Most Christians search for the meaning of a devotional for at least three main reasons. First, some have heard the term but do not know what it means; they want to know what other Christians mean by a devotional. Second, others understand what a devotional means, but they want more—they crave a deeper meaning, deeper insight, and deeper revelation. Third, others know the general usage of the term but want to see if it is in the Bible and how it defines it.
Whether you want a simple definition, a deeper meaning, or a Biblical perspective, this article is for you. As a Spirit-filled believer who practices regular devotions with the Lord and a minister writing daily devotions, I have put together key insights that will deepen your understanding of this crucial biblical concept.
Before proceeding, here are three similar articles that might be of interest to you:
- Is It Biblical To Write Or Read Devotionals?
- How To Use Daily Devotionals
- Seven Examples Of The Devotional
Meanings Of The Term Devotional
I classify the meanings of devotional or devotions into three major categories: dictionary, general Christian, and biblical. The premise of this division is the usage of these words in a specific context and the underlying concept they describe. However, please keep in mind these factors as we move forward in discussing the meanings of this term:
- Usage: various distinct but related meanings are valid when used in context.
- Not in the Bible: You will not find the term devotional per se in the Bible(at least most standard translations). However, the word describes a concept found all over the scriptures.
- Multiple related words: The different terms, such as daily devotional, devotion, and bible devotions, can all refer to the same thing from a slightly different perspective.
- Meanings change with time: The usage of words can change. The devotional nowadays differs from the meaning of the word 500 years ago because society has changed.
The general meaning of the devotional or devotion is the standard dictionary definition of these terms.
- Devotional: used to describe something connected with religious worship. Hence, we can talk about devotional books or songs.
- Devotion: a noun used to describe religious worship or observances such as prayers or services.
Beyond these bare-bone dictionary definitions is the more specific religious sense of the term: how Christians use it.
General Christian Meaning
Most believers know the devotional as a short inspirational piece of Christian writing for each day. By extension, it can also refer to any book with a collection of these brief devotionals for a period such as one year, month, or week.
Today, our digital world also allows using short audio or videos with inspiration from the scripture.
Biblical Definition Of The Devotional
The biblical meaning is arguably the most important. Although the term or its definition does not appear directly in the Biblical text, the Bible is replete with the principle and practice. In fact, the term devotional is a relatively new term to describe an old scriptural principle and practice. God’s people over the ages have called it different names, such as quiet time, time with God, meditation, and prayer time. For example, Isaac, sometimes about 1800 BC, went out one evening to have a devotional—just when he was about to see his beautiful bride for the first time!
“And Isaac went out to meditate in the field toward evening. And he lifted up his eyes and saw, and behold, there were camels coming.” (Genesis 24:63, ESV)
In this context, the devotional is the time we set apart to fellowship with God in prayer and His Word, during which He nourishes, strengthens, and refreshes us. It is the principle and practice of spending time with God in prayer and His Word.
The presence and power of God directly influence the hearts and lives of His people as they devote time to be with Him in His Word and prayer. I refer to this idea as the devotional effect. To learn more about this, please read “This is what happens during your devotional time with the Lord“. Furthermore, there are different parts of these effects to understand for a deeper, more enriching understanding of this concept.
The brief 3-minutes video below vividly captures this meaning.
Essential Concepts Of The Devotional
We will now review fundamental concepts in the definition of the devotional presented above: the essence, means, terminology issues, daily devotional, and devotional life.
The most crucial concept is the idea of the transforming effects of God’s presence and power in people’s hearts when they establish any direct contact with Him. This is the devotional effect mentioned above.
The goal of our quiet time with the Lord is to get into (not that we are out of it) His presence and come out stronger, better, encouraged, built up, inspired, and deeper in our relationship with Him. This process is the treasure or gold of the devotional; it is a mystery accomplished by the Spirit of God.
God has given us different means to trigger this devotional effect.
Scriptures show us two primary means by which the Spirit of God produces the devotional effect on our hearts and lives: the knowledge of God’s Word entering our hearts and fellowship with God in prayer.
Please note that I did not write meditation or Bible reading, but the knowledge of God. It is the knowledge of God entering our hearts during meditation or reading that produces this nourishing effect. Knowledge and fellowship form a duo that establishes the basis of including Bible reading and prayer in our devotions. They work together in a way comparable to the combined effects of nutrition and exercise to build muscles.
Food provides the basic building blocks for muscle growth. Exercise, however, functions differently. It does not offer building blocks for the muscle but engages the muscles in activities that stimulate growth and development. Knowledge is a building block of the human heart. Prayer promotes the development of our hearts using the building blocks already there, just as exercise stimulates muscle growth using nutrients supplied by food.
The Daily Devotional
The devotional effect, as described above, can occur anywhere. It can transpire when you listen to a sermon in church or meditate in your quiet place.
However, when we make spending time with God a daily occurrence at a specified time set aside for this purpose, we can appropriately call it a daily devotional or devotion. Moreover, every believer is not only encouraged but commanded by God to regularly read His Word and pray—the devotional is a divine command and expectation. It should be integral to your spiritual life.
The Devotional Life
We use the term devotional life in a precise context in this article and our ministry. The devotional life is the habit of devoting time to be with the Lord and the flourishing life that results from this practice.
There are two main ideas in this concept.
- First, the devotional life is a habit of diligently and consistently spending time with God, which creates devotional effects on our lives. This habit requires consistency, devotion, and dedication.
- Second, the devotional life describes the outward manifestations of the results of time with God. Our lives flourish as trees planted by rivers with effects on our spiritual lives, spiritual growth, and relationship with the Lord.
The devotional life is not merely reading a piece of daily devotional every day or reading a passage from the Bible. It is the knowledge of the Word received in the heart that produces the refreshing effect. As noted above, terminology then is important.
God’s people over the centuries have used different names to describe the devotional concept. Various examples include quiet time, meditation, prayer, and Bible study. Each of these names focuses on an aspect of the devotional framework. For instance, meditation describes a specific element of the means of our time with God. It only captures some parts. Similarly, we cannot blindly equate prayer or Bible study with the devotional because they do not automatically lead to the devotional effect in themselves!
I prefer the term devotional as used in the context above. It captures both the means and the essence. Nevertheless, the terminology is not as important as the act itself. Furthermore, we should distinguish the devotional from Christian Devotional Meditation as described by Got Questions website, which is a form of Eastern mindfulness and mysticism.
The term devotional today has several meanings, and it is essential to understand it in context. Beyond a mere lexical or religious meaning, the devotional is the principle and practice of spending time with God in prayer and His Word. It is not only a good thing to do, but God has consistently commanded us to feed on His Word and pray regularly.
I hope this article has given you a better understanding of the term and, even more importantly, inspired and encouraged you to start, improve or grow in your devotional life. If you have questions or need guidance, please comment below or contact us directly.
Instant Free Download
Staying consistent with prayer and Bible reading can be tough. Get inspiration from Jesus’ devotional practices with a free e-book. It offers valuable insights to keep you motivated and maintain a strong devotional life.
- What is the Purpose of a Devotional?
- Seven Examples Of The Devotional
- Devotional prayer: learning from our Lord Himself
- I Write Devotionals But This is What You Should Know About Them
- External Resource: GotQuestion on a Practice called Christian Devotional Meditation
- View Today’s Devotional from Deshen Daily
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