are not processing this the right way.” This is where I just thank God for this teaching of shalom, because it’s all right there; we just need to do it. We need to have a shalom team/a care team; so when I live in the peace of God, I then can be an agent of peace for others. This will set you apart in your Christian life.
There is this amazing story I tell in Unleashing Peace of a gentleman—who was just given the highest award/civilian honor that the nation of Australia gives—a man they call the Angel of the Gap. He lived in this beautiful Sydney Harbor, in a very expensive area called the Gap; but it’s also known for its sandstone cliffs. It’s one of the number-one suicide spots in the world. He began to notice when people would linger just a little too long by themselves at the Gap/at the cliffside.
He would walk up and say, “Hey, do you want to come to my house for some tea? I’m Don.” He wasn’t trained, psychologically, but he could practice, what the Bible talks about, the ministry of being present. He said, “Don’t ever underestimate the power of a smile in someone’s life.”
My biggest challenge is: we are so busy; we never know what someone else is dealing with—and we always assume negatively—that person could be going through their biggest challenge. Why don’t you just smile at them, and practice the ministry of presence, and give them grace? Don exemplifies that for us.
Ann: That was one of my favorite parts of your book—is that story—because it makes you realize: “Anybody can minister to another person, just by being there.” You don’t even have to have the right words—
Jeremiah: No, you don’t even have to say anything.
Ann: —but you’re just present, “Hey, I’m Ann. How are you doing today?” That’s something that—you’re right, Jeremiah—is we get so caught up in our own worlds and the demands of life. It’s really easy not to notice those around us.
Dave: And I think another aspect of that story is—all around us—people/they are struggling; they are feeling—it could even be our own kids; it could be our spouse.
Dave: God is saying, “I can bring My peace to them through you. Will you just be present?” That’s a beautiful motivation—
Jeremiah: Yes!—the ministry of presence.
Dave: —to say, “If God gives me peace, it’s probably not just for me; He wants me to extend it to others.”
Jeremiah: Absolutely; He wants you to be an agent of shalom.
I’ll just end with this: we all need to be saved from ourselves too. I used to live in the UK, where I did my doctoral residency at Oxford; and there is this beautiful picture of a young man, who has all of these individuals holding him. He is standing outside of the walkway of a bridge, over the busiest intersection in North London, Golders Green. He was getting ready to jump—and all these strangers, who were walking by him, collapsed on the man—and saved him from himself. You don’t think God’s providential? Someone had a rope, going home from work that day; another person is grabbing his belt buckle; another person has him by his calf muscles.
For me, when I saw that picture—I now show it anywhere I speak; I open the book, Unleashing Peace, with that story—because it is an illustrated sermon for me: “We have to be saved from ourselves.” This is the heart of Jesus towards every person struggling right now; and God can use anyone—like you said, Ann—to be a change agent in someone’s life, a peace agent, a shalom agent. So that’s my prayer—I want to be present enough in my life to see when those people—or myself, when I need to be saved from myself, I allow people to collapse around me and help me. That’s the Christian life.
Shelby: Yes, that’s so good. You’re listening to FamilyLife Today with Dave and Ann Wilson. I encourage you to stick around. Dave and Ann are going to share some of their thoughts on what we’ve heard these past two days from Jeremiah Johnston; but you can pick up Jeremiah’s full list of suggestions for making your own shalom plan in today’s show notes at FamilyLifeToday.com.
Also, Jeremiah’s book is called Unleashing Peace: Experiencing God’s Shalom in Your Pursuit of Happiness. You can pick up a copy at FamilyLifeToday.com, or you can give us a call at 800-358-6329; that’s 800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Alright; now, here are Dave and Ann Wilson with some reflections on these past two days with our guest, Jeremiah Johnston.
Dave: When Jeremiah was talking about peace—a lack of anxiety and worry—if there is anything our world needs right now, that’s it; isn’t it?
Ann: We all long for it, but we don’t know how to attain it.
Dave: Yes, and one of the things we briefly touched on with Jeremiah—and it is in his book, Unleashing Peace—is my go-to passage, Philippians 4.
Ann: It’s all of our go-to passage; all of us love this one.
Dave: I love how Paul says/he says: “Do not be anxious about anything.” It’s a command; it isn’t a suggestion. He is actually saying: “This possible. You don’t have to worry; you don’t have to fret. You don’t have to be anxious about the big things/little things—about anything.”
Ann: Here is the thing about Paul, too—is you read that—some people think, “Well, you can say that; look how easy your life is,”—but Paul, for a good part of his life, he spent it in prison.
Dave: Yes, he’s writing this from a prison cell.
Ann: —in prison, yes.
Dave: I think, as Jeremiah said, it comes down to an action, which is in this passage that I had never really seen—because he doesn’t just say, “Don’t be anxious about anything,”—that’s what we don’t do; but he says: “Do this...” He gives you an answer: “But in every situation”—so again: big ones, little ones, the one you are in right now, the one that is coming tomorrow; here is what you do—“by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”
In other words, “Let it go.” We talked about 1 Peter: “Cast it to God”; and then, he says something will happen. What does he say?
Ann: “The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding,—
Dave: —"will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” So if you want peace, there is a way. I would say it is not a way; it is a Person—
Ann: Well, it is interesting—
Dave: —peace is Jesus.
Ann: —because of all the people that I know—I would say you live this out. We just had one of our sons visit us in Florida. He is building a ministry; and he said, “Man, I needed this trip, because I needed”—[emotion in voice] makes me teary thinking about it—“I need to get some lessons from my dad, because he lives his life in peace.” There is so much going on in the world, and in his ministry, and a lot of hard things; and yet, he looks at you—and you’ve gone through some really difficult things—but you live your life in peace. It’s a peace that surpasses all understanding, because it doesn’t make sense.
I feel like, as you are preaching that, you live this. Do you think—like share with us, because I’ve seen you live it out beautifully, not perfectly—"How do you do it?”
Dave: Well, I think it is the next verse—which is what Jeremiah Johnston, when he was talking and when I read his book, connected that there is an action verb that connects us to peace—and he calls it: “It is our thinking.” It’s what Paul went on to say in verse 8. Often, we stop with verse 7—you know, “The peace that surpasses all understanding will guard our hearts and minds in Christ,”—we’re like, “Oh, that is awesome”; and we forget the next thing he said—it is not a separate thought; it is in context—he says, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable, if anything is excellent or praiseworthy”—here is the verb—“think about such things.”
Peace comes through what we dwell on: “What do we think about?” Paul is saying, “Think about good things, pure things, right things.”
Ann: That is so wise.
Dave: Well, I would just say it is war—it is a battle/the battle of the mind—because your mind will go to the negative. It will go to the news that’s often negative; and you’ll get scared, anxious, worried. I’ve done it millions of times.
Ann: Me too.
Dave: I’m sitting here, thinking, “You think I have peace all the time?!” It’s like it’s a war—it is, literally, a mental battle in my mind—and everyone’s mind—to say, “I’m going to take this negative thought captive.” I literally think of grabbing it—and putting it in a prison cell—and saying, “You’re not going to live in my brain. I’m going to think about what’s noble, and right, and praiseworthy; I’m going to think about Jesus,”—because peace isn’t a feeling—it’s a person; it is Jesus—He is the Prince of Peace. When you set your heart and mind, and it is guarded by Him, the result is peace.
Again, I’m not going to sit here, and say, “Oh, it’s just peace that lasts forever,”—no, it’s gone in like five minutes sometimes. Again, you have to cast, again, that thought—
Ann: I like that idea of casting.
Dave: —you just throw it.
Ann: Yes, you can see it [anxiety/worry] on a fishing pole, casting it.
Dave: And I love how Jeremiah brought the sense that the verb is like with force. You don’t sort of flippantly, “Okay, God”—no; it’s like—“I need You so badly. I’m bringing this to You right here, right now. Will You guard my heart and mind in You?” He is like, “Yes; I’ve got it.”
You may have to cast it 5,000 times today—every time your mind starts to go to anxiety—“Don’t worry about anything with prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” Why do I have that memorized?—because I’ve done it a million times—and that is where peace is. It’s in the person, Jesus; and the closer we walk with Him, the greater the depth of the peace we feel.
Shelby: Yes, that is such beautiful stuff from Dave and Ann.
We have FamilyLife’s president, David Robbins, with us today. David, tell us what’s been on your heart as you’ve been reflecting about who we are, as FamilyLife, and what FamilyLife Blended® has to offer.
David: Talking about shalom in our own lives, and in our homes, reminded me of a conference FamilyLife Blended hosted this past weekend. It was a blast to have people present with us personally and livestreaming all over the world. God kept meeting people in the chaos and crazy that we all have in our homes, but blended families navigate unique complexities. One attendee wrote in and said, “’This has been life-changing,’ would be an understatement. There is nothing like this. We are so encouraged and blessed by FamilyLife and FamilyLife Blended.”
I just want to say, “For those of you listening, who are a part of FamilyLife—by giving, and passing on our resources to other people, and events and other things we host—you are making a unique contribution to every home.” Our vision is that every home would have the opportunity to be a godly home. And there are homes with all types of unique complexities, and that is why it is so important to have events that you make possible. We are so grateful for your heart and your passion for every home.
Shelby: It is important. Thank you so much, David.
When you do partner with us, we’d love to send you a copy of Jackie Hill Perry’s book, Holier Than Thou. It’s our “Thanks,” to you when you partner, financially, today with us. You can give online at FamilyLifeToday.com, or you can give us a call at 800-358-6329; that’s 800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Why does God set rules for us? It seems kind of weird sometimes; right? Well, next week, on FamilyLife Today, Jen Wilkin talks with Dave and Ann Wilson about how the rules enable relationship with Him. That’s next week.
On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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