Question: Hello! I’ve recently been thinking about what we should look out for when choosing a devotional to commit to. Now I’ve only ever gone through one legit one by Tim Keller and it was amazing. This year I’m looking at something else different but it has made me more aware that I shouldn’t just “accept” whatever I read, but read it with discernment. For example one of the things I’ve noticed is how devotionals have a lot of stories or experiences shared and it’s really helpful! But I’m more inclined to question why some start with a short verse, not much explanation on its context, and then jumps into a story that is somewhat “related”. Sorry this is a really long question haha but would appreciate any advice thank you!
Response: First of all, thank you for such a great question. I’m really encouraged that you’re seeking to grow in your faith by studying Scripture and supplementing it with devotionals (like Tim Keller’s), and I’m also really encouraged that you are not wanting to just settle for devotionals that just glean over the text rather than examine it closely. Truth to told, sometimes these devotional guides can be a ‘lite’ or ‘fast food’ approach to doing devotionals. It runs the risk of feeding our all-too-natural tendency towards laziness because rather than diving into God’s Word on our own, we allow these guides to do the work for us and we just read and take in what we can. To be fair, it is not always like this, and there are some really good devotional guides and supplements that help. But that is exactly what they are: guides and supplements. Devotional guides should never replace actual engagement with the text of Holy Scripture.
So I guess there are three things worth emphasizing in response to your question:
- Devotional guides are a supplement to your regular study of Scripture. They are not a replacement. Just as you need your daily intake of meals instead of just taking Vitamin C pills for physical health, you also need a steady intake of the Word of God.
- Be careful what devotionals you pick. By God’s grace, there is a wealth of resources available on the market, and this can be both a blessing and a curse. The blessing is an abundance to choose from, and the curse is sometimes, the quality (and theological fidelity) of these resources will differ. Not all devotional guides are created equal.
- Look for devotional guides written by Christians who have proven their faithfulness to Scripture and obedience in their Christian character. The first of these two requirements are somewhat easier to discern, and part of the work can be done for you when you make your decisions based on publishing houses. For example, companies like Crossway, Ligonier, Presbyterian and Reformed, Banner of Truth, and the like have a reputation of vetting their authors and writings very carefully before they publish their works. This stands in comparison to other publishing houses that tend towards publishing stuff that will sell well. Now I am sympathetic that businesses need to run and so I am not critiquing publishing houses that keep a close eye on the market. But some of these publishing companies that I have listed have a philosophy which priorities biblical and theological fidelity over marketability. So if you pick up a devotional published by one of these companies, chances are, the content will be quite good. Another way that you can discern the first requirement is through authors. And chances are, if I’ve mentioned some authors positively in my sermons or teachings, then they would be people that I trust for you to read. So the Tim Keller one is obviously excellent. But there are others like Paul Tripp who has written New Morning Mercies, Mark Jones who has written God Is, and D.A Carson who has written For the Love of God. These reputable names have a proven track record of faithfulness, and so I’d encourage you to pick it up. Another helpful one that I’ve used in the past is Tabletalk published by Ligonier, and you can currently have a 3 month free trial to check things out! Based on this, there is a world of faithful resources that you can dig into, and we’re always available for you to ask specific questions about specific resources. But here is the second requirement: obedience in their Christian character. This is referring to the authors, and this is not easy to discern. We do not know their hearts and we do not know the sins they wrestle with. However, if a particular author has a reputation of deception, unrepentant sin, lavished living, and crass language, then I would consider these as signs to stay away from their works. What they write might be sound and accurate from a biblical perspective, but we’re constantly reminded from Scripture that Bible teachers need to guard their life and doctrine (1 Tim 4:16). Now this is not always to get right 100% of the time, but it is worth considering when you pick up any sort of book.
So that is it for now! Keep growing, keep loving, and keep serving our great God!