Those who are not fond of devotionals stress that their use can be problematic if believers get “trapped” in a habit of just cyclically reading the same things when the same devotional is used repeatedly, and that if used alone they may restrict the reader to one author’s opinions and approaches to the scriptures. The flip side of this is that if they are used in conjunction with regular study of the Bible itself, devotionals – like any other faith-based literature – can be helpful tools to enhance focused study and meditation on specific verses or concepts, and to give us understandings, inspiration and encouragement we might not otherwise have had. As with other faith-based books, articles and blogs, devotionals can also help bring the biblical text forward into modern life, giving verses and thoughts clearer relevancy and application.
So, if we elect to use devotionals in our daily walk, what are some of the things we should consider? First, while most devotionals are organized with daily readings – from January 1 throughout the year – some follow the liturgical calendar with its seasonal stresses and some do not. This can be a positive or negative depending on the reader’s faith background and expectations for such a tool. Some devotionals offer focused thoughts on quite deep theological concepts while others simply give us encouragement in everyday living. Consider these few examples which show the wide range of devotionals:
My Utmost For His Highest by Oswald Chambers is a classic devotional written in the early part of the 20th Century and still in print (and now with an updated language edition – see our mention of it in our sister site's Books in Brief). Chambers’ book is calendric but does not use a liturgical framework and focuses instead on a chain of spiritual topics.
The Cry of the Deer: Meditations on the Hymn of St. Patrick by David Adam, a more recent (1987) Celtic-themed devotional, is not calendric, but contains twelve longer essays on topics suggested to the author by the hymn. Often rooted in the outdoors and aspects of the creation, each chapter contains exercises for the application of principles discussed.
Word for Today: A Year of Daily Devotions by Sally J. Garwood (2014) is loosely structured around the liturgical calendar. It is an example of the modern style of devotionals with short meditations on topics from all aspects of life, each ending with a small prayer.
Meet Him on the Mountain: 40 Days of Devotionals for a Closer Relationship with God by Sheldon K. Bass (2014) is another example of a recent devotional. In this case the format is not calendric, but follows 40 days of meditations aimed specifically at helping the reader move closer to God.
As these few examples show, devotionals can be very different, so you may want to compare several. One excellent resource in this area is the BibleGateway.com website which has a wide selection of free devotionals here that are helpfully categorized by type – for men, women, children, parents, families, and other groups. I’m currently following one of small C.S. Lewis readings and finding it very worthwhile, and my wife is following the "NIV Couples Devotional" and liking it very much. But if you choose to use a devotional, take the time to check out the options and get one tailored to your needs and expectations. That way you will get the most out of daily readings and will doubtless find that, in addition to regular study of the Bible, a good devotional can become a valuable part of your day.