Navigating the terrain of Christian devotional literature can be tricky. All I want is a brief, reliable, and meaningful insight into the Scripture from a trusted disciple of Christ. But not all devotionals are created equal. Some seem mystical, as if they are speaking for God. Others are so cheesy I can tell you the punch line before I get to the second sentence. Gleaning in the field of another saint’s reflections can yield spiritual food, but be careful of the rotten fruit. Keep these things in mind when you’re considering a devotional.
Read the Bible! Don’t let devotionals be the bulk of your biblical diet. They serve a purpose but believers should be actively engaging on a regular basis with the Bible itself. I recommend using a Bible reading plan. If your pastor preaches through books of the Bible you could just read that book during the series. For spiritual formation and biblical understanding there is no substitute for consistent Bible reading.
Investigate who you’re reading! Don’t google "devotional" and then buy and read the most popular one. Find out something about the authors before you involve them in your worship life. What kind of church background do they come from? At what school, if any, were they trained? As a side note, someone does not have to have formal training to be used of God to teach others. But, they should be prepared to handle the Bible accurately. Where have they served in ministry, and for how long? Who has endorsed their work? Answering a few of these questions on the front end will help you understand the author’s perspective.
Remember, context is king! Most devotionals don’t give the entire passage but make comments on a verse or two. I recommend taking the time to read the passage so you can understand the context. This only takes a minute but it will help you judge the author’s comments. Those who assist us devotionally should still be handling the Word of God rightly.
Don’t read it if every devotion makes you happy! This sounds odd, but try to find a devotional that’s not shy about telling you how bad you are. Most devotionals err on the side of encouragement and inspiration. These are wonderful themes to focus on but not to the neglect of other biblical themes such as sin, redemption, obedience and God’s glory. Devotionals are not meant to be systematic theologies, but that doesn’t mean they should be void of well-balanced theological truths.
I don’t always read devotionals, but when I do these are a few I find helpful.
Connect the Testaments by John Barry and Rebecca Van Noord
For the Love of God by D.A. Carson
The Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis
My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers
Streams in The Desert by Lettie Cowman