I have mixed feelings about using a devotional. I know, that sounds funny coming from someone who has written several devotional books, so let me clarify. Printed devotionals and daily online devotions can be wonderful guides and supplemental tools, but they should never replace time directly spent in God’s Word.
Sadly, some of us use devotionals as our primary – and often only – source for time with God. If we choose to use a daily devotional, there are some things we can do to get the most out of them.
What is a devotional and what is it not?
A “devotional” writing – whether print or digital – uses story, commentary, or illustration to help the reader reflect on selected Scripture from God’s Word. They can include elements like Scripture, thoughts for reflection, and prayer prompts. There is a wide-range of devotional writing with various purposes. Some devotionals focus on a specific topic and are designed to help the reader through a particular period of life (parenting, grief, marriage, etc). Some devotionals seek simply to inspire and encourage. Sadly, sometimes, these are no more than “feel good” thoughts that barely touch on Scripture.
Others, like the classic “My Utmost for His Highest,” seek to guide the reader into thinking on and responding to the deep truths of God’s Word. My goal for the “Deep Rooted” series of devotionals was to create a resource that would increase the reader’s time in God’s Word not replace it. The “Deep Rooted” books send the reader to the Bible and help them learn how to interact with, understand, and apply Scripture. (If you just need some structure, check out the Bible Reading Plans on my Free Resources page.)
There are a lot of good devotionals out there. As long as we use them correctly, they can be great resources. The following tips and suggestions will help us get the most out of your devotional books. (My devotional book “Deep Rooted” is a meaty devotional book that also equips you to study any passage on your own.)
4 Tips to Help You Get the Most out of Your Daily Devotional
- Read the daily Scripture from your Bible – Many devotionals have the day’s verses printed out in the book or on the web page. But if we open our Bible and read it there, it gives the Holy Spirit opportunity to guide us to read further, to interact more fully with the actual text. And sitting with an open copy of God’s Word can’t be replicated.
- Read the selected passage in its greater context – Some devotionals ask you to read just one or a few verses. But that can easily cause us to miss the biblical author’s meaning. So, when you read the selected passage, back up to get the context. (For more on biblical context see “How Literary Context Helps You Understand the Bible” and “Four Things to Consider for Biblical Context.”)
- Listen to God first – Before you read the devotional author’s commentary give the Holy Spirit a chance to teach you. Observe the text to see what it says. (See “10 Observation Tips for Better Bible Study“) Ask God to give you understanding and to show you how He wants you to apply it to your life. The spiritual insight from someone else can be very helpful, but don’t let it get in the way of anything God wants to show you Himself.
- Journal your own thoughts – Some devotionals give you space to write. If yours doesn’t, keep a notebook or bound journal with your Bible so you can record any insights, direction, and application God gives you. (For help on reading and studying a passage for yourself see “The 4 R Bible Study Method.“)
I would love to hear your thoughts on how you use devotionals and how you work to keep them in the proper perspective.
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I have never tried reading a devotional book before but I want to try it out. I think these are great ideas to try. I think number 3 is probably the most important. Listening to God will help you out more than anything else, and he will tell you what you need to hear when reading it.
I needed this tonight! I need to follow up with each devotional, each and every time I read one, directly in the Word as you strongly suggest we do. I DO need to hear God speak to me directly. I am to take the direct path to Him, and not just read another’s take on the Word! Helpful tips all around. Thank you, Kathy.
Hi Lauren, so glad you were encouraged by the post. I love the example of the Bereans in Acts 17. When Paul came to them with the Gospel, they went to the Scriptures to verify his teaching. No matter how diligent or well-intentioned people make mistakes, but God’s Word is always true and perfect!
I love this!
Really good Kathy. As devotionals have become more widely available, I think the piece about understanding what they are and what they aren’t has been the missing link. This is a helpful reminder and guide1
Thanks Julie for coming by! I think too many of us use them as a substitute for the real thing because maybe we just don’t know how to dig into the Word for ourselves.
This is very informative on how to use the daily devotional. It helps one to dig deep into the scriptures and connect with God and understand his word.
You are the first that I have encountered about taking a verse out of context! I am so glad to get acquainted with you! I keep telling my cousin and others that whatever they say it is taken out of context! They refuse to believe me, but I am not Biblical literate but whenever I read a passage, I think, it is applied to the period of times when it was written. For example, the verse on Jeremiah 29:11 is certainly taken out of context too many times. I’ve been told that God has plans for me, but I did not agree because like you said it is not one of God’s promises! Thank you for pointing that out…now I feel good about that! All the devotionals I have have not been very effective, so maybe yours that you are writing will make more sense and not taken out of context! How do I get that?
I would appreciate hearing from you.
Dear friend, the entire Bible is the inspired Word of God. You do not have to be Bible literate to understand it I have read the Bible 70 times. … I do not consider myself Bible literate….every time that I read, God opens my mind and heart to find more truths that I had never noticed before. You keep reading please , God will guide you.
Hi Margo, thanks for coming by! Yes, you are right! I am so thankful that God has revealed Himself to us in His inspired Word. And I am so thankful that every believer has the indwelling Holy Spirit so we can understand the truths God has given us in His Word. That’s why we don’t have to have an intermediary to read and understand. So, why devotional books, Bible studies, etc are great supplemental tools, that should not be a replacement for us going to God’s Word for ourselves.
Hi Barbara, glad you found this site! And thank you for your desire to correctly handle God’s Word! I am currently writing my new devotional. It won’t be out for a while. However, I lead a Bible reading group on Facebook you might enjoy. We are reading through John right now. I post the reading, a bit of commentary, and some discussion questions Monday through Friday. Here is the link for that: https://www.facebook.com/groups/ReadingTheBibleTogether/
Also, here is a link to a post on this site I wrote about biblical context:
Also, on the “free resources” page of this website I have several free Bible reading plans. You could try one of those and just go straight to the Word!
I really appreciate and respect what you have written. I’ve been slightly guilty but then realized I might be doing things right. I have a daily scripture reading and devotional sent to my phone and sometimes it’s all I read, however I read whatever scripture directly from my Bible. I do pray several times daily and even meditation from time to time, but sometimes I feel like I’m doing so in vain. Any suggestions are helpful. God bless you
Hi India, some days are busier for all of us than others. Years ago, I got caught in a legalism trap over feeling guilty if I didn’t have quality and quantity time in the Word every morning. But then I realized I cared more about checking the box for the day than truly spending time with God. It is definitely my priority for every morning, but now I don’t get upset with myself if something prevents my time with God one morning. And now, I feel more like I GET to spend time with God rather than I HAVE to. I don’t know if that’s what you’re feeling or not. Or if you simply feel like you’re going through the motions. We also all have seasons in our life where we feel spiritually dry. If that’s it, just keep pressing on. If you’re trying to read a large chunk of Scripture each day, slow down and read a smaller amount so you can really contemplate God’s truth there. My understanding and enjoyment of reading the Bible really jumped when I got a journaling Bible. I use highlighters to mark things God is showing me and write notes in the wide, ruled margin. Maybe that would benefit you. Here’s a link to a post I wrote about that: https://www.kathyhoward.org/bible-highlighting-for-more-effective-study/
I also often journal my prayers to help stay focused. Then I can also go back and see how God has answered!
I am in one of life’s crisis. Devotionals have kept me afloat. I read several online each day and often go to see the whole context. But I must say there are days when my depression overwhelms me and a devotional at least reminds me where to go for help.
Toni, I’m so glad you know God is your source of help. Devotionals are good tools. But I would encourage you to allow God to also speak directly to your through His Word. Find a Bible reading plan and get started. (I have several on my site.) Or, start with one of the Gospels – to read about Jesus! Or read through Philippians. It is so practical!