How to use daily devotionals correctly showing a person reading a book

Daily devotional writings or sermons are an excellent tool to teach and preach God’s Word and strengthen, encourage, build up, inspire or motivate the saints. Like any tool, they must be used appropriately to benefit us.

We will briefly review how to use daily devotional writings or books and provide links to some trusted daily devotionals. To correctly use devotionals, we need to know their place, benefits, dangers, and proper use. For a fuller discussion on the difference between the devotional as a piece of Christian writing and the devotional as quiet time with God, please read “What is a Devotional?”

The Role of Daily Devotionals

Proper use of daily devotional begins with knowing where they belong—their place, their role. Daily devotionals are a recent addition to our tools as Christians to preach, teach, read, or listen to God’s Word. They come in handy in two primary contexts: devotional and non-devotional.

The Devotional Context

Daily devotionals are primarily used for Christian devotions. They can be used as an adjunct to the core components of a healthy devotional time: devotional prayer, devotional Word, and quiet waiting. The key term here is adjunct: daily devotional articles or books are an extra, an additional part, potentially helpful. They are not essential or required. In fact, not all Christians use daily devotionals for their devotional time; they are not mandatory. 

The Non-Devotional Context

Devotionals are (or should be) God’s Word taught or preached, so their benefits extend beyond the devotional time. God’s Word, known, understood, and believed, can yield results in any circumstance. 

For example, our Deshen Daily devotionals are categorized and further subdivided into topics such as fear, freedom, how to pray, etc. Anyone who is struggling with anxiety or needs the Word to help them deal with a demonic situation can access our catalog of devotionals.

In fact, most of the readers of our online devotionals do not read them as devotionals but as answers to questions or needs they have. 

So daily devotionals are an adjunct for the devotional time for those who use them and for non-devotional contexts; when used this way, they can enrich the saints and stimulate spiritual growth.

The Benefits

Daily devotionals are beneficial primarily because they are the Word of God expounded. They are unique in being brief, and this brevity meets a specific need. There are moments when that short, direct answer is just what you need; a comprehensive study, an entire sermon, or a complete book might not always be the most suitable option for every need.

Daily devotionals are an excellent vehicle for sharing the insights, revelations, and wisdom God has deposited in the author of the devotional. It is similar to listening to your pastor every Sunday or weekday Bible study for many years and growing in your understanding of the scriptures. Again, the brevity of the devotional furnishes an excellent tool for transmitting tiny bits of insights and revelations.

But the benefits—the Word explained or taught, the brevity—can become the source of multiple problems for the authors and readers of daily devotionals. 

The Dangers

Proper use of daily devotionals requires the author and the reader (or listener) to be aware of the potential dangers. My choice of the word “danger” is intentional; it conveys the message more than similar words, such as disadvantages. Improper use of Daily Devotionals can cause spiritual harm.

Here is a list of a few potential dangers:

1. Bible Substitute

When I learned that some believers already use their Daily Devotional Books instead of their Bibles, I was astonished. They read these books faithfully every day rather than the Bible. Irrespective of the quality of the devotional, the author, or the ministry, whatever replaces the Bible is anathema to God’s people. We should remember that Devotionals, like Commentaries, are third-party interpretations and applications of the Bible.

2. Personal time Substitute

For some believers, reading a devotional or listening to a devotional sermon is the same as having a devotional with God. It is similar to those who feel no need to pray personally because their pastor is praying for them.

3. The Spiritual Middleman dilemma

The two substitutions—of the Bible and personal relationship—are part of a vexing and increasingly popular problem I term the spiritual middleman or mediator dilemma. In summary, this is a misuse of God’s ministry gifts and callings in which God’s servants present themselves or are perceived by their followers as someone who stands between them and God. 

This partly results from a misappropriation of Old Testament principles in which God dealt with Israel through Moses and later only through the priests and prophets. Importing this system into the believer’s relationship with Christ is disastrous. God established ministerial callings and gifts in the Church; He continues to use ministers to touch His people, but differently. 

This problem is particularly pervasive and increasing among us, Pentecostals.

4. The sufficiency of brevity

The Devotional is not everything. There is more to Bible study than devotional Bible study; similarly, there is more to prayer than devotional prayer. For some believers, the brevity of the devotional Bible study or devotional prayer leads to perpetual superficiality.

But not all devotional time is brief. Some believers’ and ministers’ devotional time with God runs into the hours and is almost sufficient for daily fellowship, extended prayer, or in-depth Bible studies. I once read of a minister who would spend the entire morning, from about 5-6 AM to approximately noon every day, before doing his daily Church services. I leave it up to you to imagine how glorious those Church services were.

5. Distraction

Some believers easily get overwhelmed and distracted by the myriad of quality devotionals available. For example, during our Approaches to Bible Study at Deshen School, one common reason from our students for not successfully reading through the Bible was distraction by devotionals.

Daily devotionals have their place, and whenever they leave their position, they cause problems. 

Proper Use

As noted above, when used properly, Daily Devotionals are a superb tool to grow in your knowledge of God. Proper use requires us to use them effectively during devotional or non-devotional contexts while reaping the benefits and avoiding the dangers. A few guidelines (guidelines and not rules) will suffice.

  • Decide if you need to use Daily Devotionals during your devotional time or not. 
  • Choose a quality Daily Devotional that edifies you from an author you know and trust. I have included a list of trusted devotionals at the end of this page.
  • Ensure you use them as adjuncts and not as everything.
  • Use them for non-devotional settings whenever appropriate. Devotionals are the Word of God preached or taught; so read devotionals as needed to increase your knowledge of the Lord in an area of concern to you. For example, if you are anxious, devotionals on anxiety can be an excellent tool to absorb the Word to help you handle the challenge quickly.
  • Beware of the dangers of improper use of Daily Devotionals; know when they are becoming what they were not supposed to be. 

The list above is not exhaustive. I do not regularly read most of these devotionals, but I know the ministries to varying degrees. If there is a daily devotional on this list that publishes content of questionable quality, please let me know. Furthermore, if a devotional is particularly edifying to believers, is widely read, and you believe it will benefit our readers, please let us know in the comments below. We will review and consider adding to the list above; no guarantees we will add every suggestion, as that will not be feasible.

Conclusion 

We have briefly considered the place of daily devotionals in devotional and non-devotional contexts, their potential benefits and dangers, and an abbreviated list of quality daily devotionals. Daily devotional writings or books have a place, and whether they build or harm our spiritual lives depends on how they are used and, of course, the content and spirit of the daily devotional itself.

Do you use daily devotionals? If so, how and which ones? Please write your comments below. 

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