This lesson is taken from my online course, “Let’s Write a Devotional.”
While a classic-style devotional begins with a Bible verse and is followed by a reflection (sometimes called a meditation, or story), that may not be the order in which the inspiration comes to you.
Sometimes you will start with the Bible verse, and then you will ask God to help you write a reflection that relates to the verse.
At other times, you will start the other way around – you will know the story, the object lesson, or the testimony first, and then you will ask God to lead you to the scripture verse which that story expresses.
Notice I said that the story expresses the scripture verse, and not the other way around. It is tempting to make the scripture verse fit the story, but that’s not what you want to offer to your readers. Whether the Bible verse or the story comes to you first, you want your readers to begin with scripture. The story should help your readers see the scripture verse at work in daily life. So, even if you get the story first, and then you find a scripture verse to go with it, be sure you are using a scripture verse for which that story is a natural expression – as if it had come to you the other way around.
For example, if I am writing a story about hope, I want to be sure the scripture verse is about hope. If my reflection or testimony is about healing, I want to be sure the Bible verse I use speaks a message of healing that sheds light on my story. A common mistake is to write the story, quickly grab a Bible verse that “sounds like” the story, and put them together. Take the prayerful time you need to find the right verse. If God gave you the story, He will give you the verse.
This is where it helps to dig deep with the Holy Spirit into your study of the Bible. Be sure you know the verses you are using and what they mean. Spend regular time in the Word. Let the Spirit lead you. Look at each Bible verse in the full context of the surrounding passage.
Make Spirit-led Bible study a spiritual practice – not just when you are preparing a devotional. The more you meet God in His Word, the more that understanding will come to you as you write. Even when you gain a deeper understanding of the Word, always stay humble and be open to God’s instruction and leading. This process is as much for your spiritual growth and your relationship with God as it is for your readers. God will use it for both, if you let Him.
Begin with prayer and ask God to lead you in this process. Choose a Bible verse. Read the verse several times, meditating and praying over the verse. Then read the surrounding passage. Ask God to help you see how that verse connects with the larger context of the whole passage. The process of lectio divina is very helpful here. If you are not familiar with lectio divina, you might enjoy learning about it. This is a common way of scripture meditation practiced at monasteries.
After you understand the verse in its own original context (as those who heard it for the first time would have heard it), then pray about what that verse means to you today. Write down whatever God shows you – it might be emotions, a story you have experienced, ideas, specific problems people struggle with, or even a different Bible passage. Don’t edit yourself. Just makes notes in your journal – whatever comes to you. Don’t leave anything out.
That is the depth of immersing yourself in the Word that you will want to bring to every scripture verse in your devotionals. It takes time, but it is worth the effort, and God will use that time to work in your heart as well. Get in the habit of doing this every time you write a devotional, whether you begin with scripture or come to the Bible verse after you have the story. The time with God will affect your life in so many ways beyond the devotional you are working on.
At the end of this time, if the Bible verse turns out not to be the right one for your devotional, that is okay. You had an amazing time with God. You were shaped by His Word. And you have still come away with journal notes that might lead to other devotionals in the future. Keep those references in your journal. You never know when God will prompt you to use them down the road.
God, thank You for every moment we get to spend with You in Your Word. What a life-changing privilege every time. In Jesus’ name. Amen
If you would like to learn more about devotional writing and take a guided, self-paced, online course where you will write a devotional and receive feedback from your instructor, you might enjoy my online course, “Let’s Write a Devotional.” Come visit the course page, and you can get started with devotional writing today.