What is a Devotional?: Purpose and Methods

If you are new to the Christian faith or returning after a long absence, you may be asking yourself “What is a devotional?” Even some church members who have grown up in the faith may be unsure why they are supposed to take time each day for a quiet time with God. We’ll look into that question and others concerning the practice here in this post. The basic understanding for what is a devotional is a time set aside for thinking about spiritual matters, reading the Bible, and praying to God. We all do things a little different, but before we get into that, let’s talk about why we do devotionals.

What is a Devotional and Why Do We Do It?

The idea of doing a devotional to some extent is laid out in scripture through the rituals of David and Christ Himself. Psalm 5:3 sets an example of this with David proclaiming to God “In the morning, O Lord, You will hear my voice; in the morning I will order my prayer to You and eagerly watch.” In Mark 1:35 we see that “In the early morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went away to a secluded place, and was praying there.” There are other examples found in the Bible, but the point is that a devotional, or quiet, time is an accepted part of the Christian walk.

The purpose of devotionals is to take a step away from the daily routine and focus on spiritual matters for a while. Whether you are going through a happy phase in life or you’re really struggling with something at work, having a devotional will remind you that there is a bigger picture and a higher calling than what you see day to day. There is no set way to have a devotional, though. Some people prefer to do one early in the morning, while others will make time during the day. You may have a set reading plan for the Bible or take excerpts from a devotional book, or engage in a number of other things. Let’s first look at the different reading plans available out there.

What is a Devotional Reading Plan?

What is a devotional? At its core, it's all about scripture. More important than the words of John Piper, Oswald Chambers, or Beth Moore, God’s Word is the primary source through which we receive wisdom and guidance. We’ll talk in the next section about how devotional books can improve your quiet time experience, but the Bible comes first and foremost.

So what are the different options for reading through the Bible? One of the most popular methods is the One Year Bible, available in both a chronological order and a collection of daily readings that meander through both the Old and New Testaments each day. As the name suggests, this reading plan will take you through the Bible from start to finish over the course of one year. Many people cannot truthfully claim that they have read through the whole Bible, so making a plan like this part of your devotional time allows you to slowly cross off a bucket list item.

On the other hand, maybe you don’t want to commit to the entire Bible. Perhaps a small study of a specific book or theme is more suited. You could easily spend six months in Psalms or read one chapter from Proverbs each day for a month. Having this level of customization in your daily reading will help you stay excited about your devotion time. As you go through the Bible, try to fully engage the text by relating it to the day in which it was written as well as finding applications for today.

What is a Devotional Book?

If you have a local Christian bookstore to visit, there is undoubtedly going to be a large selection of devotional books from which you can shop. Like we said, you can’t stress just how important the Bible itself is in comparison to the helpful teaching of modern pastors and authors. The temptation with devotional books is that (1) we can read something closer to the language we speak today and (2) the daily excerpts are short and to the point. If you’ve ever tried to blast through an Old Testament book like Leviticus, you know how appealing it can sound to trade the Bible in for something akin to Sarah Young’s “Jesus Calling.” While both have their words of wisdom to share, we encourage you to use devotional books only as a supplement to your quiet time. Remember, you can pick whatever part of the Bible you want for your devotion.

What options are available in devotional books? Just about anything you can imagine. There are some great books for dads and hunters and a plethora of choices for women in all stages of life. Find a book written by an author you admire or one that focuses on a topic near and dear to you. Combined with your reading of scripture, you now have a battle plan for each day.

Prayer in Your Quiet Time

Reading often takes the limelight during a person’s daily devotions, but another vital part of the process is prayer. There are several benefits of prayer, among which are the removal of anxiety and the humility in which we approach God admitting that we cannot do it all on our own. For those who don’t know how to pray, consider working through the Lord’s Prayer found in Matthew 6:9-13. Honestly, though, prayer is simply a communication between us and God where we thank Him for His blessings, pray for guidance, ask for forgiveness, and worship Him for who He is. One idea you may want to introduce to your prayer life is a prayer journal. This allows you to track the things for which you are praying as well as the ways in which God is answering those requests.

What is a Devotional to Me?

If you’re new to this game, don’t worry too much about what is a devotional and what isn’t. As long as you are setting aside time to read from the Bible, meditate on what it’s saying, and pray to God, you’re doing well. You should think of it less in terms of good vs. bad practices and more in terms of what God is doing through it. Do you feel more at rest and better equipped for the day? Are your actions starting to more closely resemble a Christ-like attitude? Maybe instead of a devotional book you want to find some great content online. We’ll give you the hookup. There’s no better time to start having a devotional than today.

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