Tag Archives: fear

Review: Calm Before the Storm, by Janice L. Dick

Calm Before the Storm, by Janice L. Dick (Tansy & Thistle Press, 2020)

Family dynamics, faith, coming-of-age, and gentle romance, all set in the turbulent days leading up to the Russian Revolution.

From a haven-like estate in Crimea to impoverished rooms on the wrong side of town in St. Petersburg, from starving soldiers near the front lines of World War 1 to a private hospital for the mentally ill, and with other settings along the way, Calm Before the Storm evokes 1914-1916 Russia as experienced by the Hildebrandt family and their friends.

The Hildebrandts are Russian Mennonites, people of German heritage whose ties to this land only go back a hundred or so years. As the poorer classes grow more desperate for political reform, hostility also brews toward these “German” Russians.

Katarina Hidebrandt is a young woman who sees the best in everyone, yet she must acknowledge the growing tension and the sense that life is about to change. As her family separates and the young teacher she loves is sent to serve in the hopeless war effort, she learns to rely on her faith and to make what difference she can in her world.

What could be a depressingly heavy tale is instead told with a careful touch, beautiful descriptions, and traces of humour. The characters are honest in their questions and their choices, and somehow despite the pain they find hope (most of them).

As well as providing a fascinating glimpse into this period of history, the novel resonates particularly well with the brooding uncertainty of 2020. Katarina’s struggles in the face of unwanted change and trouble can help readers who are feeling the same concerns even if our situations are different.

It’s not a preachy story, but Katarina’s and others’ examples of living out their faith give us clues we may take to heart. I feel a bit better-equipped to face my own doubts when they sneak up on me again.

Some favourite lines:

The Juschanlee River wandered westward over the Russian steppes, collecting little villages on its meandering way… (Chapter 1)

“The air is so clean and clear, like it’s been washed and left to dry in the sun.” (Johann, in Chapter 5)

“In political crises people cease to view others as people, and instead consider them merely a means toward an end or, in this case, an obstacle to a desired end.” (Heinrich, Chapter 6… timely, no?)

“Yesterday is gone, and tomorrow is in God’s hands. No regrets, no worries. I can put all my energies into this day.” (Katarina, Chapter 8, but this peace was not easily won)

Calm Before the Storm is book 1 in Janice L. Dick’s Storm series. Book 2, Eye of the Storm, is expected to release in December 2020. The series was originally published by Herald Press and is now out of print. I’m glad to see new editions being released in print and ebooks as part of The Mosaic Collection. For more about the author and her work, visit her website.

[Advance review copy provided by the author. My opinions are my own.]

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Fear and Worship

When Jesus woke up, he rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Silence! Be still!” Suddenly the wind stopped, and there was a great calm. Then he asked them, “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

The disciples were absolutely terrified. “Who is this man?” they asked each other. “Even the wind and waves obey him!”
Mark 4:39-41, NLT*

Matthew, Mark, and Luke each record Jesus calming the storm, and they each follow the account with what happened when the boat reached its destination. Jesus freed a demon-possessed man (Matthew says two men) and sent the demons into a herd of pigs which then dashed into the lake and drowned.

In the boat, the disciples had been afraid of drowning in the storm, but then they were terrified by the power Jesus displayed. Following Jesus, they’d seen Him heal people, but somehow this authority over the elements was even more awe-inspiring to them.

On land, the townspeople also responded with fear, but of a different kind. They pleaded with Jesus to leave them.

Peter once begged Jesus to leave him, because he knew his sinful nature and feared to be in the presence of one so great (see Luke 5:8). Instead, Jesus called him as a disciple. Here, the people asked Him to go and He went. It’s not about the “please leave,” it’s about the heart-reason behind it.

Peter and the other disciples were afraid with a holy fear of God. They worshipped, but feared their unworthiness. These town-folk were afraid of a power that shook things up and threatened their way of life. They didn’t recognize it as from God, and they just wanted it gone.

God who speaks to sickness, storms, and sinners, please open our eyes to recognize Your holy power. Plant in us a holy fear of You, an awe and wonder that leads us to worship You. Let us never fear You in the way that would make us hide from You. Instead, draw us ever nearer like moths to Your flame. Thank You for Your grace that saves us and takes away our fear of judgment, and that welcomes us into Your presence.

A good worship song to focus us on God’s power is Travis Ryan’s “You Hold it All.”

*New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Our Victory Comes from God

I wait quietly before God,
for my victory comes from him.
Psalm 62:1, NLT*

Where do you need victory today? In an external conflict? A health issue? Inside your own thoughts or fears?

This psalm describes David’s enemies, sandwiching his plight between two declarations of his choice to wait quietly before God. God is his hope, his source of victory, and his fortress.

Since the psalm ends by affirming God’s ultimate judgement, likely this victory David’s counting on is a literal triumph over those plotting against him. But there’s another victory he could also be sure of – the same one we need today.

With God as his – and our – fortress, we have the security and salvation we need. By faith we can keep our eyes on the Lord and declare with David, “I will not be shaken.” (verse 6)

What if the threat is intense, and we’re trembling in our boots? David may have been quaking, too. If not this time, then earlier in his life. He can wait quietly and stand firm in faith because he has practiced – over and over – every time danger threatened. He had nowhere to go but God, and he learned that God was enough.

We can’t even quiet our souls without God, but that’s a prayer He will love to answer. David’s method was to concentrate on God’s might and character until he had a true perspective of where the real power lay – and then he could trust in God’s care.

We can learn to do the same. The battle we see, that threatens to swallow us whole – may not work out as we want. But the deeper battle is the spiritual one – will we stand secure in God, or will we fall?

Here’s where we can discover the assurance of victory. Whatever happens, Jesus will be with us. He will sustain us. He will be enough.

If we choose, by His strength, to quiet ourselves before Him and trust His deliverance, others will see His goodness.

We may or may not see the external victory we long for, but we can experience daily victory over our thoughts, attitudes, and fears by choosing to dwell each moment in God’s fortress.

Father, fear shouts so loudly that victory seems impossible. Have mercy on Your fragile children and give us the faith and strength to choose Your security. Quiet our flailing spirits so we can rest in You. Give us confidence in Your care, because You are indeed good.

Chris Tomlin’s song, “Good, Good Father,” helps us retrain our thoughts into trust.

*New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Testing our Thoughts

For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.
2 Timothy 1:7, NLT*

Chances are, if you haven’t actually memorized this verse, you recognize it when you hear it. I’ve always understood it in the context of not allowing fear to keep us from serving or obeying God.

Paul is writing to Timothy, a young leader who seems to be struggling with this. As such, I’ve taken it as an admonishment to be brave and not give in. I’m sure it’s that, but now I see something else as well.

It’s a partial description of our two natures: the natural self and the Holy Spirit-led self.

With that perspective, the verse can be used to test our responses. Am I feeling fearful, timid, anxious? That’s my old nature, not God. I don’t have to accept/ obey/ believe it. I can ask the Holy Spirit to be power, love, and self-discipline in me.

Then, of course, I have to choose to accept/ obey/ believe what He gives. Building up the spiritual muscles of our new nature takes consistent effort.

In decision-making, sometimes God will hold us back. We can never quote this verse blindly and forge ahead over our fears into obvious trouble. But God’s way of reining us in is more like a check in our spirit, or a knowing. It won’t be that timidity or anxiety that besets us too often.

For me, using this test makes me stop and think. I know the anxious feeling isn’t God, but somehow if I don’t take time to evaluate it, I automatically believe it must be true.

Because of what Paul’s trying to say to Timothy, this verse focuses on what this anxious young man needed. If you face different areas of weakness, you could easily use it as a template. Just fill in those natural weaknesses in the “not” category, and in the Bible, find the Spirit’s corresponding strengths for the “yes” side.

Our God, we thank You that You have given us Your Holy Spirit to live in us and guide and grow us. Help us learn to distinguish between our old ways and Your ways, and align us with  Your Spirit so we can become all You have for us to be.

Here’s a song from Big Daddy Weave: “Jesus, I Believe.” It doesn’t talk about today’s verse specifically, but it looks at the choice to set our minds on what Jesus says instead of what we may feel.

*New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

When the Times Scare Us

How great are [God’s] signs,
how powerful his wonders!
His kingdom will last forever,
his rule through all generations.
Daniel 4:3, NLT*

Current political trends in Canada and the US frighten me, and they’re mild compared to some of what’s happening around the world. Because they’re closer to home, I have a greater sense of impending doom – my loved ones and I will have to live in the middle of what comes.

Humanly speaking, it’s going downhill fast. And not in the fun “sledding in the snow” way.

But God is bigger. Stronger. Wiser than our foolishness and sin. What He sees likely offends and saddens Him, but it’s not unique. Nor is it a surprise.

The great and merciful God who spoke the universe into being, who devised a miraculous way to rescue people from our destructive path, will not be defeated by human leaders or the people who exalt them. His plans will come to fruition.

When His chosen people wouldn’t stop turning away from Him, He did finally give them over to captivity in Babylon for 50 years, as He had warned. This does not comfort me.

But read the whole Book of Daniel. Look at how God shook up these heathen kings. Look at how He revealed His glory. And read on in the Bible to see how He faithfully brought His people back to the promised land… as promised.

God is faithful. We, as a planet full of people, are not. When we turn (or drift) away, He needs to bring us back or we’ll miss everything He wants to give us. Today, every day, let’s pray for spiritual renewal and revival: for ourselves, our loved ones, our leaders, and our enemies.

God our Creator, our Judge, and our Rescuer, we confess our fear and our helplessness. We look to Your mercy and grace. Because of Your love, draw men, women and children to Yourself. Reveal Your glory, Your relevance, and our need. Forgive our faithlessness and grant us the faith to fully believe. Raise up leaders who will be wise, and give those in power wisdom in their decisions. Open blind eyes, unstop deaf ears, and intervene in ways that will show Your power and Your glory.

Let Todd Agnew’s rendition of “God Undefeatable” reassure our spirits today.

*New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007, 2013 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Trusting God’s Timing

All those listed above include fourteen generations from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the Babylonian exile, and fourteen from the Babylonian exile to the Messiah.
Matthew 1:17, NLT*

“All those listed above” are the ancestors of Jesus. Matthew opens his account of the birth of the Messiah with a genealogy. A strange devotional verse? Perhaps, but it’s the one that touched my spirit for this week.

Did you notice the pattern? Fourteen generations each time. If the priests and scribes had been aware of it and had been counting, they’d have known the timing of God’s next big step.

But God prefers to work in surprising ways, ways we look back on and see clearly even though we didn’t anticipate them.

The same with the “where” of Jesus’ birth: One prophecy said Bethlehem, but another said He’d be called out of Egypt. Clues to keep the faithful anticipating, yet not to reveal the full picture.

If we had sight, we wouldn’t need faith. Which is why I don’t take this verse as a challenge to comb Scripture and piece together a timeline for Jesus’ return. He clearly said that was a secret.

Instead, what this verse says to me is that God has a plan. He knows the various details and intricate inter-weavings that will bring it all together in His perfect time. We know His character, His power and authority.

We can trust Him to look after all that, and we can be about the daily elements of our Father’s business, loving our families, caring for our neighbours and co-workers, conducting ourselves as Christ-followers in a very confused world.

God who is the Author and the Finisher of our faith, help us to trust You. Please keep us from discouragement when we don’t see Your plans unfolding, and keep us equally from trying to “hurry” or “help” You. Keep us from fear when we look at the world around us. Reassure us of Your perfect wisdom, power, and timing. Help us to live each day in confidence in You.

This week’s song is one I’ve loved and found comfort in from way back in my university days: Sheila Walsh’s “In Your Way.”

*New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007, 2013 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

God Stepped In

And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love.
Romans 8:38, NLT*

Paul says not even “our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow.” Fear wants to tell us we’re cut off from God, but fear lies.

Circumstances can be painful, overwhelming. But God is with us, and that is our hope. His love holds us, His grace sustains us, and He refuses to leave us to suffer alone.

We can get angry at Him for allowing our pain, but that doesn’t help. All it does is reduce our capacity to experience His presence.

Or we can press into Him and pray to see Him at work in our trouble – and when we see evidence of His care, we can praise and thank Him. Our faith will grow, and others will see that He makes a difference.

“The love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:39b, NLT*) At Christmas, we celebrate the beginning of that revelation. God incarnate stepped into our pain.

Creator and Redeemer God, thank You for Your strong love that can never be broken. Teach us to rely on Your character and Your promises, and to anchor on the truth that You will never leave us.

Michael Card‘s song, “Immanuel,” reminds us of the wonderful truth that God is with us.

*New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007, 2013 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Thought Defense

There’s a scene in one of the first Harry Potter books that speaks to our daily thought life. It’s been a long time since I read it, but I can paraphrase.

Young Harry is at wizard school [please, let’s not get into an argument about the pros and cons of magic in fiction] and the lesson is on controlling another person’s thoughts. The aim of the class is to learn self-defense against such a thing, because there are villains on the loose.

When it’s Harry’s turn, he experiences a sudden desire to do something. I don’t remember what, so we’ll say it’s to stand on a chair. It makes perfect sense for him to stand on this chair, and he really wants to do it, even though, as in any other school, chairs are for sitting.

He’s really thinking about it, how important it is to stand on this chair.

He’s about to move when a puzzling thought strikes: why? Why should he stand on the chair? He doesn’t have to do that, and the professor, who hates him, would probably give him a detention. He doesn’t want to get up on the chair anyway.

So he doesn’t. The attack is broken.

As Christians, we’re to “take every thought captive to Christ.” Part of that is choosing not to contemplate what’s unwholesome or sinful. I think part of it is also realizing that we don’t have to accept those negative or hurtful thoughts that the devil – or our past – tries to make us believe.

Some of them are outright lies (“God’s holding out on you”) that we can refute with Scripture, out loud if necessary. “And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:19, NLT)”

Some of them are vague feelings or fears. It’s easy to believe them because feelings seem real, but “we live by faith, not by sight” – or by feel.

I’m finding the more I work at submitting my mind to Christ’s, and at speaking truth against the negatives that have ruled me in the past, the easier it is to recognize an attack in progress. And sometimes, before it takes hold, I notice the initial malaise and find that incisive why? rising in my thoughts. Not in defiance, but in curiosity. Why should I accept the idea to feel bad about myself because someone else is x, y, or z? Why compare? Let them be who they are. And let me look to God and find my sufficiency in Him.

Maybe if I live and practise long enough, this won’t be such a rare experience that it inspires a blog post!

In each of my Redemption’s Edge novels, at least one character ends up confronting negative thoughts or fears with truth. Maybe it’s because it’s something I need to learn personally, but I think it’s because a whole lot of people, Christians and non, are walking around believing lies they don’t have to accept.

What about you? Is this something you ever struggle with? Or do you know people who do?

Why accept negative thoughts and fears, when Jesus speaks truth?

Click image to tweet what it says.

A Teaching Moment

The disciples went and woke him up, shouting, “Master, Master, we’re going to drown!”

When Jesus woke up, he rebuked the wind and the raging waves. Suddenly the storm stopped and all was calm.
Luke 8:24, NLT*

We know from the Gospels that Jesus rose early to pray and sometimes stayed up late praying. We can assume preaching, teaching and healing was exhausting. Yet this is His only recorded nap. I think He did it intentionally during this storm, as part of the day’s lesson for His disciples.

Not that they recognize it as a teaching moment—they’re panicking, shouting. Expecting to die.

After He calms the storm, Jesus asks, “Where is your faith?” And Luke says the disciples are “terrified and amazed” at what He has done. (Luke 8:25, NLT*)

I catch an undertone of, “Why were you freaking out? All you had to do was ask.” His question isn’t about blame, or about their lack of faith. It’s to show them faith applies even here.

By this point in their relationship, the disciples have heard Jesus’ authority when He taught. They’ve seen miracles: healings, demons cast out, a supernatural catch of fish. Even a raising from the dead.

But this new crisis seems so immediate—so personal—and they don’t think to ask Jesus for help.

Were they angry when they woke Him? I can imagine their mutterings: “How could He sleep at a time like this? How could He put us into this situation—didn’t He know it would happen?”

I’ve read this account many times, but today it speaks again: In new situations I need to not only remember what Jesus has done in the past, but remember His power. His presence. And ask for His help.

Also, if I’m dealing with something that’s in my area of expertise, I shouldn’t assume I need to handle it in my own strength and understanding. Remember when Jesus sent the fishermen out after a night of catching nothing—and nearly broke the nets with the haul of fish. (Luke 5:1-11)

God, You are a patient teacher, yet so many times we don’t learn. Open our hearts, minds and spirits to receive what You want us to know. Help us to remember what You’ve shown us in the past, and to be confident in Your presence and Your power, whatever new things come our way.

Jeremy Camp‘s song, “Walk By Faith,” is a good reminder for us all.

*New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Choosing to Trust God

In God, whose word I praise—
in God I trust and am not afraid.
What can mere mortals do to me?
Psalm 56:4, NIV*

Did you ever struggle with this verse? David repeats it twice in this psalm, so we know it’s important.

Maybe it’s my fiction-writer’s imagination. Maybe it’s some of the books I’ve read, or the news footage I’ve seen, but whenever I’ve seen the question “What can mere mortals do to me?” my mind started making a list.

We know that our fellow humans can do some terrible things. How could we not fear the worst-case scenarios? Sometimes God lets these things happen, even to His own.

I couldn’t believe this verse. Doubting left me feeling guilty.

This time through the psalm, God alerted me to the context of the verse. This is David writing, David who has been promised by God that he will be Israel’s next king.

At this point in David’s life, he’s on the run from the present king, Saul. Yes, David is afraid. Saul has a large, well-equipped army, and only wants one thing: David, dead.

But God has promised. Because of that, David can reassure himself. Clearly, Saul isn’t as strong as God, and God’s plans will be fulfilled. In light of that, what can mere mortals do to him?

The context liberates me, prompts me instead of doubting to consider: What has God promised me? Where is He directing me? What obstacles are blocking my path, where I can pray in confidence for God’s intervention in His best timing and in His own way?

Even without physical enemies, the “stuff” in life looms large, and pressures can hunt us like King Saul chased David. In our families, work and volunteer duties, home care, and many other areas—we can pray in confidence that, if we’re in God’s will, His purpose for us will be fulfilled. Now that I can believe, although at times it takes a spiritual battle to do so.

God who keeps His promises and whose purposes will be fulfilled, we praise and thank You for the privilege of being Your children and of living for Your glory. Forgive our doubts and stumbling, and remind us that Your plans for us are good. Help us see where we’ve accepted fear or defeat when You wanted us to take courage in Your strength. Lord, we believe. Help our unbelief.

A good song to sing in prayer when we’re struggling with this is Matt Redman‘s “Never Once.”

*New International Version (NIV) Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.