With the New Year around the corner, and Advent upon us, we pastors begin to field more questions about good devotional material. Since the answers don’t change very often I thought I would put my thoughts down here and point our parishioners to this post in the future. From year to year I will try to update it as new materials become available.
When it comes to devotional literature, I always recommend first the Psalms and Proverbs. Reading and meditating on a Psalm each day is a wonderful exercise and one that is trustworthy. So many devotional books are either weak or even full of bad theology. But the Psalter will not steer you wrong. If you read one a day you will read the Psalter twice in the year with plenty of time left over. If you read five Psalms a day you will read the Psalter through every month. Familiarity with and a love for the Psalms will lead you to more consistent prayer and provide you with strong language with which to pray. Likewise, the Proverbs are excellent material to meditate upon. One chapter a morning will take you through the Proverbs in a month. Repeat this for a year and you will find that you are, without even trying, able to recite many of the Proverbs from memory. I do not believe there is any better devotional literature in the entire canon of human writings. And they have God as their author.
Having said that, it is with a little bit of a grudge that I turn to recommend anything else. But there are some good options out there. The first I would recommend are our doctrinal standards. Read a chapter of the Westminster Confession of Faith each day. Or read a question from the Larger Catechism or several from the Shorter Catechism. They are beautifully written, theologically rich, and worthy of meditation. Though we are Westminsterian, our Dutch brothers and sisters have a wonderful set of standards as well that we appreciate very much: The Belgic Confession, the Heidelberg Catechism, and the Canons of Dort. Read the Heidelberger, a question each day, and meditate upon the question and answer. It begins, “Christian, what is your only comfort in life and death?” The answer, carefully considered, will bring tears of joy to your eyes! You will be encouraged, inspired, and grow in the knowledge of God by using these materials devotionally. All are easily obtained online or at Logos Bookstore in Green Hills.
One source of devotional material that folks rarely think of is biographical material. Fox’s Book of Martyrs, though hardly without error, can be quite an inspiration as you consider the faithfulness that God has worked in His saints throughout modern history. William Barker has written a single volume entitled Puritan Profiles that is wonderful. Each Puritan is profiled in about two pages, making for a brief read. Another is Sketches from Church History by SM Houghton, which tells you about historical events in the church in brief sections of about two pages each. The subtitle gives you some idea of how well it serves as a devotional work: An Illustrated Account of 20 Centuries of Christ’s Power. This material is wonderfully inspirational. More than that, though, reading Christian history and biographical sketches will slowly change your perspective, teaching you that you are not the first generation of Christians, but are part of a larger and historical stream of faithful saints. It will humble you.
The final category I want to highlight are classic works. When it comes to what we’ll call “straight devotional literature”, there are two reasons to stick with the classics. First, they are classics because they are excellent. Otherwise they would have been forgotten. Second, with so much excellent material available among the classic works, there is simply no reason to reach for the recent stuff. Let the new works prove themselves first and you can pick them up in a few decades. CS Lewis said you should at least read one classic for every contemporary book. I think he’s right. That said, among the classics I especially like a series that, though the series is not a classic series, it puts classic writings together into devotional size bites. It is the Day by Day series published by Hendrickson. There is a volume of the English Puritans, another of the Early Church Fathers, and another for John Calvin. Each volume is 365 days of single page devotions excerpted from the writings of the Fathers, etc. They can be hard to find, but if you’ll call Logos Bookstore I’m confident they can find what you want quickly and reasonably. Also in this category (though not usually considered so) is our Trinity Hymnal. Choose a hymn each day, especially one we have sung or will soon sing or sing often, and read them thoughtfully. This will contribute to your ability to worship well on Sundays. Our church website will tell you which hymns we are singing on the coming Sunday.
I know there are other classics, but I haven’t used them myself, so I’m hesitant to recommend them until I have. If you have favorites you’d like to recommend, send me the titles and I’ll do my best to check into them and post them here.
I hope your devotional time will be used by God to strengthen your faith, increase your love, and ground your hope in Christ!