FamilyLife Today® Podcast

Waiting on God (and Hating It): Jeremiah Johnston

with Jeremiah Johnston | March 29, 2024
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Waiting on God: When you're in it, it stinks. Professor and author Jeremiah Johnston, who believes in the power of the wait. Listen for a sneak peek of Johnston's Bible Study Book "Body of Proof" to really grasp how the story of Jesus can extends the wisdom you need when the waiting wrings you out.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

Waiting on God…when you’re in it, it stinks. Jeremiah Johnston believes in the power of waiting and shares why!

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Waiting on God (and Hating It): Jeremiah Johnston

With Jeremiah Johnston
March 29, 2024
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Jeremiah: Can you imagine if we were interviewing the father of the prodigal today—from Luke 15—who, every day, waited for his son and ran towards him? His son had a prepared speech; he couldn’t even get through it; his dad just embraces him. These are stories to strengthen us in those times when it’s really hard when you’re waiting on someone.

Shelby: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Shelby Abbott, and your hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson. You can find us at

Ann: This is FamilyLife—

Dave: —Today.

Dave: Okay, one of the worst places to be in a hospital is the waiting room. [Laughter]

Ann: I thought you were going to say, “…ER.”

Dave: “…ER,” or “…OR.” To be under the knife is not always fun; but man, when you’re sitting out, waiting for a loved one, and don’t know the prognosis, and you’re waiting for that doctor to come out and say, “Here’s what we found…” or “Here’s what we did…”

Ann: It’s horrible.

Dave: That’s an excruciating hour, five hours, or day.

Ann: I’ll tell you another one that’s hard to wait: when you’re waiting in the Emergency Room. I had a kidney stone—I have to just say this—it was worse than having a baby! [Laughter] I was waiting in the waiting room to get into the triage, and I was dying, like, “Get me in there!”

Dave: We’ve got Jeremiah Johnston back in here. He’s looking at us like, “What are you guys—
Jeremiah: I’m waiting. [Laughter]

Dave: Talk about it: you’re waiting to be on this program.

Ann: Why are we talking about waiting with Jeremiah?

Dave: I don’t know; we’re going to ask him. [Laughter]

Jeremiah: Well, listen, because I hate waiting; and my word for the year—you know, we all have words: and sometimes, we think about them for the first month; and sometimes, we think about them all year—but it really gives me a purpose for my Christian life. My word is “wait”; because having done all this work on the resurrection, I find it fascinating that the first thing that Jesus told all of His disciples to do—who had seen Him alive—was “Wait.” I’m just putting myself in the place of the disciples, who—and many of them, originally, sceptics—and now, they’re like, “Oh, we were so wrong,” like His brother, James. They’re waiting in the upper room for the power of the Holy Spirit to come upon them (Acts 1:8).

I just thought, “Wait a minute. We’re empowered with this immovable strength of understanding that Jesus did really rise from the dead; and that has huge implications to my life, my marriage, my parenting; but then, Jesus said, “Wait; wait.”

I hate waiting—like if we’re traveling together, and you don’t have TSA PreCheck® and CLEAR, we break fellowship immediately, ladies and gentlemen [Laughter]—“I cannot wait with you. I’m going.” I believe in express lines—I mean, “Winners walk fast,”—is a quote I tell my boys constantly. [Laughter]

Dave: “Winners walk fast”; I love it!

Jeremiah: And then, I’m opening up the Scripture—and I’m doing this work on Body of Proof—and I see that the strongest word for faith in all the Bible is a passage—and if you have your Bible, I’d encourage you to turn there with us—it comes out of the book of Isaiah [Chapter 40], this strongest word for faith: “Even youths will faint and be weary,”—this is verse 30—“and young men shall fall exhausted;”—verse 31—“but they who wait” [emphasis added]—qavah in Hebrew—"for the Lord shall renew their strength. They will mount up on wings like eagles; they will run and not be weary, they will walk and not grow faint.”

That word, qavah in Hebrew, is the thought of a string/a thimble string—that is easily breakable—being tied into a strong rope that is unbreakable. That’s what the word means: “to have faith”; and that is the strongest word for faith in all of the Scripture. That’s what the Holy Spirit spoke to my heart to make this word, “wait”—this word for faith; this word, where it’s so hard—my word for the year.

The cool thing about waiting is there’s nothing passive about it; we’re not talking about killing time. The kind of waiting I’m talking about is the waiting that I did 20 years ago when I was standing at an altar; and I was waiting for the red head, my wife, Audrey, to walk down that aisle. [Laughter] Now, she promised me she’d do it; but I doubted her every step of the way. [Laughter] We were engaged; but I thought, “How could I get a wife this good?” Let me tell you: I waited, and I cried when she walked down that aisle—that’s the expectation—that’s the waiting for our children for Christmas morning. This is not some kind of passing waiting, like we’re dying at the DMV, waiting for our vehicle registration to be called; or we’re at the dentist’s office—sorry to all of my dentist friends out there—this is a waiting of excitement.

Ann: —or a baby being born.

Jeremiah: —a baby to be born; it’s a waiting of expectation.

I find it fascinating—this is what Jesus told the disciples to do—“Have faith in Me; wait,” “…abide.” And this comes out of this incredible mountain-peak chapter of Isaiah 40. What precedes of all this passage in Isaiah 40:30-31 is really what I want to talk about.

Israel was at its lowest point. The prophet Isaiah is prophesying, knowing that the original audience is going to be under Babylonian captivity. There’s just evil everywhere; there’s no good news; there just seems to be hopelessness. They’re 900 miles away in Babylon; and this is where Isaiah prophesies in verse 3 of Isaiah 40 of: “A voice cries in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way of the Lord. Make straight a desert highway for our God.’”

Listen to what God is going to do—He’s the great builder—“Every valley will be lifted up; every mountain and hill will be made low. The uneven ground shall become level. The rough places plain, and the”—I love this passage—“glory of the Lord will be revealed and all flesh shall see it together, for the Lord has spoken.”

This tells me that, when I wait on God, He is already created a super highway to chase after me to deliver me. This is the picture of waiting on Jesus. The disciples were doing that in those few days after the resurrection. And this is the picture of the Christian life.

Dave: Why is that your word? [Laughter] Often, when you think of a word for a year, you’re like, “My word’s ‘now!’ I’m going to take action now.” You want to motivate: “I have been waiting; I’ve been putting things off. No more waiting; let’s take action.”

Ann: Is that really your word?

Dave: No; I’m just saying—

Jeremiah: Yes, a lot of them are very purposeful.

Dave: —usually, it’s words like that; it’s like, “Let’s go!”

Jeremiah: Yes.

Dave: “Go,” was a word one time; but “Wait,” would probably never be a word I think I’d want to be better at. Is that what it is?—“I want to be better at this”?

Jeremiah: Yes, I need to be better at waiting on God. I constantly want to get ahead of God in my family, in my marriage, in what He’s called me to do. That’s why the Holy Spirit shared in my heart in my quiet time: “Jeremiah, you need to learn what it is to wait on Me; and don’t worry because, when you wait, then we fly.”

Ann: I’m thinking about myself. When I’m waiting, and it feels like God is taking too long, I start devising my own plan. Do you do that?!

Jeremiah: Absolutely; we all do; that’s very normal. [Laughter]

Ann: I’m reading in Genesis about Abram and Sarai, before they were Abraham and Sarah—

Jeremiah: —25 years.

Ann: Yes! God had told Abraham: “You will be the father of many nations,” and “As many stars in the sky, will be your descendants.” So for Sarah—Sarai at the time—I can see, as a woman: “Well, I’m failing. God has this promise for my husband, and I’m not fitting the bill; I can’t have a child. What shall I do? Oh, I’ll give him my maidservant.” She devises this whole plan.

So then, what happens after that, is she says to Abraham—because she’s having conflict now with her servant—she says, “This is all your fault,”—[Laughter]

Jeremiah: Right.

Ann: —"Abraham,—

Jeremiah: Man’s solution; yes.

Ann: —“it’s your fault.”

I thought, “I would do the same thing. God, You, obviously, aren’t working. I’ve been waiting and waiting for years,”—maybe, decades—“so maybe, You want me to do something.” How do we know when the waiting should stop and we should do something?

Jeremiah: Yes, the Holy Spirit will make it clear to you when it’s time to move forward when you pray, when You seek Him in His Word. But sometimes, the greatest thing we need to do is keep waiting. What I want people to realize—and this isn’t my word; this is straight out of the book of Isaiah—God comforts us, in our worst moments, when we wait for Him. Remember how Isaiah 40 begins: “’Comfort My people,’ says your God.” God wants to carry you, not just your problems. He wants to carry all of you; that comes from verse 11: “He will tend His flock like a shepherd. He will gather the lambs in His arms; He will carry them close to His heart.” Why do you want God to just carry a burden here and there when God wants to carry everything? He wants to carry you.

I think, sometimes, we need to get to a place where we’re waiting on God, we say, “God, You’re just going to have to carry all of it. I don’t know the next 23 decisions, so I’m going to take the next logical steps of faith.” My practical solution there—for people: “How do you know when?”—just keep taking the next logical steps of faith; and then, let God carry you all the way through it. He wants to carry me; He wants to strengthen me.

I love these questions in Isaiah 40 because God asks us questions when we’re waiting on Him, never to condemn us but to comfort us: “Hey, I built a super highway. Do you remember who I am?” This is that passage where He says, “I created all the stars.” Take in mind the original context: He’s talking to people in Babylon who worshiped stars. “I’m the One who put them in the sky. I know everyone of their names. Remember who I am; watch Me work. And then, when you wait on Me, you’re going to fly: you’re going to run and you’re going to walk.”

Now, there’s a message there for people everywhere. A lot of us—like you, Dave, I’m ready to fly: “Let’s go”;—

Dave: Yes.

Jeremiah: —but I’ve got to wait. Some of us: “I’m ready to run”; but make sure the running we’re talking about here—that “they can run without…”—these aren’t sprinter Christians. A sprinter Christian is someone who trusts God in the moment, when they’re really struggling, and then forgets God when everything’s going good. No, God wants us to run the marathon with Him, to go the distance with Him.

And then for others, the greatest thing we can do is learn what it is to walk with Him every single day, that faithful pulse of walking with God. He promises [us we’re] not to faint. When we go back to that word, “wait,” I’m exchanging my terrible strength that breaks all the time, like a little thimble string; I’m braiding that faith into God’s unbreakable rope. There’s an exchange that happens of strength. So that’s why God wanted the disciples to wait in the resurrection. That’s why He wants us to wait today, because He’s strengthening us.

Dave: So that’s what Isaiah means by “renew your strength,” those who wait for the Lord?

Jeremiah: Exactly; exactly.

Dave: Because you think strength is renewed when you move—when you get onto the bench and you start pounding out weights/pounds—but you don’t think you get stronger by waiting; you think you get weaker,—

Jeremiah: That’s right.

Dave: —but you get stronger.

Ann: It feels so passive.

Jeremiah: Waiting on God is about who we become when we wait. God’s doing something in our heart when we wait on Him—He’s deepening us; He’s forming us—there’s spiritual formation happening at the deepest levels of our heart. So that’s the power of waiting on Him; it’s who we become while we wait on Him.

Ann: Have there been circumstances in your life that you’ve had to wait? You chose this word, “wait,” for the year; so I’m guessing that you’ve had to wait at certain times that have been difficult.

Jeremiah: Absolutely. As [in our] marriage—I mean, when we’re told the fact that our triplets were going to have health problems—and we were asked if we wanted a fetal reduction, to use a cultural euphemism, we had to know what it was to wait on God. When we were told that Abel had a VSD (ventricular septal defect) in his heart, and he wasn’t going to make it, we had to wait on God. Every single day we’re met with things.

Those are some of the terrible stories; there are other faith-filled stories of God—no publisher will publish my book—“God, You’ve called me to do great things for You. Why is no one listening?” I just kept taking the next logical steps of faith, knowing that God had called me, knowing that He was in total control; that He’s got this! I’m still waiting—there’s still more things I want to do for God—there’s way more I want to do for my family and mentoring my five children. I need to know what it is to wait on Him and let this “work that God has begun”—Philippians 1:6,7—"He’ll bring it to completion.”

We do live in such a fast-paced culture—and I’m the most guilty: PreCheck TSA, the speed lane/HOV [High-Occupancy Vehicle] lane—this is my life. My wife says, “You’re always running and gunning.” [Laughter]

Ann: You and Dave are the same. I tend to be like that, too.

Jeremiah: I do think, though, I have been so empowered by waiting on Him—because it’s making me a different Christian; it’s making me a different dad; it’s making me a different husband—because it’s also strengthening me because not strength in myself—not like: “Hey, I’m a great waiter now,”—no; it’s strengthening me in who God is. God sets up this whole message by saying, “I give power to the faint. To those who have no might, I increase your strength. But you’ve got to wait on Me and let Me strengthen you.”

Dave: I think one of the hardest things to wait on is somebody else. I’m thinking of the spouse, who’s like, “I’m just waiting for my husband to finally get it.” I know Ann felt that way about me for probably more than a month or two.

Ann: And it’s interesting, too, because we just spoke about marriage at a church. I remember saying, with you, “We’ve been married 43 years, and it was hard—hard—like we were in a valley, waiting many times. But in that valley, man, we were on our knees because we were desperate: “I can’t change you, and you can’t change me; but God can.”

Dave: Yes, that’s the question: “What do you do?”—because we all do this—“I’m good, but she isn’t,”—

Jeremiah: Yes; oh, yes; right.

Dave: —“…he isn’t.”

Jeremiah: Right; right.

Dave: We feel like we’re waiting; and it could be a parent with their child: “When are they going to come back?” if they’re a prodigal or “When are they going to grow up/mature?”

Again, when it’s out of my hands—when I’m in the waiting room, and it’s God working on me, that’s hard; but I can see, hopefully,—

Ann: At least, we have a little control of it.

Dave: —but when it’s somebody else, and I can’t control, I get frustrated: “How long do I have to wait?!

Jeremiah: Totally; yes.

Dave: “Maybe, I should check out.”

Jeremiah: Yes, all those thoughts are normal. The example you used, Genesis 12-18; I mean, they laughed at God. They got so tired of being told that something was going to happen, that didn’t. God has a sense of humor because: “You’re going to name your son Yitzchaq”—in Hebrew, Isaac means “laughter”—"I’m going to remember you laughed at Me; I’m faithful; I’m faithful.”

For me, I go back to Scripture. This is what I love about the Scriptures; it doesn’t hide us from those embarrassing narratives, because we all have messy obedience. We all have: “When’s this guy going to get right with God?” Can you imagine if we were interviewing the father of the prodigal today—from Luke 15—who, every day, waited for his son and ran towards him? His son had a prepared speech; he couldn’t even get through it; his dad just embraces him. These are stories to strengthen us in those times when it’s really hard when you’re waiting on someone.

I think the hardest is to wait on our kids when we know that God has a plan for their life. We know that, if they would just listen to us, if we’re following Jesus. [Laughter] But you know what? They’re going through their journey, and we’ve got to release them to the Lord. That doesn’t mean: “Hands off!”; but it says: “Lord, You’ve got them. I’m going to give them the greatest foundation I can, but I’m going to leave room for You to work in their life. I’m going to wait on You, God, for the work that You’re doing. I’m never going to give up on them; I’m never going to disown them. I’m going to love them with an undying love, like You love me.”

And like my wife teaches—I wish she was here—we’re going to learn to love unconditionally. I think that’s the beautiful thing, when we’re waiting on someone, we have to learn what it truly means to love unconditionally.

Ann: I’m thinking of Martha and Mary—

Jeremiah: Right.

Ann: —when their brother, Lazarus, had died; and Jesus wasn’t there.

Jeremiah: He waited four days. “Where is He? I thought He was our best friend.” This was a place Jesus was so familiar: He chooses to stay—He’s not four days away—He chooses to wait. This is where we have to replace our “If only’s” with “If Jesus…” Mary and Martha kept saying, “Jesus, if only You had been here, my brother wouldn’t have died,”—[John 11] verse 21 and verse 32—they have the same question: “If only You had been here…” Jesus is saying [paraphrasing], “Hey, replace all those ‘If only’s’ with ‘If Me; I’ve got a plan that I’m working.”

They had the benefit of seeing it immediately; they saw a great transformation. We could all give testimonies of transformations. But guess what? It doesn’t always work out that way. That’s where we learn to wait on God, and renew our strength, and watch Him work. This is the hard part of being a Christian; but it’s also the most rewarding, where we have to learn: “God show me what it is to wait.”

But here’s the cool thing: I’m armed with the truth of the resurrection. I’m armed with the truth that Jesus has conquered our greatest foe: death, sin, and the grave. God’s got this. That’s where the old Garth Brooks’ song comes in: “Thank God for unanswered prayers.” Y’all know I’m a country music fan. [Laughter] I often think about that—in the moment, we had a different prayer—"Thank God He didn’t answer that prayer; because man, God had Audrey for me: ‘Here’s a wife…’” or “God had this going on…” or “What if I had given up wanting to have kids?”—we couldn’t get pregnant for five years; now, my name’s gold-plated at Cosco® for all the diapers we bought. [Laughter]

There are so many fun stories like that. Again, keep coming back to truth; keep coming back to the facts of truth. Like you already said in our other programs: “The feelings are going to fall in line with the facts; keep moving in the directionality of your faith.”

Dave: Yes, another part of that Isaiah passage that you’ve quoted and mentioned is: “If we wait, there’s this promise that we’ll run and not grow weary.” I think we often think, “The longer I wait, the more weary I get.” It’s like, “How does that work that I don’t get weary?” Because none of us want to be weary; we want the opposite. Explain how you think that works: that waiting helps us actually get stronger, not weary.

Jeremiah: The way I would answer that is: “We get to a much larger picture of who God is in our life.” It reminds me of Prince Caspian, if you’ve read The Chronicles of Narnia to your kids—I encourage you to do that if you haven’t—Lucy sees Aslan: “You’re so much bigger now.” He said, “No, I’m not any bigger; you’re just older. You’re growing in seeing who I really am.”

We all need a greater revelation of God; that’s exactly what Habakkuk saw in his 56-verse prayer journal; literally, he just needed a greater vision of who God is. “How does it happen?” I think we get a greater vision of who God is, and that allows us to be stronger the longer we wait.

Ann: You had mentioned, in Isaiah 40, that God asks us questions. What were the questions that He asks?

Jeremiah: Yes, He asks 18 questions in Isaiah, Chapter 40. I just love these questions. Again, He asks these questions, not to condemn us, but to comfort us when He says:

“Who are you going to liken Me to? I’m incomparable,”—when He says—“Who’s measured the waters in the hollow of His hands?”—literally, the distance from the end of your pinky to the end of your thumb. God says, “That’s all the waters on earth; I measure that in My hand.”

He says: “Who marks off the heavens with a span?”

“Who enclosed the dust of the earth?”

“Who weighs the mountains on the scale?”

“Who has measured the Spirit of the Lord?”

“Who gives Me consultation?”—His understanding is unsearchable, the Bible says.

I love what He says: He’s asking them this when they’re at their worst—they’ve been disobedient—they’ve been taken captive by Babylon. A lot of us today, we’ve been disobedient; we are in some captivity that we caused from our life.

Ann: —or we’ve been like Job; we’ve been faithful—

Jeremiah: Yes, we’ve been faithful and still lost everything: “Do you not know?” “Do you not hear; has it not been told you from the beginning; have you not understood?” God continues to say, “It is Me; lift up your eyes and see Me.”

And then, He tells them, in verse 27—talking about questions—“Why do you say, O, Jacob”—by the way, you could write your name in here: “Why do you say, Jeremiah?” “Why do you speak, Audrey?: ‘My way is hidden from the Lord; why is God disregarding me?’—Have you not known; have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator.”

God is limitless; He doesn’t get tired of you asking; He doesn’t forget you. These are such reassuring words; that’s why Isaiah 40 is quoted in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Jesus quoted Isaiah more than any other book of the Old Testament. Isaiah shows up, fascinatingly, in 90 percent of the 260 chapters of the New Testament. That’s how important Isaiah is to the life of the believer today. That’s why Isaiah 40:30,31 is the life verse for so many Christians; because we’ve all been in there; we all have that testimony.

Ann: When it says, in verse 31: “They will soar on wings like eagles,” what do you think that means?

Jeremiah: Well, this is a wonderful picture; because if you go back to Exodus,
Chapter 3—again, another time Israel was in bondage—Moses is quoting God; and He says, “I took you out of Egypt on wings of eagles.” God delivers us. And an eagle soars—not by their strength—but by catching the updrafts of the wind currents. We just all need an updraft of who God is in our life; and then, we soar. That’s the beautiful thing about: “When we wait, we fly”; that’s the payoff for me. [Laughter] “God, I want to wait on You, because I’d rather fly than walk alone. And I don’t want to get ahead of You.”

Shelby: I’m Shelby Abbott, and you’ve been listening to Dave and Ann Wilson, with Jeremiah Johnston, on FamilyLife Today. You know, Dr. Johnston wanted to share some thoughts with you/a special thought with you, as a FamilyLife Today listener.

Jeremiah: I want to thank every single one of you for partnering with this incredible ministry, FamilyLife Today. We need voices, like Dave and Ann Wilson and the entire team here, because FamilyLife Today is so distinctive; because we can always count on biblically-based teaching with immediate practical solutions. I have the opportunity to talk about Christianity on a lot of different programs, lots of different media. My favorite is FamilyLife Today because the ministry—the team, the leadership, the producers, the editors; everybody here—is all in on the central vision of helping your family grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ.

If you’ve never supported FamilyLife Today, I want to encourage you to jump in and start supporting now. And for all of those who are faithfully supporting, “Thank you so much.” This is such a powerful ministry that reverberates, truly, all over the world. That’s why I’m delighted every time I have an opportunity to stop by and record biblically-based programs for families and marriages. Thank you so much for your support.

Shelby: Wow; that was so kind and encouraging to hear his words about this ministry. If you wanted to become a partner with us today, we wanted to be intentional and send you a copy of Jeremiah Johnston’s book, and video access to his study, as our gift to you when you partner with us.

You can get a copy of Jeremiah Johnston’s book called Body of Proof, along with access to the video series, as a study on the resurrection of Jesus. You get all that by giving online at You can click on the “Donate” button at the top of the page, and it’ll walk you through how to do that. Or you can give us a call with your donation at 800-358-6329; again, the number is 800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.” Or you can feel free to drop us a donation in the mail if you’d like; our address is FamilyLife, 100 Lake Hart Drive, Orlando, FL 32832. When you do send us something in the mail, just make sure you request a copy of Jeremiah Johnston’s Body of Proof.

We look forward to seeing you next week on FamilyLife Today. 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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