Things I Learned: Writing Devotions

One of the joys I have as a writer is that I’ve had the opportunity to write for a variety of genres. I’m sometimes asked if the process is different depending on the genre (yup), and I’m also asked specific questions about one genre or another. So I’ll be spending some time giving a quick list of “Things I Learned” for specific genres of writing. Today, I’m going to start with devotional writing. Here it goes! Here’s what I’ve learned.

  1. Devotions are like chats over coffee. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not downplaying the importance of the content at all. But devotional writing doesn’t sound like I’m shouting from the rooftops or teaching a class of kids. Often, people read devotions by themselves or in an intimate setting of trusted people. I’ve been invited into that special place, and my writing voice reflects that personal tone.
  2. Devotions are often temporary. Yes, I have written a book of devotions. Some people have told me that they have read those devotions over and over. I have devotion books like that on my own shelf. But most of the time, devotions are read for a specific day and then—often—left only in the memories of those who read them. That can be humbling for a writer who wants his or her words to last forever. You’re going to have to get over it. Be thankful for the honor of spending a day with someone and helping them at that place in time.
  3. “God talk” must be a thing in your life. Here’s the deal. I need to make my parents a pie or something. Writing devotions for me are almost like breathing and definitely like talking in an everyday way. Why? Because my parents spoke this way. All. The. Time. “I can’t believe this television show said that! But that’s the way the world is. What does God say?” “It’s easy to think this, but we are sinful when we focus on ourselves. God loves us, and He forgives us in Jesus.” I became intuitively literate in Law and Gospel. In sin and forgiveness. In identity and calling. In justification and sanctification. Big words? Sure, but I didn’t need to know those words to know what was behind them in everyday talk. I could practically pinpoint the moment Mom or Dad would turn to “but” and proclaim beautiful Gospel. If this is not common in your life, pray for opportunities to practice this. If a devotion is to sound natural, then devotional speaking needs to be natural in the life of a writer.
  4. Devotional writing is good for you. As I’m writing a devotion, it edifies me. And then I forget about the devotion and I read it two years later. It edifies me again. How cool is that?! In the Body of Christ, God sometimes uses us to encourage ourselves from time to time.
  5. Take time for your own devotions. This should be obvious, but do we do it? Read God’s Word all the time. Read other devotions regularly. You’ll start picking up on that “God talk” I mentioned earlier, and you’ll also start to pick up on devotional styles that may sharpen your own writing.
  6. Devotions are poetic. Like poetry, devotions often condense a great deal of meaning in a few words. It disciplines you to use every word wisely. Also like poetry, there is often a beauty to the language. That’s not to say that it’s always flowery or even happy, but there’s a sound to devotions (especially if intended for reading aloud) and a rhythm to devotions that can soothe a reader much in the way a poem or hymn does.
  7. Devotions must be the complete package. Usually, a devotion must have a laser focus. But within that laser focus, there are elements that must be there. Show a problem (ahem, sin). Show a solution (ahem, forgiveness, but try to say it within the lens of that laser focus). Show life as a Christian where God places us. Offer a prayer.
  8. There is a lot more to learn. Okay, so I can say this for every post in the upcoming series. But it’s true! So, what can you teach me?