How to choose a devotional

Anytime I am speaking on the topic of women’s ministry, I’m almost always asked the same question: “What daily devotional do you recommend?” I don’t have a problem with the question itself, but I do fear we are putting too much hope in supplementary reading rather than direct knowledge of Scripture. This is where I could get on my favorite soapbox topic of Bible literacy… but we’ll save that for another post.

Let me first say this: You should always start with prayer and your actual Bible. Don’t trust another person to tell you what the Bible says. Her mind is not yours. Your success with using a devotional guide is directly tied to your own knowledge of the Bible. In the words of Jen Wilkin, “The heart cannot love what the mind does not know” (adapted from Romans 12:2).

However… a daily devotional book is not a bad thing. I am a busy mom and wife who does not have alone time until at least 8:30 pm. A quick devotional read in the morning and at lunch helps focus my mind and heart. I’m picky about devotional books because I’ve found (and purchased) a ton of crappy ones. Let me help you navigate those millions of choices with a few tips that have aided me over the years.

Here’s my five tips:

Start with Scripture.

We must approach devotional books as supplementary to our Bibles. If you open a daily devotional and find musings about feelings or opinions before you find a Scripture reference, I would advise you steer clear. Although many faith based books currently marketed to women look beautiful, they do not always include the density needed for a true understanding of the Bible.

Look for consistency.

Does the author hop around to a different, random passage each day? This often happens when writers are looking for a Bible reference to support their commentary, rather than writing a commentary in support of the Bible reference they have chosen. I suggest finding a devotional guide that walks you through a particular book or passage in a consistent manner.

Stick with your season.

Many devotionals are written with a particular audience in mind. This can be very helpful. The devotional I am using now (listed at the end of this article) is about praying for your kids. The author walks you through the entire Bible in 365 days and uses her commentary to point readers toward our own good Father. Remember: The Bible is about God, not you.

Presence of prayer.

If the devotional you are looking to purchase does not mention prayer or does not have daily prompts to lead you in prayer, I wouldn’t bother buying. Prayer is an essential part of Bible study. Many devotionals have specific prayers while others provide a general guide. Either way, always look for an importance placed on prayer.

Phone a friend.

Wondering if the book you’re looking at is worth it? Ask a friend you trust. Have her read it with you and think critically about the commentary. Discuss it weekly or however often you can; just don’t forsake the communal aspect of your learning. Get connected with a small group at your church and see what kind of things they are reading. Ask your pastor or ministry leader what supplemental reading they enjoy (trust me… we want you to ask).

What I’m currently reading: Praying through the Bible for your Kids by Nancy Guthrie.
Another favorite I’ve read: Savor by Shauna Niequest.
Other great places to start: New Morning Mercies by Paul David Tripp, In All Things by Melissa Kruger, Beautifully Distinct edited by Trillia Newbell, and the ESV Women’s Study Bible.

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