Jeremiah Johnston: Unleashing Peace
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Hungering for peace from God with no idea how to get there? Scholar and author Jeremiah Johnston points the way to uncovering shalom in every area of life.
Jeremiah Johnston: Unleashing Peace
Jeremiah: The peace of God will always come when I have a plan.
I have sat across from businesspeople, highly successful—they can tell you their retirement accounts, their stock accounts; they have financial plans—but they don’t have the peace plan. The world has a prescription for peace that will absolutely destroy our lives. Jesus has this prescription for peace in our lives that enriches it, and it is called shalom.
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 the FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today.
Dave: So one of the most anxious moments of my life—do you remember?—do you know where I’m going to go?
Ann: Yes, I totally know where you are going.
Dave: I had pneumonia. Go back after antibiotics to get another chest X-ray, just to make sure it is all clear. The doctor—he’s just an MD—he says to me, “You need to go see a pulmonary specialist.” I’m like, “What are you talking about?!” He goes, “Just give this guy a call.”
I call this guy, and they get me in like the next day. I drive in there—and I’ll never forget—I’m sitting on a doctor’s table. He pulls up my X-ray’; he goes, “Hey, this isn’t good news; you’ve got cancer.” I go, “What?!” He goes, “There are spots all through your lungs. I don’t know if it is malignant.”
I’ll never forget—I looked at him, and I go, “I don’t have cancer!”—he goes, “Oh, really?” I’m like, “I feel great; I’m playing basketball. I’m in great shape.” He goes, “Well, I’m the doctor, and you’re the patient. Trust me—you have some form of cancer—we need to find out. You need to drive home, talk to your wife, and make a decision.”
As soon as I stepped in the door, and saw Ann, I just started crying. I grabbed you.
Dave: We fell on our little La-Z-Boy® chair. You just started crying with me. I’ll never forget—you go—
Ann: I was sitting on your lap. It’s unusual for you to cry like that.
Dave: Do you remember the moment, though? You go, “So what are we crying about?” I go, “He just said I have cancer.” You’re like, “AHH!”—we start crying like double.
To live with that kind of anxiety—I mean, here I am; and it was only a couple of weeks—is what a lot of people live with daily.
Ann: Yes; I think, Dave, too, I think back then, life seemed a little simpler, even though that diagnosis—what they were saying was so traumatic—I’m thinking of the days we are living in now,—
Dave: Oh, yes.
Ann: —where so many have lost loved ones through the pandemic. You know, there are wars; there are rumors of wars; there are so many things going on. Our kids are suffering with this—with anxiety/depression; we, as parents, are struggling with that—so it’s something that I think we really need help with.
Dave: I mean, everybody is looking for peace.
Dave: We’ve got Dr. Jeremiah Johnston in the FamilyLife studio today. Welcome to FamilyLife Today.
Jeremiah: Dave and Ann, it is so great to be with you. I feel like we’re fast friends already.
Ann: I do too.
Dave: You’re sitting over there, “Yes.” [Laughter] As you hear that story, what are you thinking?
Jeremiah: You know what? My heart goes out to you; because we’ve all had those moments, where we have to go beyond the bumper-sticker theology; and it’s rubber-meets-the-road Christianity, where, “Lord, are You really there?” You pray those prayers like Hezekiah prayed, and others—I’m thinking, even, about Habakkuk right now, “God, are You dead?”—we all pray way too religiously by the way. We need to pray like the prophets and the psalmists prayed: “Lord, are You really there in this moment?”
That’s the great thing for people listening to us right now—that’s why Christianity is true—it meets us at our deepest, darkest moments, and our most intense battles/our most intense questions. That’s why I wanted to write a book on shalom: on how we can experience the peace/the shalom of God, because we talk about it a lot; and yet, it seems so elusive, especially, in those defining moments.
Dave: Yes; so you travel around the country. You’re president of Christian Thinkers. There are more letters behind your name than any—Dr., MA—
Ann: PhD, MDiv. [Laughter]
Dave: —but you really help people answer the tough questions.
You are down here in Orlando, with your wife and five kids.
Jeremiah: That’s right; yes.
Dave: So you’re probably exhausted right now; you’ve got triplet boys.
Jeremiah: We’ve got triplets. All you need to know about me is I’m the over-stressed father of multiples. I haven’t slept in six years because the triplets are almost six.
But no; it’s a blessing to answer these questions because, in my mind/for me, it’s all about being a follower of Jesus. If everything I say is true about the Bible, and the Scriptures, and Jesus our Savior and God—the God of the Bible—He can take our most difficult questions.
What’s been amazing, Dave and Ann—and I’ve been doing this now for a minute—I’ve received thousands of questions.
Dave: How long? How long?—you’ve been doing it.
Jeremiah: We started Christian Thinkers over a decade ago/12 years—we’ve been taking questions from people—all different denominations, not just in the United States; in Canada and the United Kingdom as well—this is my number-one question—
Jeremiah: —from believers: the whole question of anxiety, depression, mental illness, mental pain—as C.S. Lewis called it—he struggled with it. J.B. Phillips struggled with it. As a church, we have not done a good enough job answering this question.
The Bible has so much to say about how we think, and about what we feel, and how we can process emotions. I just wanted to get beyond the bumper-sticker theology. And also, I have experienced—news flash—anxiety in my own life; we all have. Anxiety isn’t dangerous. I had heard some stuff, even from pulpits, that I would basically equate to spiritual malpractice about not really ministering and helping people with what the Bible actually says. You are not a second-rate Christian if you’ve struggled with depression or anxiety. Medicine is a gift from God. We need to establish a peace plan for our lives.
As a PhD, I know a lot about a little, Dave—that’s what I tell—“I know a lot about a little.” The little I happen to know a lot about is the Gospels and Jesus, Ann. So Jesus lived in the shalom of God; He is shalom personified. We can’t really understand the Christian life if we don’t understand the one word that is the greatest descriptor of the Bible. There are 760,000 words in the English Bible. If you were to ask me—like if we’re never going to see each other at a train station someday—“Jeremiah, describe the Bible to me in one word,”—it is the word, shalom.
I wanted to investigate that, as a Gospel scholar; and then I wanted to introduce or re-introduce believers in Jesus Christ to this term, because it is so elusive. Yet, as Christians, we need to live in a theology of shalom every day for those anxious moments like you described.
Dave: Yes; and I’ve been preaching for 30 years. I don’t think I could tell you the understanding of that word.
Dave: So let’s go!
Jeremiah: Absolutely; “Let’s dive in.” You’re not alone; I was there too. It literally means: “to lack nothing,” in the Hebrew language. We have this tension—that we can receive a diagnosis, or you can have an unexplained medical condition, or be dealing with grief or loss—and yet, it’s the tension that: “I can still live in the shalom and the peace of God.”
We often think of the Apostle Paul. He saw the Lord, we think, at least seven times. He heard the voice of Jesus in 2 Corinthians 12, His very audible words. And yet, Paul was still a professional worrier—he is a professional worrier—because in
2 Corinthians, Chapter 2, literally, verse 13, he is in Troas. God has opened this huge door of ministry for him; and yet, he says, “I have no peace of mind.” Have you been there? I’ve been there: “Lord, You’ve opened this incredible door for me; and yet, I have no peace of mind.”
Seven years later, he is in Philippi in a jail cell. You couldn’t say he had this great door opened to him; and yet, he gives us the greatest anti-anxiety passage in all the Bible—Philippians 4—“Be anxious for nothing.” He summarizes shalom in 32 English words in Philippians 4:8.
I want to let people know, too, transformation is a process. First off, it is God’s will for you to live in shalom; I don’t have to question that. If you love Jesus—if you have peace with God through Jesus Christ; that’s the first step: Romans 5:1—then it is time to experience the God of peace.
But that is where my book was needed, Dave and Ann, because it’s like, “Okay, I get it; now, how do I get to the peace? I know I’m a Christian; I know I follow Jesus as my Savior; I have peace with God through Jesus Christ, being justified by faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.” But there wasn’t a roadmap for me of how to build peace in my life. That’s where I wanted to investigate shalom and help people get there.
Ann: Well, Jeremiah, I feel like we know, in our heads, that the Bible says, “He will give us peace,”—we can experience that. “But for you, what did that look like? You know what the Scripture says, but then how did you start living it out?” I’m guessing that is your plan.
Jeremiah: Absolutely; I realized that hope comes when I have a plan. The peace of God will always come when I have a plan.
What is amazing, Dave and Ann, is I have sat across from businesspeople, highly successful—they can tell you their retirement accounts, their stock accounts; they have financial plans—but they don’t have the peace plan. That is the great revival and outcome that is coming out of this book—is people are reading it, and they are emailing me—and they are saying, “Jeremiah, I’ve just established a peace plan for my life.”
- First, I have to understand, biblically, I can live in the shalom of God. God wants me to flourish; He wants me to lack nothing.
- Secondly, I realize Paul and others struggled with anxiety that debilitated them, so I am not alone.
- Thirdly, I have to plan for the peace of God.
- And then I wanted to help people with the very practical steps of what it looks like to live in the peace of God every single day.
So the first step seems so elemental; and yet, it is probably the hardest. You have to start intentionally planning for peace in your life. So I am going to say, “No,” to certain things for the bigger, “Yes,” of God’s peace in my life. So this whole thing of unlocking the peace of God in our life through intentionally planning on it and, also, equipping believers with how we can then be agents of peace.
One of the most important questions we can also ask ourselves: “Am I bringing conflict?” or “Am I bringing peace in my community?” In Matthew 5:19, Jesus said, “Blessed are the shalom makers/the peacemakers.” Even writing a book on peace, I had to ask, “Lord, am I bringing conflict or peace in my family?”
Again, it’s amazing how the world—as I evaluate, like you said, the world today—wars, rumors of wars; so much turmoil. It reminds me of the prophets—Jeremiah and Ezekiel—they said, “You look for peace when there is no peace.” The world has a prescription for peace that will absolutely destroy our lives. Jesus has this prescription for peace in our lives that enriches it, and it is called shalom. So we have to get there. That’s the beauty of this book, and I think that is why God is blessing it.
Dave: You seem to land a lot on thinking. I’ve even watched you walk through Philippians 4:6-7. You know as a pastor, I have preached that many times.
Ann: It’s probably one of the verses we all memorized,—
Ann: —because we need it so much.
Ann: It’s so practical.
Dave: But what you did—I had never seen done is—it’s so easy to go: “Philippians 4:6-7: ‘Don’t worry about anything; but in everything by prayer and petition…let your requests be made known. And the peace of God”—and end there—which I would love to hear your thoughts on that; but then you went to verse 8, where it talks about the mind—
Dave: —and connected what we think about to the peace we experience. Help us understand that.
Jeremiah: Absolutely. Again, this is where it is so fun; and the Scriptures help us answer these difficult questions, Dave. And thank you for asking such great questions, both of you.
The peace of God, according to the Christian life/according to shalom, is anchored by one word, “thinking.” It is an action word; it’s a verb—it’s logizomai—it’s taking into account all that is mine in Christ. The more I make myself aware of my beliefs, the more peace of God I am going to have in my life. The more aware of who God is—His plan for my life and His plan is to bless me—as The Four Spiritual Laws say right over here, in this building: “He has a great plan for my life.”
Now, that doesn’t mean it is perfection—by the way, perfection is not our goal—freedom is.
Ann: That’s good.
Jeremiah: God wants to give us freedom. Shalom—an adjective I have for shalom—is freedom. God wants to bring us freedom; but it is all anchored in thinking.
I mentioned Philippians 4:8 a minute ago. Depending on which English version, it’s around 32 words or 39—there is only one verb, and it’s “thinking”—our peace will come when we think about certain things. As a believer in Jesus Christ, I have to get really good at mental discipline if I am going to live in the peace of God; because today, we are going to touch our phones 2,000 times; we’re going to see 10,000 media messages every single day—so many of them are full of lies—and we have to be truth-tellers to ourselves; we have to speak truth to ourselves.
The worst thing I can do, according to Psalm 42 and 43, is listen to my heart. My heart is desperately wicked and crazy: “Who could know it?” I have to speak truth to my heart, like the psalmist did in Psalm 42 and 43: “Why are you downcast my soul? Why are you disquieted within me? Take hope in God.” So every day, like Jerry Bridges said, we need to preach the gospel to ourselves; we need to remind ourselves of the truth of God’s Word to get through the fiction of all the lies.
But you know, again, you all do this all the time—you do this at an international level—you know how many Christians are just so bogged down, and they are paralyzed by the lies; they are believing them.
Ann: I did that for years, without even realizing what I was thinking about, because I was in a habit and a pattern. Growing up, not in a Christian home, very performance-oriented—so I continually told myself: “You’re no good at that,” “You’ll never measure up at that,” “You can’t do that,”—not even aware, until I became a Christian, and I started writing down the things you say to yourself—
Ann: —throughout the day.
Ann: I wrote those down. When I saw it, I thought, “No wonder!” It’s exactly what you’re saying, like, “This is my pattern.”
So do you do that?—have you gone through with people: “Start taking note of what you are thinking”?
Jeremiah: Absolutely! We have to keep better inventory of our thought life and what we focus on.
Now, here is the thing: I can’t help the crazy thoughts that come into my head. We’ll have 6,000 thoughts today—that’s what psychologists say—sometimes, I feel like I have 60,000. [Laughter] So many of them are called intrusive thoughts. The greatest thing you can do is—just like a drunk guy, on the corner, screaming his head off at people, who don’t even know what he is doing—is ignore them. When you want to start engaging with the crazy, intrusive thoughts that come into your head, it’s like poking an ant pile—it just gets worse—you get a swarm of them on top of one. I don’t call out to them; I don’t even engage them. I just stay focused on the truth.
So living in the peace of God, for me, is about bolting my life to truth/staying focused on the truth—practicing what you said: replacement therapy—replacing these lies for the truth of God and the truth of His Word. Then, also—this is huge—at the end of the day, when we get those calls, Dave, or those appointments like you had; because I had a totally unplanned medical procedure myself recently—we have to live by faith in God’s promises, not His explanations. So many of us, we want an explanation when God wants us to live on the promise.
Dave: Okay, you’ve got to unpack that a little bit.
Ann: Oh, it’s so hard to do too.
Jeremiah: It is. And listen, I’m not speaking from perfection—I am speaking from experience—that no one faithed explanations in the Bible; they all faithed God’s promises.
Habakkuk asked God for an explanation. When you read the 56 verses of the book of Habakkuk, we really get a window into his prayer journal; he says, “God, give me an answer: God, are you alive? Are you dead, God?” God says, “If I told you what I was doing, you couldn’t even handle it, Habakkuk.” Habakkuk asked God, again, to give him the reason why all this was happening; and God just starts to explain, and Habakkuk passes out. [Laughter]
Then, in Chapter 3, Habakkuk gives us the greatest visual picture of what faith looks like in Habakkuk, Chapter 3: “Even though the barns are empty, even though there are no cows on the hills, God, I’m going to trust You. I’m going to faith Your promises, not Your explanations”; because we don’t live on explanations.
You [Dave] lived on the promise you’d be healed; you lived on the promise. They probably couldn’t explain to you exactly why, and where, and how cancer happened in your life; but you lived on the promise that it was going to be taken care of. That’s what God wants us to do.
The really cool thing is—and I love this—there are 7,487 promises in God’s Word. Now, there are 3,200 questions, which I love. I love the fact that we have two promises for every question in the Bible. God wants us to ask those questions; but listen, He wants us to live in the promises.
Dave: So how do we think our way out of the anxiety? I think I’ve done this—I’m guessing everybody has laid in bed at night—you wake up at two or three in the morning—
Jeremiah: Right; yes, having a feeling of dread; absolutely.
Dave: —and your thoughts start going, whether it’s a bank account number—
Ann: Wait! Do you do this?
Dave: Oh, my goodness!
Ann: I feel like you are just snoozing away over there; I do this. [Laughter]
Dave: I mean, we all do this; you’ve got to be kidding me.
Ann: You don’t do it very often.
Dave: I don’t roll around and wake her up, but—
Ann: I do.
Dave: —the last 18 months or so, I went through succession after 30 years of helping lead our church. There were all kinds of anxious thoughts about the future, about financially—everything—it was hard to take every thought captive—2 Corinthians 10; you know?—I knew it.
Dave: But you are right, I had to rest in/shalom came when I said, “You are with me; You’ve got me.
Dave: “I don’t need to be nervous or anxious about it. I can trust You.”
Is that how simple it is?—because, then, it would come back like in five minutes.
Jeremiah: It sounds simple; it’s actually profound when a believer can get to that place, and say, “Lord, I’m going to leave it in Your hands; I’m going to trust You.” This is why I needed an entire chapter to unpack what I do when I can’t feel my faith; because so many of us, we want to feel our way out of our problems as Christians. That’s the absolute worst place you can go is to try to feel your way out of a crisis. You have to think your way out of a crisis or think your way out of a challenge or problem; that’s what the Bible wants us to do.
The Scriptures—to experience shalom—want us to focus on key truths every single day and every single moment. Sometimes, we need to learn to believe the God we trust in. I mean, we need to learn to believe Him; and we need to learn to live in that trust. It’s hard to do; but once you do that—and you start experiencing that peace/that shalom—it gets easier and easier to do that.
Again, it’s everything, though, that the world doesn’t want us to do. The world wants us to lose our mind; the world wants us to self-medicate, binge, not focus, check out, not be present. The Scriptures want us to do the exact opposite in all those categories.
Something I want us to all prayerfully get to, as well, is: “How can we be more sensitive to all the people in our lives, who are struggling with anxiety and depression?” I have an entire chapter dedicated to what it looks like to practice the ministry of presence, which is such an important, crucial key for all of us. You know, the bar has been put down so low—especially, in this post-pandemic world—that if we just won’t be a jerk, people are going to know we’re a Christian; but we have this great opportunity to practice the ministry of presence with people. There are ways we can do that as well.
Ann: Give us some practical steps we can take. We’re listening to this; we’re all tracking: “What does it look like, even today?” “How can I start this process?”
Jeremiah: Here is a very important question I’d ask myself, Ann; because if we would see lives change, our lives, first, must be changed. My life has been changed by the shalom of God; I’m living in the center of God’s will for my life. I have challenges like everyone, but I have never been more excited about what God is doing in my life than I am right now. I had to go through a deep valley to get here, the last two years, where I had to really decide if I believed in the shalom of God or not, and the peace of God through the faith steps that Audrey and I were feeling led to take.
The most important question we can answer is: “Who is helping us manage the anxiety, the uncertainty, and the stress in our lives?” What I would like to ask people to prayerfully consider: “Will you live in the shalom of God?” And secondly, “Will you bring a care team around yourself?” The Christian life has always been lived in community. As Christian leaders, too much, we can get isolated; that’s when the challenges come.
I have an established care team around me that has been transformational for my life. I want to encourage everyone listening to me to, right now, begin writing down names of people that could be your care team: that needs to be your medical doctor; that should be a nutritionist; it should be a Christian counselor/a therapist, or psychologist, or psychiatrist. We could go off on this—but you know all these Christian counselors—you can’t even hardly get an appointment right now, which is a great thing; but we need more people to go into Christian counseling and Christian therapy ministries, because it’s so needed.
So a great outcome of this book—and again, living in the shalom of God—is establishing a care team for your life, knowing that you don’t have to live the Christian life alone; it’s not meant to be lived that way. “But you know”—you say—“Christians don’t gossip; they just share prayer requests.” Again, there is so much stigma—just ignore all the Pharisees—move forward in the peace of God in your life; and then watch the shalom—the flourishing—that lacking-nothing sense that God will bring into your life.
Shelby: That’s good counsel from Jeremiah Johnston on FamilyLife Today. We’ll hear some final reflections from Dave and Ann on the importance of leaning on others in just a minute; but first, Jeremiah Johnston has a book called Unleashing Peace: Experiencing God’s Shalom in Your Pursuit of Happiness. You can find a copy at FamilyLifeToday.com.
And you know, we do need others; we need the body of Christ, a community of people to help us walk with God. Leaning on others, when we are both weak and strong, helps us live out a tangible picture of what it means to be connected in ways that make others wonder: “What is so different about Christians?”
And when you partner with FamilyLife, and help to make every home a godly home, you are actively taking part in building the body of Christ. You are creating gospel community. So would you consider partnering with us, at FamilyLife, to see that gospel community continue to be formed? When you do, we would 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 by calling 800-358-6329; that’s 800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Alright, here are Dave and Ann with Jeremiah Johnston and some final reflections on the importance of being there for each other.
Dave: Yes, and I would add: “If you’re a man, you need a brother.”
Dave: “If you’re a woman, you need a sister,—
Dave: —“that when you are anxious, and you are waking up at two, and you’re not going back to sleep, you can be honest and say, ‘Dude, I am struggling.
Dave: “‘I am struggling with finding shalom.’” They will help—become your buddy/become your sister—just walk beside you, and say, “Let’s both go back to thinking rightly and into the Word of God.”
Ann: I have a good friend that, at two in the morning, she would wake up. She had five children. Her husband was just imprisoned for some embezzlement. She is raising her kids by herself; and in the morning, she would wake up at two, and she was so filled with anxiety. She would pick up her phone; call her sister, and there was just silence on the phone [as sister listened]. She would just cry; her sister would say, “I’m here for you.
Ann: “I’m here for you.” Her sister would pray for her, and then she would go back to sleep. But she said, “For a year, that was the only thing I could do: was to call my sister and cry.” She said that was some of the greatest ministry she’d ever experienced.
Jeremiah: Amen. It’s that ministry of presence/being there—even if you—you don’t have to have a psychology degree to do that; do you?
Shelby: That’s great. So much amazing thoughts and wisdom from Jeremiah Johnston.
Tomorrow, on FamilyLife Today, Dave and Ann Wilson will talk, again, with Jeremiah about leaving the cycle of bitterness and disharmony for peace.
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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