Not all devotionals are created equal; and, sometimes we seem to have too low of a bar for what makes a devotional worth reading.
While devotionals are, shockingly to some, not necessary for the Christian life, they can be helpful. We should be discerning though, as we should be with all books, sermons, and media that we consume. Instead of reading any hot book on the market, we should ask some important questions of what we read.
REFOCUS OUR READINGS
Are our devotionals focused on us or God? Just like songs we sing and sermons we hear today, much of what is written in the most popular books is focused on ourselves. It might still be spiritual talk, but spirituality alone is not what we need. We need God’s word, and nothing less than that. Many books that are popular today trend rather closer to self-improvement and self-empowerment than God-centered instruction. We need devotionals that shift our eyes to God, not to ourselves.
Beyond this, great devotionals are centered on the Gospel. Whether reading John, Revelation, or Exodus, we must look through the lens of the overarching story of scripture: redemption. A great devotional will train us in finding the good news in all of scripture. We don’t want to fall into the trap of the Pharisees, reading the scriptures in a self-centered mindset, instead of reading them with minds on the Messiah.
You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me [Christ], yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.
– John 5:39-40 ESV
And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he [Christ] interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.
– Luke 24:27 ESV
WHOSE WORDS ARE WE READING?
Just because a book has a snippet of a verse on the top of each page doesn’t mean it’s biblical. Even though it’s in lifeway it still might be full of things that are not correct. Just because it sounds vaguely spiritual doesn’t mean it is truly scriptural. So we must ask ourselves, are our readings thoroughly biblical?
We must do the work of determining whether the devotional is about God’s truth (and communicating it accurately), or if it is just the writer’s psuedo-Christian thoughts. The power comes from God’s word, not from inspiring words of a crafty writer. Just as a good sermon must be thoroughly and fully biblical, our devotionals should be as well.
…when you received the word God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God…
1 Thessalonians 2:13 ESV
We ought to care about these questions, because the books that we are reading will shape how we think about God. What we think about God will shape our view of the world, our view of ourselves, and our lives. Devotionals are great tools, if and only if they are God-centered guides that biblically instruct us in his truth. Let’s not settle for anything less than that.
Experiencing the Trinity and Note to self by Joe Thorn
Comforts from Romans by Elyse Fitzpatrick
New Morning Mercies by Paul David Tripp
The Songs of Jesus: A year of daily devotions in the Psalms by Tim Keller
Morning and Evening by Spurgeon
The Valley of Vision by Various Authors
Taste and See: savoring the supremacy of God in all of life by John Piper
For the Love of God Volume 1 and Volume 2 by DA Carson