Monday, August 5, 2013

The Long Search for the Daily Devotional

I guess it was being in China that sent me searching for a good devotional. I felt that I needed something to guide me in my Bible study and kick me in the pants on days when I didn't feel like reading the Bible. I was hungry for spiritual food and mostly alone in China and so I went searching.

You would think a good devotional would be easy to come by, but most of what I found on the Christian Bookstore shelves seemed trite and cliche. A lot of people like to shout out, "My Utmost for His Highest!" So I tried it. I think Oswald Chamber's transcribed sermons are very worthwhile. But although each of us might have a season of our life when we could benefit from his words, I think they are aimed at a certain type of person: that person who tends to be headstrong, willful, and self-satisfied. In other words, they are especially suited for the Simon Peters among us. Chamber's words are slaps and whips to wake us and rebuke us. But I'm not a Simon Peter. "Encourage the fainthearted" says Paul in 1 Thessalonians 5:14, and I fall into that category.

So someone recommended Amy Carmichael's "Edges of His Ways" to me, a daily devotional of gentle half-thoughts and sweet reckonings in the Word. I do recommend it for the more sensitive among us, a cup of sweet water from one of God's astonishing servants. But it is a bit short--mere scraps of ideas, poems, hints of perspective. It's a cookie not a meal. Along similar lines are many other devotionals that simply offer a poem or prayer or two.

The search went on until one day I did a double-take and looked closer at a diminutive little pamphlet called "Our Daily Bread." It's one of those little devotional brochures that seem to multiply like rabbits in doctor's waiting rooms, grandmothers' magazine racks (next to Southern Living), and in dusty corners of church offices. But after spending three or four years searching for a devotional I could depend on more regularly, I suddenly saw it from a new angle, like a teenage boy taking a second glance at the little neighbor girl who has blossomed into womanhood. It was time to put Our Daily Bread into a new category quite separate from Southern Living.

There are several things I have come to appreciate about ODB.

The opening section written by human hands is short and sweet, but useful. The two or three paragraphs telling a story or making a point prepare my mind for the scripture reading to follow so that I read the Bible passage with fresh eyes. There are several writers who contribute, both men and women, which gives the devotional a balance and diversity of topic you couldn't get from just one writer. These people clearly have encountered much suffering in their lives and have come away with wisdom, humility, and insight. For those who like a little poem or motto, there is a brief four-line poem and a one-sentence motto that sum up the topic each day. There is a verse of the day, drawn from the passage for the day. After reading the very accessible and brief devotional, I find it easy to turn to the scripture passage for the day with a ready heart. For those who insist on a little heavier consumption of scripture than just 8 or 10 verses, there is also a guide for reading through the Bible in one year.

The end result of this daily devotional, I find, is that it aids me when I am busy to have the structure to take time to be holy. It is not too long or short, but can open the way for more lengthy Bible study. Its various authors address a wide variety of concerns, sometimes bringing a rebuke or caution from the Word, sometimes an encouragment or comfort, and sometimes simply sitting back and studying the doctrines of God. I feel like my spiritual health is checked from every angle so that I may be complete, not lacking in anything, fully equipped. And it's free. If you sign up they will mail you the devotional on a regular schedule, at no cost. (If you choose the bi-monthly version, it prints the Bible passage for the day on the facing page to the lesson. If you choose the three-month version it is just the lessons and you can look up the passage in your own Bible.) And it's online as well:

I've been using it off and on for a few years now and find it continually fresh and helpful. You may have a devotional you turn to regularly, but this is just one beggar sharing his bit of bread with you after a long time searching.