How to Give a Devotional

Hello everyone (or just hello, you two),

I’ve been referring to a blog post for some helpful advice on how to give a devotional, and since the post gets older, I thought I would link to it, as well as include, the advice that was given to me on this. Colin Smith is a member at Christ Presbyterian Church in North Carolina, and has written some helpful material on different theological topics (one that I have benefited greatly from is his paper on JEDP Theory, which is something UCSD students will encounter sometime in their studies).

Mr. Smith has posted a devotional blog entry about once a week, and since I have been given opportunity to give a devotional a number of times, I thought I would ask him for any guideline for what to say/how to prepare one (Is there a class that teaches this? I’d be curious where people learn how to do this, otherwise, this may have to do). The post comes from his devotional on Matthew 5:6.

UPDATE (November 6, 2012)

Mr. Smith was kind enough to make his readers aware of my blog, and I took that as an opportunity to follow-up what he wrote back in May (which I had planned to do but never got around to it). Well, he gave some very helpful feedback, and I wanted to throw in the latest comments from him on giving devotionals. I hope this is of help to all of you. 🙂

Cesar Vigil-Ruiz

May 8, 2012 at 1:19 am

Hello Mr. Smith,

I was wondering how people prepare to give devotionals. If you know of any resources or could pass along any helpful words of wisdom, that would be much appreciated. Thanks for the work you put on this blog! I’ve always appreciated your paper on the JEDP hypothesis. Your article kept me sane throughout college! =)


May 8, 2012 at 1:53 am

Thank you, Cesar! It’s especially humbling for me to think that any of my work has been used to bless and encourage others, so I thank God for that.

I don’t consider myself to be an expert when it comes to devotionals, but since I post one every week, I must have some idea what I’m doing! As I see it, the idea behind a devotional is to draw out truths or principles from a passage that will help the reader/listener draw closer to God. Ultimately it is to increase one’s devotion to Him, but it can also exhort and encourage. It shouldn’t be long, and it shouldn’t be too academic (which is something I need to watch out for!). For devotionals, I try to keep it simple, keep it focused, and make sure it’s practical. If you’re delivering a devotional, it shouldn’t be more than about 10 mins, and the tone of it should lead naturally into prayer. In a written format, again, it shouldn’t be too long, and it should draw the reader into prayer. As you look at the passage, ask yourself: What does this passage teach us about God? Does this passage point to behaviors or attitudes we need to cultivate in order to draw closer to God? Does this passage suggest specific prayer topics?

I’m not sure if that’s helpful to you–feel free to follow up with more questions if not.

Cesar Vigil-Ruiz

November 4, 2012 at 7:54 pm

Wow, thanks, Mr. Smith, for that shout out. I recently posted that because I kept looking for that particular post with your comments, and I kept forgetting under which passage you wrote that. Again, thanks for those helpful comments! I gave a devotional at our all-church retreat just yesterday, and I tried following your guidelines (though I asked a lot of questions to try and relate it to the passage for personal application).

If I can be so bold and ask a few follow-up questions (6 months later :-D ): how do you present the material you prepared for? Do you have a handwritten outline that you refer to (whether skeletal or detailed) when giving the devotional? Or do you try and remember what you studied? I have the tendency to try and stick to my notes (handwritten) so I avoid saying, “uhh” and “um” a lot, but it can come off like I’m just reading my notes. How you deliver it I guess is where I’m going with this.

Also, how have you come to learn how to give devotionals? It seems like there is an unwritten way of doing this that I have yet to learn, and as a pastoral intern, I know it will be a responsibility waiting in the wings for me, and I do want to be more prepared in this. Any resources would be very useful.

Lastly, when do you give these devotionals in particular? Do these studies come from your own personal Bible reading? Is it something you have as reference material that you refer back to at a later point?

I would appreciate your responses, and look forward to more of these as time goes on. Thanks again! =)


November 5, 2012 at 12:04 pm

You are welcome, Cesar! I don’t often get the opportunity to present devotionals these days (most of my teaching at church is my Romans adult Sunday School class), but when I do, I like to make sure I really know the passage and the information I intend to share. This helps to cut down on the “ums” and “uhhs” (at least for me), and it also helps me be prepared in case anyone has questions. In other words, I tend to over-prepare. When it comes to delivery, my ideal would be to just read the passage and go without notes. But I usually have at least an index card with a list of points I want to make. If I’ve prepared well enough, a word or a phrase should be enough to trigger the thought.

The purpose of the devotion should ultimately be to draw attention to Christ and exalt him, either through pointing out his character and attributes, or by exhorting us all to live and think in ways that honor him. Because of that, it’s really important that the devotion not be just an exercise in exegesis, or an opportunity to show off how much Greek or Hebrew I know. That may mean a lot of what I prepare never gets said. But that’s okay, since the preparation gives me confidence in my presentation.

The devotionals on the blog are not drawn from devotionals I have delivered, but are certainly ones I *could* deliver if called upon to do so. (The series I’ve started from Psalm 1 is drawn from a message I delivered some years ago; for the purposes of the blog, I’m just utilizing the research and making devotional application.) These are just meditations on passages of Scripture that I find uplifting and/or beneficial, and that I want to share with my readers. I prepare each devotional as I would if I were presenting it in person; the only difference is that the format here is written, not spoken.

As to where I learned this: years of being in church, and listening to and reading devotionals. There may be an art or technique to this that people have written about–I’m sorry, but I don’t really know of any such books to recommend. The best place to start, I think, is in your own study of Scripture, and your own quiet times before the Lord. If a passage really seems to speak to you, or bless you in a particular way, ask yourself why? And how would you communicate that to someone else?

I hope these thoughts are helpful to you. May the Lord richly bless your studies! :)


November 5, 2012 at 2:10 pm

Thanks, Mr. Smith. That gives me a lot of food for thought. I appreciate your time in answering this. It really means a lot. Looking forward to the next post! :-)