Our Daily Bread Devotions

"Light in a Pandemic"

Week 1 | Hope

Day 1: Grief, God, and Gratitude (Part 1)

We find ourselves living in a time of significant grief. In addition to our personal challenges and losses, we face a historic pandemic, political strife, rekindled racial tensions, and economic uncertainty.

This is a season of deep grief, a grief that at times feels unyielding. However, we must also find a way to allow it to become a time of sincere gratitude. If we are to negotiate the grips of pain that lead to despair, our grief must learn to surrender to gratitude. We will never be completely finished with loss, but if there is to be healing and hope or the possibility of “shattered expectations” being redeemed, we must find, amid the pain, things for which we can say “thank you.”

The Bible, though a book of hope, is filled with stories of loss and grief. One example is the death of Lazarus. In this story, Jesus loses a good friend, whom He loves. And even though Jesus knows this story doesn’t end in death, that Lazarus will live again, He grieves. John 11:32–33 (NRSV) reads,

When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved.

Jesus said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.”

The Bible tells us “Jesus began to weep. So the Jews said, ‘See how he loved him!’” (John 11:34–36).

The story tells us that Jesus, knowing the possibility of Lazarus” death, did not come quickly to heal him, but waited and entered the pain fully with Mary and Martha. Jesus wept for Lazarus with those grieving his death. He shared the weight of the loss, even while He trusted God to be present in the pain and the restoration. In this moment, we see an important set of truths: grief is an emotion that emerges as our defenses are stripped away or as we are forced to face losses that are inevitable in life.

We also see that Jesus, because of His love, joins us in these places of deep vulnerability and pain. When we experience suffering, whether sickness, death, financial insecurity—or all of them at once—we are forced to struggle with disorientation and pain. But we must also know that Jesus is in this with us as we believe in Him. Much like Mary, we want Jesus to come before we face the loss, to allow us to avoid the pain, but His promise is that He will be present with us in the midst of our pain and suffering. This is the place where gratitude begins, when God will meet us in our grief and not leave us alone.

In my own pain and loss during the death of both parents within a three-month span, I felt a deep sense of being orphaned, even as an adult. It wasn’t just the loss of two people who loved and knew me; it was also the feeling of profound aloneness in the world. In those moments, my siblings and I needed to know we were connected and that God would be in this with us. That puts these moments of suffering within the context of a larger story: that bodily death is not the end. A story that says to us we are not alone. Our gratitude, as people of faith, begins in these two beliefs: that God is active in human affairs, and that new life can come from death.

Though Jesus genuinely grieved, before He raised Lazarus from the dead He offered gratitude to the Father: “And Jesus looked upward and said, ‘Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me’” (John 11:41–42 NRSV).

We might think it easier for Jesus to make meaning of these events since He was the Son of God and knew what was to happen. But an embodied Jesus was also subject to the pains, aches, and yearnings of this life. However, He knew that God would not leave Him alone and unheard, and that this was not the end of the story. We know this, too, because we read it in the Bible. We celebrate it together each year by walking from Christmas to Easter. We know that the sting of bodily death has been suppressed and that Jesus will return to set all things right. This provides us with a story of hope in which to set all the events of our lives. This allows us to make meaning of individual experiences. They are not the end of the story—painful as they may be—but moments in God’s redemptive narrative.

Making meaning does not equate to assuming we deserve the suffering or to downplaying and masking the impact of tragedy. After all, Jesus entered fully into the present suffering, body and spirit, and wept. It is instead a way of reframing the story, emphasizing learning and allowing us to see opportunities of growth through the struggles. Jesus demonstrates that we can both grieve—sitting together in our pain—and maintain a spirit of hope and even gratitude.

Why would Jesus begin His prayer with gratitude? What’s so important about gratitude? Gratitude is pivotal. It’s a transformative shift that allows you to feel within your body how bad the situation is but still see that God is active in your circumstance. Gratitude builds resilience. It allows you to hold the bad without losing sight of the good. When we can once again be grateful, we are on our way to healing and building hope.

The Christian faith does not teach us to pursue physical comfort but encourages us toward resilience and perseverance. We are called to be light in places of darkness in the world. We are asked to hold hope in the middle of despair. We can only do this by taking in the larger story of God and allowing it to re-story our narrative of now, not as people who have denied or avoided pain, but as those who have found God in the midst of it. We must ask ourselves, how does God enter the middle of the story and change the ending? How do we make meaning so that something we could describe as catastrophic instead becomes a season of growth and change? How can we, like Jesus, see even in death an opportunity for new life?

J. Derek McNeil, Ph.D.

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Day 2:  When Distance Isn't Good

But as for me, it is good to be near God.
Psalm 73:28

Today’s Reading: Psalm 73:16–28

In a matter of weeks, the dreaded COVID-19 virus had turned our world upside down. “Everyone’s walking around not talking to each other. There’s no eye contact. It’s a very eerie feeling. The tension is really high. It feels like doom.” These were one person’s comments in our local newspaper describing life since the outbreak of the virus. People have been urged to keep safe distances from each other month after month, for their own protection and for the protection of others.

Social distance is a good thing when it’s necessary for human safety. However, this “distancing” principle doesn’t apply in our relationship with God. Spiritual distance isn’t good.

The writer of Psalm 73 wisely concluded, “But as for me, it is good to be near God” (v. 28). But aren’t there days and seasons when God seems far off? Things don’t add up; life doesn’t make sense. The “wrong teams” are winning (vv. 2–15). Confusion reigns in our lives and we cry out, “God, where are you? Have you forgotten about me?”

Then we come to our senses. Sometimes it’s in the context of worship (vv. 16–17) or through reading Scripture or through the encouragement of friends. Our hearts become sensitive again; prayers begin to rise from within (vv. 23–25). Our sight becomes clear and once again we recognize that “God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (v. 26). Even in the difficulties of life, we can be assured of God’s presence and draw close to Him.

Arthur Jackson

When have you felt far from God?
What led to the renewal of your faith and a closer relationship with Him?

Day 3: Free from Fear

I sought the lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears.
Psalm 34:4

Today’s Reading: Psalm 34:1–10

Fear sneaks into my heart without permission. It paints a picture of helplessness and hopelessness. It steals my peace and my concentration. What am I fearful about?

I’m concerned about the safety of my family or the health of loved ones. I panic at the loss of a job or a broken relationship. Fear turns my focus inward and reveals a heart that sometimes finds it hard to trust.

When these fears and worries strike, how good it is to read David’s prayer in Psalm 34: “I sought the lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears” (v. 4). And how does God deliver us from our fears? When we “look to him” (v. 5), when we focus on Him, our fears fade; we trust Him to be in control. Then David mentions a different type of fear—not a fear that paralyzes, but a deep respect and awe of the One who surrounds us and delivers us (v. 7). We can take refuge in Him because He is good (v. 8).

This awe of His goodness helps put our fears into perspective. When we remember who God is and how much He loves us, we can relax into His peace. “Those who fear him lack nothing” (v. 9), concludes David. How wonderful to discover that in the fear of the Lord we can be delivered from our fears.

Keila Ochoa

From what fears does God deliver you?
How has God been good to you? Consider the praise in Psalm 34.

Day 4: A People of Healing

When did we see you sick . . . and go to visit you?

Matthew 25:39

Today’s Reading: Matthew 25:31–46

Believers in Jesus, though a meager minority, enacted a bold witness as the plagues overwhelmed the Roman Empire. According to Rodney Stark in The Rise of Christianity, while the wealthy managed private medical care and fled the city, believers cared for their sick neighbors, nursing them to health or caring for them until death.

In the fourth century, Basil of Caesarea continued this practice by organizing the first major hospital, caring for lepers. From the church’s founding through the Middle Ages and into our contemporary COVID-19 crisis, one of the sure signals of its faithfulness has been sacrificial care for the sick.

Likewise, when we ignore those who suffer, we can be certain we’ve abandoned our calling. Scripture warns that at the end of our life when we must give account for our actions, one of the questions we’ll answer is how we cared for those who were ill (Matthew 25:37–39).

We even hear a stunning reality: to care for the sick is to care for Jesus. “Truly I tell you,” He said, “whatever you did for one of the least of these . . . you did for me” (v. 40). While this doesn’t mean we’re to abandon all safety and take risks with our own health, we’re called to be a people of healing. As we move toward those who suffer, we enact the sacrificial life God has given us, and we directly touch and serve Jesus.

Winn Collier

Where do you see suffering or sickness?
How, with your resources and capacity, might God call you to be a person of healing?

Day 5: Friendship Bench

The lord would speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend.
Exodus 33:11

Today’s Reading: Exodus 33:9–11

In the African country of Zimbabwe, war trauma and high unemployment can leave people in despair—until they find hope on a “friendship bench.” Hopeless people can go there to talk with trained “grandmothers”—elderly women taught to listen to people struggling with depression, known in that nation’s Shona language as kufungisisa, or “thinking too much.”

The Friendship Bench Project is being launched in other places, including Zanzibar, London, and New York City. “We were thrilled to bits with the results,” said one London researcher. A New York counselor agreed. “Before you know it, you’re not on a bench, you’re just inside a warm conversation with someone who cares.”

The project evokes the warmth and wonder of talking with our Almighty God. Moses put up not a bench but a tent to commune with God, calling it the tent of meeting. There, “the lord would speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend” (Exodus 33:11). Joshua, his assistant, wouldn’t even leave the tent, perhaps because he so valued his time with God (v. 11).

Today we no longer need a tent of meeting. Jesus has brought the Father near. As He told His disciples, “I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you” (John 15:15). Yes, our God awaits us. He’s our heart’s wisest helper, our understanding Friend. Talk with Him now.

Patricia Raybon

God, grant me clear vision to see You even when it’s difficult because of my circumstances.

 

Day 6: The Cure for Anxiety

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.
Philippians 4:6

Today’s Reading: Philippians 4:1, 4–9

We were excited about moving for my husband’s job. But the unknowns and challenges left me feeling anxious. Thoughts of sorting and packing up belongings. Looking for a place to live. My finding a new job too. Making my way around a new city, and getting settled. It was all . . . unsettling.

As I thought about my “to-do” list, words written by the apostle Paul echoed in my mind: Don’t worry, but pray (Philippians 4:6–7). If anyone could have been anxious about unknowns and challenges, it would have been Paul. He was shipwrecked. He was beaten. He was jailed. In his letter to the Philippian church, he encouraged his friends who also were facing unknowns, telling them, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (v. 6).

Paul’s words encourage me. Life is not without uncertainties—whether they come in the form of a major life transition, family issues, health scares, or financial trouble.

What I continue to learn is that God cares. He invites us to let go of our fears of the unknown by giving them to Him. When we do, He, who knows all things, promises that His peace, “which transcends all understanding, will guard” our heart and mind in Christ Jesus (v. 7).

Karen Wolfe

God, there’s suffering everywhere.
When I don’t know what to do about it, would You show me?

Day 7:  Light in Darkness

On a dark Sunday morning, my wife, Diane, and I received a call that awoke and startled us. Diane’s father, Tom, had COVID-19 and needed to be hospitalized. We quickly prepared to travel the ten hours from our home in Michigan to be near Tom at the nursing home in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where he lived. Thankfully, Diane was allowed to visit him in intensive care briefly the next day. That thirty-minute visit would be their last. Tom passed away two days later.

We complied with Tom’s previously planned funeral wishes. I led a small graveside service that only immediate family members attended. The next morning, Diane had COVID-19 symptoms. We returned home right away.

She developed more symptoms over the next few days, and so did I—on our thirtieth wedding anniversary. At first, we had mild exhaustion, headaches, body aches, and fever.

A week later, we were not getting better, so we were tested for COVID-19. Our results were positive. We began to wonder as so many do: Will this lead to hospitalization?

When I noticed trouble breathing as I climbed the stairs in our home, our daughter took me to the emergency room at our local hospital, where Diane is a nurse, to be evaluated and treated. Doctors determined I had viral pneumonia, needed oxygen and further medical attention, and admitted me to a private room in the designated COVID-19 unit.

My symptoms quickly increased. I felt anxious due to the higher fever. I had stronger headaches and body aches. I experienced strange smells and tastes, had nausea, and couldn’t sleep well. I grew very concerned. This came to mind: “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). I tried to encourage myself. During moments when I could concentrate, I prayed for strength to persevere and gave thanks for the care I was receiving from the medical staff, for the meals, and for the room (rather than being in a tent or hallway). I sang to myself and listened online to favorite worship songs like Steve Green’s “El Habita al Abrigo de Dios” (“He who dwells in the shadow of the Almighty”).

Several times a day, I received messages and calls that encouraged me from friends, church members, family in Mexico, and from Diane and our children. A friend and fellow Latino pastor Kevin Casillas sent Bible verses I couldn’t think of on my own that expressed how I felt: “How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me? . . . But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing the LORD’s praise, for he has been good to me” (Psalm 13:2, 5–6).

Another Scripture reminded me that I could still praise God for His goodness to me: “Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, “The lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him” (Lamentations 3:21–24).

God was not blind to my condition. Regardless of the progress of my disease, He would never let me go. God’s words encouraged me as my fever broke and I began to feel better. Every morning was another step toward healing and a sign of God’s faithful presence. When I had moments of anxiety, I turned to Psalm 94:19, “When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy.”

Bible verses guided me to trust God through my pain, to not despair over this sickness that had impacted our family so quickly and dangerously, and to remind me that God would use my sickness for His glory to comfort others. “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God” (2 Corinthians 1:3–4).

My wife continued with mild symptoms and recovered within a month. I continued to improve and was released from the hospital after six days but still needed to use oxygen at home for four more months. God used my recovery time to strengthen my faith and give me a new perspective as I continued to trust in Him in prayer, singing, and meditating on Scripture.

As the apostle Paul wrote, our final victory over trials and difficulties will come when we are in God’s presence, but not in this life (Romans 8:18–39). Paul asked a series of rhetorical questions that remind and affirm to us God’s faithful love: If God is for us, who can be against us? Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will affliction, difficulties, persecution, lack of food, lack of sufficient clothing, danger, or physical threats separate us? Like Paul, we can be convinced that neither death, physical life, angels, supernatural powers, nor those who exist now, nor those who will exist, nor spiritual powers, nor what exists above us or underneath, nor any creature will be able to separate us from God’s love through our Lord Christ Jesus (vv. 38–39).

In the midst of difficulties and sufferings, believers in Christ are not forgotten or abandoned by God. We can depend on God’s promises of His love and close presence. He is not blind or deaf to our cries but will give us the strength to persevere. God can turn our illnesses into an opportunity to grow spiritually and to later serve those who are enduring pain. We can serve even within the limitations due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We can provide food to those who are convalescing.

Family and friends can call and write words of encouragement, including to essential workers. We can in humility value others by following virus mitigation measures. We can influence others in our world by putting into practice God’s words to us: “Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality” (Romans 12:10–13).

Many still need support now and will in the future. Our testimony is always to be hopeful and persistent in our faith; to be God’s instruments to demonstrate His care to those who need love, hope, and healing; and to care for our communities, even in the midst of a pandemic. As Paul wrote, “Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because

God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us” (Romans 5:3–5).

Rev. Eli Garza

Day 8: Better Than Life

Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you.
Psalm 63:3

Today’s Reading: Psalm 63:1–8

Her name was Mary—and life was hard, real hard. Two sons preceded her in death as did two grandsons, both victims of shootings. And Mary herself suffered a crippling stroke that left her paralyzed on one side.

Yet she loved Jesus. As soon as she was able, she made her way to church services where it wasn’t uncommon for her—with fractured speech—to express praise to the Lord with words like, “My soul loves Jesus; bless His name!”

Long before Mary expressed her praise to God, David penned the words of Psalm 63. The heading of the psalm notes that David wrote it “when he was in the Desert of Judah.” Though in a less than desirable—even desperate—situation, he didn’t despair, because he hoped in God. “You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you . . . in a dry and parched land where there is no water” (v. 1).

Perhaps you’ve found yourself in a place of difficulty, without clear direction or adequate resources. Uncomfortable situations can confuse us, but they need not derail us when we cling to the One who loves us (v. 3), satisfies us (v. 5), helps us (v. 7), and whose right hand upholds us (v. 8). Because God’s love is better than life, like Mary and David, we can express our satisfaction with lips that praise and honor God (vv. 3–5).

Arthur Jackson

Day 9: Eternal Eyes

We fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen.
2 Corinthians 4:18

Today’s Reading: 2 Corinthians 4:7–18

Eternal eyes, that’s what my friend Madeline prays her children and grandchildren would have. Her family has gone through a tumultuous season that ended with the death of her daughter.

As the family grieves from this horrific loss, Madeline longs for them to be less and less nearsighted—consumed by the pain of this world. And to be more and more farsighted—filled with hope in our loving God.

The apostle Paul and his co-workers experienced great suffering at the hands of persecutors and even from believers who tried to discredit them. Yet, they had their eyes fixed on eternity. Paul boldly acknowledged that “we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:18).

Although they were doing God’s work, they lived with the reality of being “hard pressed on every side,” “perplexed,” “persecuted,” and “struck down” (vv. 8–9). Shouldn’t God have delivered them from these troubles? But instead of being disappointed, Paul built his hope on the “eternal glory” that supersedes momentary troubles (v. 17). He knew God’s power was at work in him and had complete assurance that “the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus” (v. 14).

When our world around us feels shaky, may we turn our eyes to God—the eternal Rock that will never be destroyed.

Estera Pirosca Escobar

Day 10: He Won’t Let Us Go

I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my Hand.
John 10:28

Today’s Reading: John 10:22–30

Julio was biking across the George Washington Bridge—a busy, double-decked thoroughfare connecting New York City and New Jersey—when he encountered a life-or-death situation. A man was standing on a ledge over the Hudson River preparing to jump.

Knowing that the police wouldn’t arrive in time, Julio acted quickly. He recalls getting off his bike and spreading out his arms, saying something like: “Don’t do it. We love you.” Then, like a shepherd with a crook, he grabbed the distraught man, and with the help of another passerby, brought him to safety. According to reports, Julio wouldn’t let go of the man, even after he was safe.

Two millennia earlier, in a life-or-death situation, Jesus, the Good Shepherd, said He would lay down His life to save and never let go of those who believed in Him. He summarized how He would bless His sheep: they would know Him personally, have the gift of eternal life, would never perish, and would be secure in His care.

This security didn’t depend on the ability of the frail and feeble sheep—or depend on people—but on the sufficiency of the Shepherd who’ll never let one be snatched “out of [His] hand” (John 10:28–29).

When we were distraught and feeling hopeless, Jesus rescued us; now we can feel safe and secure in relationship with Him. He loves us, pursues us, finds us, saves us, and promises to never let us go.

Marvin Williams

 

Day 11: Hope Blossoms

The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom.
Isaiah 35:1

Today’s Reading: Isaiah 35:1–4

In the city of Philadelphia, when weedy vacant lots were cleaned up and brightened with beautiful flowers and trees, nearby residents also brightened in overall mental health. This proved especially true for those who struggled economically.

“There’s a growing body of evidence that green space can have an impact on mental health,” said Dr. Eugenia South, “and that’s particularly important for people living in poorer neighborhoods.” South, a faculty member at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine, is coauthor of a study on the subject.

The downtrodden people of Israel and Judah found fresh hope in the prophet Isaiah’s vision of their beautiful restoration by God. Amid all the doom and judgment Isaiah foretold, this bright promise took root: “The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom. Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom; it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy” (Isaiah 35:1–2).

No matter our situation today, we too can rejoice in the beautiful ways our heavenly Father restores us with fresh hope, including through His creation. When we feel down, reflecting on His glory and splendor will bolster us. “Strengthen the feeble hands, steady the knees that give way,” Isaiah encouraged (v. 3). Can a few flowers rekindle our hope? A prophet said yes. So does our hope-giving God.

Patricia Raybon