Three Steps to Writing Effective Devotionals

One great way to break into Christian writing is through devotions. They’re still in demand in numerous Christian markets, and in devotional magazines such as The Upper Room, The Secret Place, and The Quiet Hour.

Typically, devotions are no longer than 300 words. Sometimes, though, they’re shorter. Because they’re short, many folks think they’re easy to write. Oh, the basic format is easy, but it takes mental “elbow grease” to write them. All the rules of good writing apply.

Basic Devotional Format

  1. The Anecdote. An anecdote is a brief story or illustration that’s tied to a specific Bible truth or spiritual principle. It should illustrate one truth, and only one truth.  A devotional is not a Bible study.
  2. The Transition. The transition smoothly moves the illustration toward the Bible verse or truth the writer is discussing. It can be a word, a phrase, a sentence, or a paragraph.
  3. The Application. The application brings out the devotional’s truth then applies it to a reader’s life. The application should be positive in nature, challenging the reader to act upon the devotion’s lesson in a practical way. Writers should always include themselves in the application by using inclusive pronouns such as we and  us. Devotions are not sermons, so we don’t need to preach.

Let’s study a devotional I sold to Evangel, a publication of the Free Methodist Church, back in 1998. I’m using this one because I own the copyright to it.

Contented as a Dog

One day this past summer, I watched my dog lay beneath my fig tree. She rested her gold-colored head between her forepaws and shut her eyes. I laughed to myself, thinking how easy she had it. I fed her every day, gave her water, took her on walks, played with her—essentially, I provided for her every need, and she was content.

We who know God have it made too, if we would just learn to be content.

But it’s hard to be content with the world hawking its luxuries. Every time we visit a shopping mall or turn on the TV, we’re bombarded with temptations to buy things we don’t need. Don’t misunderstand me. Nothing’s wrong with owning a few luxuries, so long as we’re not discontented with God’s provision. It’s the grasping hand God frowns upon, the compulsion to want more. “And if I have food and covering, with these things we shall be content,” Paul said in 1 Timothy 6:8 (NAS). If this is true of animals like my dog, how much more should it be of us.

Analysis: “Contented as a Dog”

1.Anecdote:

One day this past summer, I watched my dog lay beneath my fig tree….(Good anecdotes must include some action and also, if the anecdote warrants it, dialogue.)

Last sentence: I fed her every day, gave her water, took her on walks, played with her—essentially, I provided for her every need, and she was content. (Here I shared the truth: be content like my dog.)

2.Transition:

We who know God have it made too, if we would just learn to be content. (My dog had it made, and we who know God had it made. This leads to my application. Notice that I repeated the word content from the preceding  paragraph. Such repetition is one way to establish a smooth transition.)

3.Application and Challenge:

But it’s hard to be content with the world hawking its luxuries. Every time we visit a shopping mall or turn on the TV, we’re bombarded with temptations to  buy things we don’t need. Don’t misunderstand me. Nothing’s wrong with         owning a few luxuries, so long as we’re not discontented with God’s provision. It’s the grasping hand God frowns upon, the compulsion to want more. “And if I  have food and covering, with these things we shall be content,” Paul said in 1       Timothy 6:8 (NAS). If this is true of animals like my dog, how much more should  it be of us. (Notice three things here: inclusive pronouns, repetition of the central truth of being content, and expansion of this truth with a challenge in the last sentence that ties back to the anecdote.)

Why not give devotional writing a try? I think you’ll enjoy writing them as much as I do.

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