When someone becomes a Christian the first gift they receive is a Bible. The second is usually some type of devotional book, whether it be something like Our Daily Bread or Oswald Chambers’ My Utmost for His Highest. The gesture is noble and the recipient is often grateful. They now have a Bible and a resource that will help them apply Scripture in a modern context.
That’s good, right? Maybe.
For as often as we pass around devotionals, there is a lot Christians do not know about them. Today, I want us to take a look at devotionals and their place in your Bible study.
What is a Devotional?
The answer to this question is not simple. It’s easier to explain what a devotional is not. First, it’s not a commentary or a theological textbook. A devotional will not dissect a doctrine or text of Scripture at length. While it can cover these areas, it’s not the primary goal.
Next, a devotional can take many forms, whether it be a reading plan, a series of meditations and prayers, or a verse or two followed by encouraging words. A devotional’s goal is to change your heart and how you interact with God.
Often, devotionals help you answer questions of application. How can I apply this passage to my life? Or, how can I love people and God better? This is why many devotionals share anecdotes that tug at our heart strings. It’s these tugs at the heart that move us to action.
In short, devotionals are works that help us turn our knowledge of Scripture into actionable virtues.
Now, let’s look at their use in our studies.Devotionals are works that help us turn our knowledge of Scripture into actionable virtues. Click To Tweet
Devotionals are Helpful
Reading the Bible is an intimidating task. Because of this, devotionals can be a great study tool for new Christians. Instead of opening your Bible to a random passage, a devotion can guide you through a topic or passage. In the process of telling an anecdote, it can explain the passage and help you apply it.
Devotions are also useful in group settings. If you need to lead a small group or Sunday school class, a devotion’s content can provide an outline for study. They are also great in a family setting.
Likewise, in the same way you can be encouraged by a sermon at church, devotions can uplift your spirit as you study them. Many devotions are written by pastors or teachers, so they aim to edify as well as teach.
More than anything, devotions ease you into the Bible so you can become more comfortable with it. They serve well as a primer before or after diving into your own studies.
Devotionals Can Be a Crutch
For as much as devotions can be helpful, they can also become a crutch for many Christians.
I’ve seen far too many Christians read the verse in their devotional book and its accompanying text, and that is the extent of their study time. They never open their Bible. They never study a verse or passage at length. Yet, they say they’ve spent time with the Lord; but, they’ve never personally wrestled with the text of Scripture.
Here’s the problem: these Christians use books about the Bible in place of the Bible. Do you see the issue? Sure, we can grow from reading books about the Bible, but that growth pales in comparison how we can grow when we read the Bible for ourselves.Don't use your devotionals in place of your Bible study. Use them as a supplement. Click To Tweet
This crutch cripples the Christian. Through their exclusive use of devotionals, they never learn to study the Bible. At the same time, they never go back to the Bible to fact check anything they’ve read or heard to see if it lines up with God’s truth.
Devotionals are no excuse for not reading the Bible for yourself.
Some Devotionals are Good, Others are (Really) Bad
Like anything in life, sometimes you get a good apple, other times you get a rotten one. The same holds true for devotionals. Knowing the difference between the two can sometimes be difficult, but there are a few keys to look for.
What’s the Type?
There are many types of devotions, but they generally fall into two categories: exegetical or topical.
Exegetical is a fancy way of saying it goes through passages of Scripture one after another. Often, these devotions will walk you through a text of Scripture, going a verse or two at a time over the course of several days. Sometimes the entire devotional will cover a single book of the Bible. Other times it will cover many different passages.
Topical devotions are just like they sound. They either cover a single topic at length, such as a devotional book on overcoming fear. Or, it can cover a myriad of topics in a single book.
One is not necessarily better than the other, but it’s good to know what to expect before you start reading.
When you come across a new devotion, look at who is speaking. Is it the author, or is it written in such a way that God is the one speaking?
If God is the one “speaking” in the devotion, you should be wary. We do not and cannot speak for God, unless we are quoting the Bible verbatim. Any devotional that speaks for God is on rocky ground because he speaks to us through Scripture and Scripture alone.
If the author is speaking for himself, you still have to be wary of the content. But, at least you do not need to worry about the fallacy of speaking as or for God.
A devotional that does not speak in the voice of God is always preferable.
Where’s it Pointing?
As you read the devotional, is it pointing you to the Bible and God, or is it asking you to look inward?
A good devotional should use the Bible liberally and should line up with what the Bible says. In the same way the Bible convicts you of sin and pushes you toward holy living, look for a good devotion to do the same.
It’s true, some self inspection is beneficial; but, if it’s the bulk of what you’re being asked to do, you’re not seeking God. Always make sure you’re chasing God and not your emotions.
A Few Favorites
I don’t use devotionals often in my times of study, but I have found a few over the years that I enjoyed using for a season. If you’re looking for one to use in your studies, I would recommend starting with one of these.
Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening
Morning and Evening is a classic. It’s written in a format that contains two readings for each calendar day. You read one in the morning, and the other in the evening, as the title suggests. Charles Spurgeon is considered to be the “Prince of Preachers,” and his heart for the people of God shines through in these devotions.
The devotions are short and thought provoking, with each based on a passage of Scripture.
Drawing Near & Strength for Today
When I want something a bit more contemporary than Spurgeon, I turn to John MacAthur’s devotionals Drawing Near & Strength for Today. Both of these resources are calendar based, with a devotion for each day of the year. One of the things I like most about MacArthur’s devotionals is how he walks you through an entire passage of Scripture over the course of several days, going one verse at a time. This format makes them a great aide for Bible study.
Taste and See
John Piper’s Taste and See is another great devotional I’ve used. While more topical in nature, and not in a calendar format, the content is great and points you to Scripture. It’s another I’ve used over the years that has proven quite helpful.
There are many others I’ve used over the years, but too many to name. Ones I have enjoyed that are a bit different are ones that focus on word studies or the original languages. One such devotional is A Word for the Day, which contains a word study & devotion for each calendar day. Another is Devotions on the Greek New Testament, which is 52 readings with devotions based on readings from the Greek.
Be Wise with Your Devotionals
Now that you know what to look for in a devotional, you’re equipped with the knowledge you need to pick your next one.
Your job now is to pick your next devotional to use alongside your study. Just make sure you use it as a means of edification & encouragement, and never as a replacement for Bible study.
Weekly Study Prompts
This week, meditate and journal on the following passages:
- Monday – Jonah 1-2
- Tuesday – Jonah 3-4
- Wednesday – Hosea 1-3
- Thursday – Amos 1:1; 9
- Friday – Joel 1-3
- Memory Verses: Psalm 16:11; John 11:25-26