How to Cultivate a Thriving Devotional Life

Let's talk about devotions today. This is an important spiritual discipline & it's something that we're always growing in. We might find a rhythm that works for a time & then God sends new seasons that shake up our routines - in good ways & bad. But we know that we need to stay connected to God in this personal way.

If you've been reading this blog for the past few months (or know me in real life - because that's most of my faithful readers), you know a little bit about me already. You know that I've been a Christian since Kindergarten, that I was raised in church & attended the Christian school there, that I went (against my will) to Christian camps every summer, that I went to a Christian college.

But all of that Christian-ing didn't mean I had any idea about how to make God's Word a consistent, daily part of my life. Sure, I had stretches of time when I would have devotions or work through a devotional book or study. I would pray as I walked to my college classes or as I drove to the grocery store. I would use apps & commentaries & all the things - just trying to find a lively, fulfilling, consistent daily walk with God. But life would rush in & schedules would change. I'd lose heart & let my time with God get pushed off the priority list. Then, I'd hear about another woman's devotional life & feel like such a failure because I wasn't meeting an imagined standard that I'd made up in my head.

It's only been recently that I've found a routine that works for me & gets me in God's Word with delight & disciplined dedication. I'm not going to say you have to do it this way because that was what I've been told so many times & none of it worked. I was following someone else's prescription. I thought that if some method worked for my friend, it must work for me! If I checked the right boxes, BOOM - I'd get it all together. Wrong, Elaine!

Maybe you're like me & have struggled for years to get that consistency. Or maybe your devotional life seems dry & you need some help breathing life into this area of your life. Maybe you've lost that element of delight in God's Word. Maybe you've been doing really well in spending time with God & have some insights you can share in the comments to encourage the rest of us! (Please share!)

So, let's look at the starting point for our devotional life. Then, I'll invite you along on my daily devotions. Finally, I'll share some tools & books that I sometimes use or just want to recommend.

Foundations of Devotional Time

Let's get down to the basics. Why do we do this? Why do we seek to set aside this special time with God on a regular basis? Jesus tells us in John 15:4 "Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me." That concept of "abiding" in Him & His word - that's the reason we need to do this!

What should your "devotional time" or "quiet time" or whatever you call it consist of? I'm thinking 2 things are essential, but you can tell me if you think I missed something.

The Bible - I don't want to be obvious, but this is the absolute key item in your devotional time. If our devotions happen and we don't crack open God's Word (physical or digital copy), we are missing the whole point of this time. For years, I would depend on a devotional book or an iPhone app that gave me a tiny little nugget (like a verse or sometimes half a verse) of Scripture. Then, I'd expect that teeny, tiny bit to feed me the entire day. Now, don't get me wrong. God's Word is "alive and active" (Hebrews 4:12) & will accomplish His purposes (Isaiah 55:11). And sometimes a small phrase or verse can hit you so hard, pointing out the very spot in your heart that needs attention. But those devotional books & apps are meant to complement a rich diet of Scripture.

Prayer - Prayer is a part of my daily routine that needs major growth, so this part is for me. You can listen in, if you want. Prayer is such a humbling privilege. We - sinful, finite beings - get to approach God - holy & infinite. Prayer is when we get real about our need for God's forgiveness, for His provision & strength. Confessing sin, making our requests known, & thanksgiving. Jesus Himself modeled prayer for us over & over again. And Paul reminds us in Romans 12:12 that we should be "constant in prayer." Wow! OK, Elaine - let's follow His lead & get serious about making prayer a bigger part of your life!

What My Daily Devotions Look Like

I wanted to let you in on my current morning routine in hopes that something here is an encouraging or helpful idea! This is not the "perfect" or "ultimate" routine. It probably won't even be my permanent routine.

  • I wake up at 5:30. Yeah, that hurts most mornings, but my husband gets up, too. He also brings me my coffee, so that helps - A LOT! I always wondered why my mom would get up so early to read her Bible & drink her coffee & now I understand.
  • I give myself a minute to wake up. Gretchen Saffles (founder of Well-Watered Women) has this helpful little saying: "Word before world." I try to have as little "world" as possible before I open up God's Word. But I also need my brain to be functioning in order to make the best of my reading time. (Here's a place I think I could take some time to pray, asking God to prepare my heart & open my eyes to His Truth.)
  • Next, I get started on my Bible reading. (I found a plan that has been working for me that I'll link down in the tools section.) I started out with just plain old reading the Bible, no extras. But I was finding that my comprehension wasn't what I wanted it to be. So, I started listening on the YouVersion app as I read along. This was helpful, but I still felt like I could still be getting more. So, I started listening, reading, & writing in a journal. I was an education major in college, and they taught us that the more ways your students interact with information, the better they will get to know it. And I'm also just that type of person that needs as many touches on a concept as I can before I feel like I'm really getting it. So, adding on a journal to my Scripture reading has been particularly helpful. This really helps me slow down & meditate on what I've read. (Another way I can be interacting with the text is through prayer, praying through my notes or particular passages or verses that the Holy Spirit has highlighted in my heart.)
  • After I finish up my reading & journaling, I move on to either a Bible study book (the ladies at my church are currently doing Finding I Am by Lysa TerKeurst) or I read another spiritual growth book. I'll list some of the ones that I've recently enjoyed further down. I also can share some of the ones that I have sitting on my shelf that are just waiting to be read!
  • If I still have time I pray here. But like I said, this is the part where I need to cultivate better habits. I'm thinking that it's better to have a plan instead of winging it like I tend to do. And while candidly pouring your heart out to God is part of it, I also think I need to be more methodical about this. I'd love to hear about your prayer life in the comments; I know we can all learn from each other here.

All of this usually takes me about 45 minutes, but there are days it's shorter or longer. I'm not going to lie, I'm looking forward to the day when my day doesn't have to start quite so early. And I'm always looking for ways to tweak & improve the practice of my devotions. I also enjoy hearing from others about their practices now because instead of letting myself feel condemned, I let it be a means of encouragement & growth, so feel free to share a bit about your own quiet time.

Helpful Tools for a Thriving Devotional Life

Bible Reading Challenge - This is the plan that I have been following. I can't say enough good things about it! It's not your average Bible reading plan. Neither straight through cover-to-cover nor chronological, the schedule is carefully thought out (like we read Leviticus with Hebrews). And reading the Bible in 9 months is A LOT, but they encourage you to think of it as a feast (#keepthefeast) of big, healthy portions. Then, in the summer, they switch over to read the New Testament through in 3 months. They have a Facebook group that you can join for encouragement & weekly emails that offer insight into the passages in the week ahead. (Edited to add: One caveat is the church itself that runs this challenge has become quite problematic in their methods & policies. So, do with that what you will.)

YouVersion App - You probably already use a Bible app, but this is the one I use. (Let me know if there's one that you like better!) The reading plan that I just talked about is accessible on here. I always use the audio version when I'm reading, too. Another handy thing about apps like these is that I grew up using KJV, so a lot of the memorized verses that are in my brain are in KJV. So, when I'm looking for a specific phrase, I sometimes search the KJV & then swap over to ESV once I find the verse.

Journal - I know there are dozens of journals specifically designed for devotions & Bible reading. But, I just have a plain journal that I've been using. I don't do anything special - just summarize as I read. Sometimes, a passage really gets to me & I might write a little more. I especially started this when reading through some of the OT Prophetic books. My summaries were very basic - not "interpretation" or commentary. Just trying to break it into pieces I could understand or try to grasp. I look forward to reading back over these when I read back through these passages later & see God's faithfulness. If you want some journaling prompts, here's a post about just that!

Study Bible or Commentary - These aren't necessary but can shed light on difficult passages. Some of the older commentaries are available online. And some of the little diagrams & maps that study Bibles offer can also be found with a quick little Google search. I've been eyeing a few study Bibles recently. I'm still using the ESV I bought for myself in college & I think its tiny print is getting tinier everyday! (I do NOT need reading glasses. I'm in my 30s!) I would definitely ask you pastor for recommendations if you're interested in investing in some of these tools.

Other Study Methods - Reading through the Bible isn't the only nor the required way of digesting Scripture. Spending time focusing on just one book is another way. Some of the books below do just that & I've always really enjoyed digging into a particular book or section. Or some might find it helpful to read a Psalm or a Proverb a day. God leads us through different seasons & His Word meets our needs in each of those times. Just get yourself into His Word & He will use it!

Scripture Memory - Another really important tool is memorizing God's Word. "I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you." (Psalm 119:11) We see how Jesus defeated Satan's attacks in the wilderness with God's Word, and we have access to that same power! I used to memorize so much as a kid in AWANA, but I need to get back at it as an adult. If you have any methods or tools or plans that you use, let me know!

Bible Studies to Build Your Devotional Life

I might do a separate post on this some day, but I'll list a few of the recent studies I've been able to participate in. They're not devotionals that give you half a verse & then 3 paragraphs of someone's random thoughts. These books center around the Bible & help you dig in deep. They can be done on your own or with a group.

The 2 from Lysa TerKeurst are video-based, but I think you could just do the rest of the study without those & still glean a ton of insight into those Scriptures. The others also had videos, but they also weren't essential to the overall study.

Books to Encourage Your Spiritual Growth

This list is not exhaustive, but these are a few that I've read recently that I found particularly helpful.

Here are some that are on my shelf that I'm planning to read or am currently reading.

Again, these books are not devotionals or Bible studies. But I've found them helpful & wanted to pass them along.

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My prayer with this post is that it leaves you encouraged & hungry for more from your devotional life. Reading & study the Bible & crafting a fierce prayer life - that's what fuels your spirit & keeps you going day in & day out. The enemy would steal that away from you, so fight his advances by abiding in God & His Word.

And comment below with your favorite tips & resources!

Cheering you on!


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