Updated: Oct 8, 2021
A devotional book can help add structure to your time with God. But not every faith-based resource is equal. Honestly, some are garbage. It is always a shame to buy a book that you don’t find helpful. Or worse, you might develop spiritual habits that hinder instead of help your spiritual growth.
With thousands of devotionals available today, how do you know which book/app to use?
Here are four features to look for when selecting a resource that accompanies your regular quiet time:
Does it include Scripture?
It might seem obvious for a devotional to include the Bible, but it’s not. Many daily devotionals compile interesting quotes or anecdotes from famous Christians. These Chicken Soup for the Soul-style books aren’t bad; they just aren’t inspired by God.
For daily growth, I want to encounter the voice of God through His word. Modern authors may be tweetable, but the Bible is where the power is. If your devotional has Bible references but not the printed text, always take the extra time to read Scripture.
Does it lead you to pray?
Similar to Bible reading, prayer is a foundational spiritual practice. A helpful devotional will lead you into conversation with God. Some books will provide a pre-written prayer you simply read or speak out loud. A better approach is a prayer primer.
A primer provides suggestions on how to pray or what to pray about. If we want Jesus to “teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1), we will need to speak to God. If we only ever read the prayers of others, we’ll never find our own voice.
Does it help you slow down?
Spiritual formation happens in a quiet place. Good devotionals will provide a framework for spending time in stillness before God. Emotionally Healthy Day by Day begins and ends each quiet time with 2 minutes of silence. Bible apps like Read Scripture include a small circle that helps slow your breathing and focus.
Psalm 1 says that we are blessed when we “meditate day and night.” We miss the blessing when we rush through devotionals like a checklist. Too many devotionals promise a quick & easy 5 minutes a day. Now it’s totally fine to start where you are at—consistency over intensity.
But as our spiritual disciplines become spiritual habits, we should expect to grow the amount of time we slow down. An excellent devotional will be both concise and open-ended. We should be able to get through the material promptly and feel invited to linger in God’s presence.
Does it challenge you to grow?
Discipleship is about transformation, not information. We are far too easily pleased with gaining new insight or theological truth. Don’t get me wrong, what we believe does matter. Knowledge is the starting place, not the end goal of spiritual formation.
Devotional resources should challenge you to respond to God’s word. Some devotionals might give you one action step for the day. That approach is excellent for how simple and concrete it is. I think the best way to do an application is through questions. All of us could use a few thought-provoking questions to help us follow Jesus better.
Bonus Feature: Writing Space.
Does it have blank space?
Journaling space is the icing on the cake. You can just as easily use a blank journal to accompany your devotional resource. It can be nice to have it all in one place. Our small group went through Rooted last year. The discussion time was vibrant because each person did in-depth reflection and had their thoughts written down.
Find What Works for You.
You might buy a devotional book or download an app and find out that you hate it. That’s ok. In that case, don’t give up on a quiet time altogether. Try something else. If you find a resource that you love, you can go back to it time and time again.
It’s also worth mentioning that you don’t have to use a devotional at all. Devotionals are great if you are new in your faith or have difficulty getting traction with spiritual disciplines. Many people find success with a Bible reading plan and scheduled times of prayer. I am currently doing a Bible-in-a-year listening plan on the Dwell Bible app five days a week for my quiet time. Then once a week, I journal through a chapter of Experiencing God to discuss with my small group.
One of my favorite devotionals is The Message: Solo. It is modeled after the practice of Lectio Divina. Each day it guides you to Read, Think, Pray, and Live the Bible.
What is your favorite devotional resource? Let me know in the comments below!
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