Brian Johnson is the President of Bethel Music and has dedicated his life alongside his wife, Jenn Johnson, and his family to the worship ministry of Bethel Church. In the first installment of the blog series, “Worship as a Lifestyle,” Brian boldly shares about a season in his life where the Lord broke through barriers of pain, anxiety and fear that had overcome him. Watch Brian share below during a service at Bethel Church (transcription of his sharing is also below).
My favorite line of the song “Have It All” is, “Oh the peace that comes, when I’m broken and undone. By Your unfailing grace, I can lift my voice and say, ‘You can have it all.’” I think that those of us who write songs secretly, in our hearts, write songs hoping that one day we will be able to live them out. When you’re broken enough, it’s 100% by His unfailing grace that we can do anything.
It’s a powerful moment when you’re broken and finally realize that striving goes away. You don’t strive for recognition, you can do things simply because you’re recognized by Him.
Sometimes you look at someone you see as “great,” and think their greatness was instant. We wonder how they got to that point, but 100% of the time, there’s no such thing as instant success. The truth is, when you hear their backstory, it’s called pain.
The toughest people have endured the most pain, and are still smiling. I want to talk about this: for most of my life, that’s how I’ve handled pain– presenting a tough face while suffering inside, unnoticed. I know everyone handles pain differently, but for me, I haven’t been in touch with myself. In my heart, when I would experience pain, I’d be the person that stuffs my pain down and says, “I’m fine.” The classic American male. Right? The reality is, instead of being fine, I was stuffing my pain and I didn’t know how to react when I experienced pain. I’ve been doing that my whole life, until July of 2015, which I’ll get into later.
It’s interesting that we spend most of our lives avoiding pain at all costs. We do whatever we can to avoid it. But most of the time, when we face pain, head on, that’s what propels us into our destiny. Pain is the very thing that changes the game for us, it’s the tipping point. We finally get courage enough to face the pain.
The whole mindset of “I’m tough, I can handle it,” is a lie. It really is. I can testify to that. Are we content with life and ourselves when all of our crutches are gone? You know, what do you do when you get home from work? Do you open that beer, watch the game, eat too much? What’s your thing, what’s your vice? What if all of those things were removed, would you be content, and would you be happy with your life? And it’s not just sin. We look at sin and say, “this is sin, and this isn’t.” I’ll tell you what, watching the game could be sin. It could be that thing that makes you distracted so you’re not facing your real inner pain or turmoil. And I was the kind of guy that did that my whole life. Culture teaches us to “man up” or ignore the pain, instead of admitting we are hurting or even feel the pain.
We’re designed to feel pain, then bring it to the Father, and leave it at His feet. It’s not wrong to feel pain.
If someone does something wrong to you, it’s okay to feel the pain. Jesus felt every pain that we ever experienced. But He did something very different than what we do a lot of the time. He brought it to the Father’s feet, got back up, and went about His day.
In the summer of 2015, I began to realize how stuffing down the pain and living in un-forgiveness was effecting me. I saw that the burden and weight of un-forgiveness was never ours to carry. Nobody can handle the weight of un-forgiveness. Nobody. The most will-power in the world can’t handle the weight of un-forgiveness or bitterness. You will eventually pop, and that’s what happened to me.
I was with my son, Braden. Braden and I have this thing that we do together, we love to catch lizards. When I was a kid, that’s all I loved to do and my son is all about it as well. We were out lizard catching one day, at the Sundial Bridge. Bethel Music was going well and there was lots of business and a lot of stress. A lot was going on. The day after WorshipU on Campus, we went down to the bridge to catch lizards, and once we got down there, I was feeling funny, something was wrong. Something was off physically and emotionally. It was interesting because I’m not normally a guy that “feels” a lot. But in that moment something started happening, and it started building. My chest started hurting really bad, and I felt really weird, like I wasn’t myself. So I got Braden, and we went home early.
When I got home, I remember telling Jenn, “Something’s off.” I’d had panic attacks before, when I was a kid, and the only way I could get out of this was through vertical praise– like when King Jehoshaphat went before the army and would praise, and God sent an ambush to get the enemy. It’s like we’re on a bridge, and God is the elephant and we’re the mouse. As we walk over the old, crooked, wooden bridge, it shakes, but we get to the other side and we yell to God, “We sure shook that bridge!” That’s what happens when we praise. And I learned all of those tools, but this was different. As Jenn and I are walking outside on our property, I remember just falling apart. I was physically shaking, my chest was just killing me, and I couldn’t breathe. So we go back to the house, and I put on a worship song, and for the next hour, I was just pacing and having a nervous breakdown, I didn’t know that was happening.
My dad and parents came over, and our friend Mark that’s a firefighter, and then Kris and Kathy Vallotton came over and it got really intense. If you’ve ever experienced that kind of thing, you’re completely out of control and there’s not an ounce of will-power that can get you out of that. For some of us, our worst fear in life is to be out of control. When we’re out of control, it feels like you’re going to be in eternity, tormented forever, and there’s no hope. That day, the anxiety got to a point where my heart started racing, and I remember saying, “I can’t do this.” I was freaking out, and we called for an ambulance. They hooked me up to oxygen until we could get to the hospital. Before we left, I remember grabbing my kids and telling them, “This is when God becomes real.” A lot of the time, life happens, but nothing pushes us over the limit to where it’s God or nothing at all.
Consider it a gift when you’re faced with a circumstance, and God is the only answer.
I tell our team that now, because most people never get to experience a level of pain where God becomes their only hope. There’s no drug, there’s nothing that can mask that kind of pain. I tell them, “consider it a gift when you’re at your end, and God is your only answer, lucky for you. What happens is, you’re going to enter into a deep time of healing and your ministry will start out of that, and it will be pure.”
Through this whole nervous breakdown, I experienced so much deep pain that I couldn’t stay in the house when the kids were loud. I couldn’t really handle anything, and I had to stop working. No one could talk to me about anything that might potentially be stressful, because I’d start having panic attacks. I would look outside at the grass and if it wasn’t cut right, I’d start to have panic attacks. It was just really strange. During this season, Jenn and I went to Napa to get away, to try to get some rest. While we were there, it was like hell on earth. Every night, I was up and my chest was killing me, but it was a tipping point in my life. While on the way back, Jenn walked me through some inner healing that I didn’t even know I needed. It was like the Lord was in the car with us. I was on the verge of hyper-ventilating and she began walking me through issues I was dealing with that were non-recognizable until that moment. It was a long, intense drive, but I remember the moment after that drive when I just said, “I will do anything to not feel this pain!” It was in that moment that I got right with God. It wasn’t that I had backslid before– I’ve been a Christian, I’ve been loving God my whole life, but this was a whole different level. I started reading the Bible day and night and there was a song that I wrote with a friend, that I would put on repeat all day long. That’s all I did, read and pray. God spoke to me a lot and I was fearful that when it ended, I was going to lose that intimacy. When He began unveiling things to me, it was a special time, and even though I was going through pain, I had this feeling that when life continues and gets normal again, I don’t ever want to lose this place of closeness with God. I was going to spend time with God for no other reason than just to be with Him.
Faith is the inner confidence that God alone is enough.
In the Bible, every person that knew that they needed a savior, got what they needed when they came to Jesus. Every person in the gospels, whether they were rich or poor, whether they were a Pharisee, Jew or Gentile– every person that knew that they needed a savior, got what they wanted when they came to Jesus. When we get to a place in life where we know this, we will respond in a way that will forever change us. It’s not enough to see our sin and feel remorse. We have to behold Him, the One that we’ve truly sinned against, to be changed. People often come to the altar because they feel bad about their sin, they feel like a sinner. However, the problem is, that’s only step one. Step two is this: you have to run after Him in faith until you behold Him.
Brian Johnson wrote the title track of the album “Have It All” during this season of overcoming anxiety and pain. Learn more about the album here and watch as Brian shares more about his heart behind this powerful song.