Today I’m talking about devotional books and what to watch out for when using them as your sole spiritual nourishment.
I think it can be a little bit confusing when we start talking about devotional books because the Christian lingo is so diverse.
We use phrases like:
- “spending time in God’s Word,”
- “doing devotions”, and
- “doing my quiet time”
to communicate that we are communing with God as a Chrisitan discipline.
Studying God’s Word is of paramount importance for the Christian.
This is something I believe we can all agree on.
However, when it comes to spending time in God’s Word, we might assume that our current habits are moving us closer to Bible literacy, but not all contact with scripture actually builds Bible literacy.
This brings me to devotional books.
What is a devotional book?
This will get a little winded for some of you, but hang with me so I can make a point, okay?
According to Wikipedia,
“Christian devotional literature is religious writing that is neither doctrinal nor theological, but designed for individuals to read for their personal edification and spiritual formation.”
In order to understand this definition, we need to define a few more terms: doctrine, theology, and edification.
Doctrine is what the Bible teaches about some particular topic (e.g., Doctrine of God or Doctrine of the Church).
Theology is the study of God.
Edification is the building up of Christian knowledge.
With these definitions in mind, we can define devotional literature as,
Religious writing that doesn’t expound on what the Bible teaches on a certain topic nor is it the study of God, but it is designed for personal building up of Christian knowledge and spiritual formation.
If Bible literacy is our goal, that is if knowing God in His Word and applying it in our lives is the goal, then we must be willing to evaluate our study practices, or rather our study tools.
Does the reading of devotional books take up the majority of your time with the Lord?
Books about the Bible can be helpful. As we saw in our definition, devotional books can aid in increasing our Christian knowledge and help form us spiritually.
However, devotional books are not designed for helping us better understand the actual Word of God.
It’s common for devotional books marketed to women to rely heavily on story and musings in order to appeal to our emotions and self-image. They often bring comfort when they say just the right thing on just the right day.
But in the end devotional books of this nature leave us spiritually parched because they do not satisfy our souls.
They aren’t designed to.
However, devotional books aren’t all bad.
Devotional books can serve to edify and encourage us in our spiritual formation.
But like we talked about with Study Bibles, not all devotional books are created equal.
How can we tell which ones will help us feast on the Living Word of God and which ones are just scripture-like substances?
Questions to Ask When Choosing a Good Devotional Book
- Does the author rely heavily on paraphrases of the Bible instead of translations?
- Does the author rely heavily on story-telling? Humor?
- Does it cause you to contemplate God or yourself?
- Does it ask you to think deeply or does it just talk about how you feel?
- Does it provide nuggets of inspiration or thoughtful commentary on specific portions of scripture?
- Does it point you to the Gospel?
- Is it heavy in morality rather than theology?
The shelves of Christian bookstores are laden with books claiming to bring you closer to the Lord.
Intimacy with Christ is what we long for, but too often we nibble on spiritual food that doesn’t nourish our souls.
Being intentional to ask pointed questions like the ones above when choosing a devotional book will help you toward your goal of Bible literacy. But remember, devotional books are a tool to aid in your study of God’s Word. They should not be the primary substance of your daily time with God.
My Favorite Devotional Books
There are a lot of really great devotional books on the market, but I wanted to share with you some of my favorites.
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Morning & Evening by Charles Spurgeon
About the Book: “A wealth of Biblical meditations from Spurgeon with applications that are relevant for contemporary Christians. Spurgeon’s characteristically pithy comments hit home with a wit and elegance rarely found in other writing. Christians young and old will find his words challenging and stimulating.”
Why I Love it: This devotional is filled with deep, spiritual truths that point me time and time again to the grace of the Gospel. Spurgeon forces me to think more deeply about God and the gospel, and like any good devotional, it often says the right thing at the right time on the right day.
A Place of Quiet Rest by Nancy Leigh DeMoss
About the Book: “Finding Intimacy with God Through a Daily Devotional Life with personal reflections by Elisabeth Elliot, Kay Arthur, Vonette Bright, and others.”
Journal: “Inside you’ll find:
- A 30-day Bible reading plan
- An easy to follow daily prayer guide
- Tools to help you observe and interpret God’s Word
- Insight to help you apply Scripture to your life”
Why I Love it: Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth is the spiritual mother to many. This book systematically guides you into a deeper devotional life. Through carefully selected passages, hymns, and counsel, Nancy guides you out of approaching God from a sense of duty into approaching God with a sense of devotion.
My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers
About the Book: “Oswald Chambers was a teacher and preacher whose messages cut to the heart of the gospel. His wife, Biddy, transcribed his lectures and sermons and compiled them into books, the most popular being My Utmost for His Highest. The title is taken from a thought in one of his sermons: ‘Shut out every consideration and keep yourself before God for this one thing only—My Utmost for His Highest.'”
Why I Love it: I love this devotional because it daily points you to Christ. The daily readings are short, but packed with a spiritual punch that will leave you thinking on particular passages of God’s word all day.
The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions by Arthur Bennett
About the Book: “The strength of Puritan character and life lay in prayer and meditation. In this practice the spirit of prayer was regarded as of first importance and the best form of prayer, for living prayer is the characteristic of genuine spirituality. Yet prayer is also vocal and may therefore on occasions be written. This book has been prepared not to ‘supply’ prayers but to prompt and encourage the Christian as he treads the path on which others have gone before.”
Why I Love it: This isn’t a typical devotional style book. It’s more a collection of prayers that will encourage and deepen your own prayer life. When I’m walking through difficult times, or desire to pray on a specific topic, I tend to turn to this book to help me as I learn to pray scripture and pray with more of a God-focus than a Leigh Ann-focus.
Whiter Than Snow: Meditations on Sin and Mercy by Paul Trip
About the Book: “Whiter Than Snow unpacks Psalm 51 in fifty-two meditations, reminding readers that by God’s grace there is mercy for every wrong and grace for every new beginning. Designed for busy believers, these brief and engaging meditations are made practical by the reflection questions that conclude each chapter.”
Why I love it: Psalm 51 is my favorite passage in all of scripture, so this devotional is near to my heart. Paul Tripp has a gift for getting to the heart of the gospel, and his poetic style leaves me in awe of our Creator God.
About the Book: Fifty-two meditations on Psalm 27 instruct and encourage believers to worship God through the ups and downs of life.
Why I love it: I love the focus of this devotional of learning to worship God daily no matter life circumstances. It is a slow and focused reading through Psalm 27 which helps deepen my understanding of God’s Word.
About the Book: “If you find yourself approaching your quiet time with a sense of duty instead of delight . . . If you’ve tried to have a regular quiet time and failed so many times . . . If you’ve never developed a personal devotional life at all . . . Or if your daily time with God is already a sweet, rich meeting with your Lord . . . The Quiet Place is for you.” ~Nancy Leigh DeMoss
Why I Love It: Another of Nancy’s works, which is a wonderful devotional for developing the daily habit of meeting with God. Sometimes the hardest part of knowing God through is Word is just getting into the habit. This devtional is a gentle aid in getting into the daily habit of meeting with God.
There are many more devotional books I’ve used through the years, but these are the ones that always come to mind immediately when I’m recommending a good devotional book to a friend.
As you navigate the world of devotional books, remember that they were never meant to replace your actual study of God’s Word.
What about you? What devotional books would you recommend?
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