What do you need to have an effective devotional time?
A BIBLE. That is really the only necessity. I suppose if you didn’t have an actual, physical Bible with you, you could still reflect upon the Scriptures that you have memorized, but even then you are still engaging with the Bible.
The Bible is necessary because His Word is the means He has chosen to speak to us. And without utilizing the means He has chosen to speak to us, we are destined to only have a one-sided conversation: us talking to God. A dynamic relationship is one in which the conversation is two-way: both sides communicating to one another. God speaks to us in His Word and we speak to God in prayer. The two go hand-in-hand. In fact, one without the other for an extended period of time is not spiritually healthy. To pray apart from God’s Word is to eventually pray amiss. To read God’s Word without prayer is to eventually just be inputting information.
Is the Bible the only thing you should use in a devotional time?
No, not necessarily; it is just the only necessity. Here are some other things that can be helpful for your devotional time:
2. Prayer List
3. Bible Chapter Checklist
4. Devotional Book
5. Prayer Book
6. Hymnal or Song Book
7. MP3 Player
8. Scripture Memory Cards
9. Blank Notecards
10. Additional Bibles
Even among this list of 10 items, some are more helpful than others. Here is more information on each:
Not Needed, but Very Helpful:
1. JOURNAL – many Christians through the centuries have found journaling to be a very helpful part of their devotional time. Much like a diary, you can write the date and then write out what you sense God is saying to you through your Bible reading. You can write out prayers to God, including praise, confession, thanksgiving, and requests. There is really no rules about how to do this. Do what helps you connect with God. If you have a very active mind such that you find it hard to concentrate in prayer, journaling is an especially helpful tool. As for what kind of journal to use, you can spend a little as a dollar for a cheap spiral notebook or you can spend quite of bit of money on a hand-crafted leather traveling journal or a Walt Disney executive journal. I am currently using a Gibson brand “Markings” black 8″x5″ ruled notebook. It is basically a Moleskin knock-off that is available at Target or Staples for about $10. Not only is it cheaper than a Moleskin, I actually think it is a better product. For writing, I prefer a black medium point uni-ball gel pen (#207).
2. PRAYER LIST – Sometimes it’s hard to remember all the prayer needs that are brought to our attention: missionaries, people who are sick, people who need to become Christians, people who are jobless, and the list goes on and on. Using a prayer list is a wonderful tool to help remember who to pray for. I have four prayer lists: (a) a daily prayer list: for me, my wife, each of my kids, my parents, and my in-laws. (b) a weekly prayer list: ongoing prayer requests divided into seven days. (c) a weekly pastors list: similar to the previous list, only it’s a list of pastors, about 10 a day to pray for. (d) the weekly prayer requests from our church. You don’t have to have four lists. In fact, for a long time I had one list that I kept in my Bible. I took a sheet of 8.5″ x 11″ paper, folded it in half and then folded once more. When folded, it fit neatly in my Bible as a bookmark. When unfolded, it has 8 “panels,” 1 panel for each day of the week, plus an extra for my daily prayer requests.
3. BIBLE CHAPTER CHECKLIST – I have found this to be very helpful. I have recently started reading 10 different chapters of the Bible a day in my devotional time, using Professor Horner’s Bible Reading System (with a couple of minor adjustments). In addition to using the bookmarks suggested, I also have a half sheet of paper with all the chapters of the Bible on it, so I can mark off my progress. This also helps you to remember which chapter you left off on when you have your bookmark between two pages that have more than one chapter. Such a checklist can also be useful in any Bible reading system, to know how and what you have read.
Not Needed, but Helpful:
4. DEVOTIONAL BOOK – some people find it helpful to use a devotional book. Most devotional books include 365 daily readings which focus on applying God’s Word to our daily lives. The individual devotions vary in emphasis, but most seek to bring comfort in trials, confidence in spiritual living, or a challenge to act upon what God’s Word says to do. Perhaps one of the most well-known and beneficial devotional books today is My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers. Another one that I would highly recommend actually provides two devotions per day, one for in the morning and one for at night, hence the title: Morning and Evening by Charles Haddon Spurgeon. A word of caution is needed when using a devotional: a great mistake many Christians make is in using the devotional book in the place of personal Bible reading and prayer rather than in addition to Bible reading and prayer.
5. PRAYER BOOK – For those who come from a “high” church tradition, a prayer book is common. But for those of us who come from more of a “low,” “free,” or “contemporary” church background, a prayer can not only be unfamiliar, but can even seem somewhat “unspiritual” by some. I find it to be a profitable occasional aid in my devotional time. It is only in recent years that I have found the benefit of praying through prayers written by other godly people. Using a prayer book as a tool in private worship also comes with a caution: some prayer books do not come from a shared theological point of view. The only prayer book I have used to date is a wonderful and trustworthy (theologically) little book called The Valley of Vision. It is a collection of prayers from the Puritans published by Banner of Truth. It comes either in a paperback or bonded leather edition. I probably only use it about 2-3 times per month, but really recommend it as a possibility for an aid in your devotional time.
6. HYMNAL or SONG BOOK – As I mentioned in the Introduction to this series, singing to the Lord is a valid component of a quality devotional time. A good hymnal or praise song book can be a helpful tool for this idea. Admittedly, this is something I rarely, if ever, do. But that is probably to my shame rather than praise. We own a Baptist Hymnal (1991) but I have seen many people recommend the Trinity Hymnal. For contemporary praise songs, instead of trying to find a song book (which usually has songs that are at least 10 years old), you would do better going with my next tool of recommendation…
7. MP3 PLAYER (or CD Player) – An mp3 player is great for listening to contemporary worship songs either to sing along with or for meditation and reflection. I keep my iPod right with my Bible, journal, and prayer lists at the “special place” where I meet with God. I play worship music for praising God, and I play unobtrusive classical music to help drown out competing background noise (i.e., the kids are up and being noisy).
8. SCRIPTURE MEMORY CARDS – You can write out your own Scripture memory cards, purchase a Scripture memory system, or print out your own cards on the computer. I print out my Scripture memory verses on the same page as my daily prayer list.
9. BLANK NOTECARDS with Notecard File/Box – I picked up this idea recently from this webpage. Occasionally when I reading the Bible during my devotional time I will have an insight that is not really a personal spiritual application that I would write in my Bible, but rather a great insight into the passage that I think might be useful in future teaching/preaching. Not wanting to lose the thought, but also not wanting to get sidetracked from my time with the Lord, I just grab a 3″x5″ notecard and write the thought down real quick, file it in the little box, and then move on with my Bible reading.
10. ADDITIONAL BIBLES – I read daily from the English Standard Version, but on occasion I like to take a look at what one of the other versions as well. About a month ago I read through the book of Revelation, one chapter per day. On most of those days I would also read the chapter in the KJV, NIV, and NLT. That’s two literal translations (ESV & KJV) and two dynamic equivalent translations (NIV & NLT). I found it to be very fascinating endeavor. I currently keep the following versions nearby in my prayer closet: King James Version (KJV), New American Standard Bible (NASB), New International Version (NIV), and New Living Translation (NLT). I also keep my copy of the ESV Study Bible in my stack. I do not recommend using a study Bible much during devotional times, but on occasion, when you cannot shake a nagging interpretive question, it can be helpful to have one handy.
One final question:
Can you do all this on your computer instead of having to manage Bibles, notebooks, printed out lists, pens, paper, hymnals, mp3 players, etc.?
Of course you can. In this day and age almost everything recommended above can be brought up electronically on your computer screen. You can read the Bible online (in multiple versions), you can keep an online journal, you can keep prayer lists, and play worship music, etc. It is even highly likely that if you have the right phone and apps, you can probably utilize most of these tools on it!
Call me an old-timer, but I would not recommend it. I personally would find it very difficult to stay focused. I like having separate environments for the various compartments of my life. My computer is for work. Although I could probably force myself to concentrate on being devotional on the computer, I like reading God’s Word from a leather bound book rather than a computer screen. I like writing out my prayers and devotional applications on paper, instead of typing. I like being able to take my Bible, journal, and pen with me and have a devotional time on a back porch on vacation, or on a bench on a nature trail or at the beach. In other words, a Bible and a journal is more mobile than a computer.
I know all this is personal preferences, so if you can connect better with God through your devotional time on your MacBook or your iPhone, more power to you. What I’m most excited about is that if you have read this far down, you are probably serious about developing habit of daily time with God!