Friday, January 30, 2015

Devotions: Little Bites of Soul Food

(c) Can Stock Photo
Devotions are wonderful little bites of food for the soul. Many Christians thrive on these spiritual snacks. I’m one of them. I love starting the day with an inspirational thought, a word of encouragement, a hand of hope to help me up and over the cares of life. They’re short, and usually pretty simply laid out. But I have discovered that a lot of Christian writers do not feel capable of writing devotions.

Why? They’re afraid they can’t. Because they’re not ministers or public speakers, and perhaps because they’re so often told not to write in a “preachy” manner, many shy away from writing that contains a specific message relating to Christianity.

If you love devotions, I encourage you to give writing them a try. I love writing devotions. They have the power to uplift a downtrodden Christian. They can provide a dose of strength to someone who’s going through a period of spiritual weakness. They offer a down-to-earth look at subjects all Christians can benefit from.

That said, not everyone can or should write devotions. But if you feel called to encourage, or love to brighten dark days for your Christian brothers and sisters, perhaps you should pray about whether writing devotions is something you can do for God.

I would encourage anyone who wants to give it a try, to do so prayerfully and with a sincere heart. Words have the power to heal…but also to kill. They can encourage…or they can knock down and out. They’re capable of great good…and intense evil. Devotions should not be considered a means of personal gain or glory. They’re a ministry, and should be respected as such. It’s all about reaching souls and touching hearts.

The Upper Room Daily Devotional Guide says a devotion “connects real events of daily life with the ongoing activity of God.” It’s just “one believer sharing with another an insight or struggle about what it means to live faithfully.”

If you’d like to delve into the world of devotions, maybe the following pointers will help you get started.

1. Pray about it. Truly seek God’s wisdom and guidance as you write. Let Him dictate the point, and offer yourself as his transcriptionist.

2. Read devotions. If you’re a writer, you’ve been told repeatedly that “if you don’t read, you can’t write.” It’s true, and it works the same with devotions as it would if you were writing a novel. If you want to write devotions, read devotions.

3. Use real occurrences in your life that made you think of a particular biblical event or specific verse of scripture. If you find yourself thinking, “That reminds me of (whatever), in the Bible,” you’ve probably found an opportunity to touch others with the same insight God revealed to you. Have you ever experienced some little life event and then thought, “That’s just like Jesus!”? Well…there ya go. Use that happenstance to create a devotion that shows Jesus to others.

4. Keep it brief. Depending on where the devotion will be published, it could contain as few as 200 or as many as 500 words. Remember, these are spiritual snacks, not feasts. So do your homework and seek out the writer’s guidelines for your target publication.

5. Illustrate only one point for each devotion. Brevity demands it, but it’s also far more effective than trying to cover multiple thoughts in one very short piece of material.

6. Don’t preach. Yes, that’s true even in devotion writing. Your words should inspire deeper thought or enlightenment, but not come across as “a command from the throne of God.” An article in Writer’s Conference Guidelines says this: “You can't stand above the reader's level and wag your finger at him. … You must stand on eye level with the reader. Sharing your flaws is a better communication tool than sharing your perfections.” Words like “you must,” “we have to,” “we cannot,” “you should not,” are not good choices.

7. Constantly bear in mind your purpose, which should be to bring a reader to a closer relationship with God, and a deeper interaction with His Word. You are not there to condemn, convict, or judge, but to uplift and encourage.

8. Acknowledge your sources. If you quote from another source, as I did above from The Upper Room and Writers Conference Guidelines, be sure to include a link or a caption or a footnote—something that identifies where you obtained your material. That’s basic honesty and integrity.

9. Identify the Bible version you’re using for each devotional scripture.

10. Stick to a format. Even devotions require a beginning, middle and end. The beginning is almost always a verse of scripture, followed by your actual devotion, which states your general points and illustrates any lesson you may have learned and want to share with readers. Keep it concise and to the point. No room for rabbit trails. The ending can be a summary (the final takeaway you’d like to leave with your audience) or a prayer…or both. Again, this will depend on your market. Follow their writer’s guidelines, as guidelines are as varied as are the life lessons to be obtained in devotionals.

11.  Relax and let God use you. Your life experiences can bless, strengthen and encourage fellow Christians. What better reward could you ask for?

(c) January 2015

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