I have received considerable help in my spiritual life over the years from reading devotional books. What is a devotional book? A devotional book is a book that assists you in growing in your spiritual life by explicating and making personal applications from what is written in the Bible. Examples of devotional books that have helped me in the past include Humility by Andrew Murray, and Morning and Evening by Charles Spurgeon. In fact, I recently published 100 short devotional readings to help Christians learn how to live out one of the most important biblical teachings in the Bible: inChristness, so I certainly am no foe of devotional books!
But no matter how helpful devotional literature is for Christian growth, the Bible itself is far more important.
“Of course it is!” I can hear the comments already. “Who would suggest otherwise?”
I don’t think that any Christian would suggest otherwise. Most people know better than to say that. But when some Christians choose to read devotional books more frequently than they read the Bible itself, that communicates their value for such books over the Bible. Worse, when people read devotional books instead of the Bible, they not only suggest that devotional books are more important than the Bible, in practice they communicate that they question the value of the Bible altogether.
A few months back, I had a conversation with someone who was excited, she said, to have received my new devotional book because, as she told me, she had been reading the same one devotional book for three years, and needed something fresh to read. Maybe I misunderstood—I certainly hope I did—but it sounded like she spent her devotional times reading one particular devotional book over and over instead of the Bible.
I didn’t have the courage to ask for a clarification.
I’ve got a better suggestion than reading my recent devotional book, despite how much help I think it will give you in your spiritual life—or any other devotional book for that matter—instead of the Bible. How about reading Genesis, or Matthew, or Isaiah, or Romans, or, given enough time, reading through all the books of the Bible?
Why is reading the Bible itself better than reading a devotional book?
I hate to state the obvious, but here it is: Because it is God’s Word. The Bible is the primary way God communicates to us in our daily lives. We must constantly remind ourselves that only God can change, grow, convict, and guide us. Recall also that the primary way we are formed spiritually is as the Spirit of God impresses the Word of God upon our hearts. But we leave little space for the Spirit to do his work unless we are reading the Word of God!
“But devotional books are easier to read…and feel way more relevant…”
I will grant that devotional books are often easier to read, but it will never do to claim that devotional books are more relevant than the Bible itself. Second Timothy 3:16-17 asserts that Scripture is useful for: 1) teaching, 2) rebuking and correcting, 3) training in righteousness, and 4) equipping for every good work. We access everything we need for life and godliness through God’s precious and magnificent promises found his Word (2 Peter 1:3-4). When it comes to relevance—real relevance, not simply feeling something is relevant—nothing is more relevant than God’s transformative Word.
What am I recommending? That we stop reading devotional books? I would never recommend such a course! I just told you that God frequently has used devotional literature to impact my life. And, as I’ve already commented, I recently thought so highly of the genre that I wrote a daily devotional myself.
But let me recommend that whatever else you do with your reading plan, be sure to set aside time each day to open up an actual Bible and read the words that God has put therein. Work your way through an entire book of the Bible before you move on to another. (You don’t have to always read biblical books in the biblical order.)
If you want to set aside time to read a daily devotional book, that is wonderful, but you should never do so to the neglect of actually ingesting the Word of God. Furthermore, if you find that study questions help you concentrate and stay focused on what you are reading in the Bible, by all means, draw upon such helps. But if you spend more time reading words other than the words of the Bible, that is probably a good indicator that you should recommit to spending time in the Bible itself.
As Hebrews 4:12 powerfully reminds us, the Word of God is “living and active.” The Word of God can “pierce…soul and spirit.” And the Word of God is “able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”
No devotional book can make such a claim.