Devotions – What Are They Good For?
What are devotions good for?
The morning devotional is one of the most common practices encouraged among evangelical Christians. A good question to ask is, What is the biblical basis for a personal devotional? In all of our spiritual practices, the foremost consideration we must have is what God thinks of it. And it is the Bible that gives us God’s perspective on our spirituality.
So, what does God have to say about personal devotions?
Quite a bit, in fact. That term is never used in scripture, but the Bible does lay down a number of principles and priorities for how to practice spirituality outside of Sunday worship (public devotion).
First is that we should meditate on God through his word. Meditation means intentional, focused contemplation. Considering God, devoting our minds and hearts to him is the highest calling and joy of the Christian. But we are fallen, easily distracted and unsatisfied with the goodness of God. That is why we should meditate on him through his word. Using the Bible to direct our consideration and contemplation of God is God’s gracious gift to us, to assist and direct our minds and affections.
The Bible speaks of this constantly. God tells Joshua that success in faithful obedience requires that “This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night.” (Joshua 1:8). Similarly, Israel’s kings were to meditate daily upon God’s word by reading it (Deuteronomy 18:18-19). This is true not just of Israel’s leaders, but for all of God’s people. Flourishing in relationship to God flows from delightfully meditating on him through his word. This is the dominant theme of Psalm 1 and 119 for example.
Jesus explains that searching the scriptures to find life is right, because true life from God comes from the one that scripture reveals: Jesus himself (John 5:39). The daily rhythm of meditating on God through his word is not only for personal devotion to God, but family devotion to God. In Deuteronomy 6, Moses provides God’s greatest commandment: to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind. And what does this look like in practice?
“These words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” (Deuteronomy 6:6-9, cf. Psalm 78:5-8).
Loving God at the very least means embracing a daily rhythm of meditating on him through his word. Reading it, talking about it, teaching it to your family is what God expects of a daily, spiritual devotion to him.
Second, personal and family devotion should be prayer-filled. The Bible is full of pictures of this: Pray without ceasing! (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18), Pray about everything! (Philippians 4:6), Pray with persistence! (Luke 18:1), Pray as long as you have breath! (Psalm 116:2), Pray constantly! (Psalm 86:3). Meditating on God should lead us to respond to God in prayer. Why? Because a relationship with God is not about receiving information from him, but receiving him. God is the greatest good, the highest joy, and since we have received him we have the privilege of speaking to him and being heard. That’s what prayer is: speaking to God. Prayer should be part of our devotions because through this gift we grown in our appreciation, trust, and delight in God himself.
Sometimes we overcomplicate devotions. Personal and family devotion to God should simply be a daily rhythm of reading God’s word, considering God through his word, and responding to God in prayer.
Now, some people find devotional guides helpful, and they can be! Here are a few recommendations that provide structures for reading and prayer, as well as conversation and insight on the biblical text for families.
- The Family Worship Book: A Resource Book for Family Devotions (Terry Johnson).
- Family Worship Bible Guide (Joel Beeke).
- Training Hearts, Teaching Minds: Family Devotions Based on the Shorter Catechism (Starr Meade).
- Comforting Hearts, Teaching Minds: Family Devotions Based on the Heidelberg Catechism (Starr Meade).
For individuals (most of which can also be used for families or friend groups as well),
- Be Thou My Vision: A Liturgy For Daily Worship (Jonathan Gibson).
- Morning and Evening (Charles Spurgeon).
- Through the Bible, Through the Year: Daily Readings from Genesis to Revelation (John Stott).
- The Daily Office of the Book of Common Prayer. The daily office can be found more easily at https://www.dailyoffice2019.com/, which also has links to an app for this.