The Secret to Writing a Meaningful Devotional
The Art of Inspiring Others:
The Secret to Preparing Meaningful Devotionals
A “devotional”is a short but meaningful talk or written piece that coveys to others some spiritual truth or shares how a spiritual truth or scripture passage affected you or someone else in a meaningful way. Some devotionals may combine inspirational material from other sources and of many kinds. Some devotionals may contain personal stories or be based entirely on scripture.
HAVE A POINT!
Just about every year, at some point over the Thanksgiving weekend, my family ends up watching the movie “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles” with Steve Martin and John Candy. One of my favorite quotes is from “Del”, played by Steve Martin. What he says sums up exactly how I feel about devotionals:
“You know everything is not an anecdote. You have to discriminate. You choose things that are funny or mildly amusing or interesting. You’re a miracle! Your stories have NONE of that. They’re not even amusing ACCIDENTALLY!…And by the way, you know, when you’re telling these little stories? Here’s a good idea – have a POINT. It makes it SO much more interesting for the listener!”- from “Plains, Trains, and Automobiles,” 1987, with Steve Martin and John Candy. Dialogue by IBDb The Internet Movie Database.
We’ve all heard them and I at least have given many of them, devotionals that have no point, or at least none that you can identify and certainly none that you’ll remember tomorrow.
When you say or write something, it’s important to the person who hears or reads it that you have a point. The first secret to preparing a meaningful devotional is to always have one point that you feel God has given you and wants you to convey to your audience. A devotional, unlike a sermon, should have only one point, not two or three.
If you give your testimony, faith history or tell a story, try to find one salient point from it that you want to repeat several times and close with. Always give people something to remember or take home in their minds and hearts. Make sure that they leave knowing the main point that you wanted to convey. If it means something to you, it will mean something to others if you can find a way to share it so that to will feel what you felt.
DON’T READ FROM LISTS
Don’t read off verses from a “list” of verses on a subject. Pick one topic or verse and explain how they are meaningful to you or what God has shown you in your life related to those verses. Concordances are wonderful tools to help you find a verse, but should not be used to find lists of verses on a particular topic so that you can read all of them out loud as a devotional. I once heard a pastor preaching a televised sermon. He had several thousand people in his congregation besides those watching on satellite TV. It was the most uninspired sermon I’ve ever heard. I actually got out a concordance and followed him down through the verses on his topic as he read and briefly explained all of the verses on a specific topic. Needless to say, I don’t remember the topic only the fact that the Holy Spirit had NOT inspired that sermon.
Never read lists of words or myriads of verses. Your audience cannot focus on more than one or at most two verses in a short devotional. Professional speakers know that people cannot remember more than three points at a time.
SEE EVERYDAY EVENTS AS “GOD INCIDENCES”
Develop the ability to see how everyday life relates to spiritual things-then illustrations from life will be easier for you to see. Ask God for a story or example or song or even a poem to help “glue” your “point” to the minds and hearts of the audience. If you have five minutes for a devotional, prepare for ten and let the Holy Spirit help you present the best five.
DO NOT READ LONG PORTIONS TO YOUR AUDIENCE
Never read a devotional, and worse, never read someone else”s devotional. It is very boring to hear second hand devotionals or inspirational writings. If you really want your audience to hear a long quote from someone else, you can give a printed copy of something to your audience to take home and read and provide a reference. Most of us would rather not hear something longer than a paragraph or at most two read. Your audience wants to hear from you, not someone else!
If you want to share from a devotional that you have read somewhere else, choose the one most important sentence or verse and then share the devotional in your own words, saying why it meant something to you. If you find something inspiring, do not read it out loud to your audience, rewrite it in your own words and give the original author credit.
Quotes must be very short and memorable if they are to be useful and remembered. Instead share what the writer/speaker said in your own words and what it meant to YOUR life. Consider using meaningful ideas that you have read or heard as springboards. Think about those ideas and pray about what the Lord is leading you to share with your audience concerning that idea.
GO AHEAD AND BE CREATIVE
Devotionals can be creative and there are no end to the possibilities of what you can do…as long as what you do has a point and as long as the creative thing your chose makes that point clearer to your audience or more easily remembered.
USE REPETITION AND CLOSE WITH YOUR MAIN POINT
If you have a point, don’t be afraid to repeat it a couple of times in your devotional in the form of illustrations and stories. You don’t have to say the point in the same words over and over, but do repeat your point in different ways.
AIM FOR PEOPLE’S HEARTS MORE THAN THEIR MINDS
Good stories not only have a point, but they make the listener smile or cry or laugh or feel . The deep human feelings are universal. We all have similar feelings, so if you can help others to feel what you felt or what a character in a text or story felt, then you will be on the way to creating a meaningful and memorable devotional.
Strike at your audience’s emotions but keep yours relatively in check. If you cry or get hysterical you might cause your audience to focus on you rather than on what God wants to do in THEIR life.
WHEN YOU DON’T FEEL INSPIRING
Spiritual dryness is part of life. Sometimes it is our own fault. Other times it is just an inevitable part of Christian life. Unless it is very severe, it should not interfere with your ability to share a devotional. In fact, it can enhance a devotional because most everyone in your audience will be able to identify with the pain and despair that spiritual dryness can cause. Being “real” and authentic about your feelings will usually enhance your devotional.
Practice writing an illustration of a theological truth like salvation or repentance.:
Practice writing a funny story. Decide what the point of the story will be first.:
Practice writing a poignant or sad story. Decide what the point of the story will be first.: