Part 1: "I didn't have my devotions yesterday, so I had a terrible day" and "I have to read the Bible to get a verse to help me today."
Part 2: "I read the Bible every day, but I don't remember what I read."
Part 3: "Here's what this verse means to me."
5) "I'm almost finished with this devotional book, so I need to find another one."I don't have an intrinsic issue with devotional books; I have written a couple myself and have contemplated writing others. My concern is for people who only ever use a devotional book, never studying the Bible on their own. Some Christians even claim devotional books are a necessity, as they can't understand the Bible without help. (I intend to do a post soon exploring why people might struggle to understand the Bible. My goal in this post is to encourage those relying on a devotional book to initiate seeking truth for themselves.)
Devotional books primarily contain man's words. A good devotional book will strive to accurately explain and apply God's words, but because of the imperfection inherent in a human author, his words and interpretations can be flawed. There is the danger that a devotional book may not be completely reliable in its teaching.
In many devotional books, a daily entry contains a single verse or perhaps only a portion of a verse. The reader might be exposed to no additional Biblical text in the remainder of the entry. A second danger is that someone using only a devotional book may receive a very restricted diet of Scripture.
A bigger concern than the amount of Scripture is what the author does with that Scripture. While some authors deliberately focus on God's words by explaining the verse(s), others primarily present man's input. The opening verse can be followed by an interesting story or inspirational anecdote so devoid of Scriptural teaching that it could be found in a secular genre. A third danger is in being deceived that one has examined God's truth when he has merely had his ears tickled.
God has given Christians His Word so they can learn about Him and about what He expects of them. The Bible itself claims to have much profit for the believer. "All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness" (II Timothy 3:16). Just like one person's physical exercise cannot profit another, so there is no substitute for personal spiritual exercise. A fourth danger of reliance on devotional books is that a believer might remain weak and dependent.
Devotional books can be valuable when they guide the reader in understanding the Bible. Devotional books may be helpful for new Christians who do not have a Biblical foundation. Devotional books can be beneficial to believers who are in a particularly challenged time of life. Overall, however, Christians who want to grow should pursue the Word itself as the primary focus of their devotions, delegating devotional books to a secondary role.
6) "I am discouraged from having devotions because I get bogged down or bored."This is a valid concern. Rather than discouraging one away from devotions, however, it should encourage him toward seeking better methods. Any aspect of life - meals, exercise, marriage, activities, daily routine, work - can fall into a rut when it is always the same day after day. The answer is not to stop eating, exercising, being married, seeking diversion, living life, or working. Instead, the person in question should seek to add spark and variety.
From observation and personal experience, I suggest there are three common methods of having devotions: reading an entry from a devotional book each day, reading a chapter of the Bible each day, and reading through the Bible in a year. Christians typically choose one of these methods and then follow it month after month and year after year. It is no wonder that they get bogged down and often perceive minimal return for their investment. It is not surprising that devotions can become an obligation rather than a desired pursuit.
Using a schedule to read through the Bible in a year is a wonderful plan with certain advantages. It helps believers to understand how the parts of the Bible fit together, ensures that a believer is regularly reading all parts of the Bible, and helps to build a strong foundation of Biblical knowledge. But anything with advantages in one area will have weaknesses in other areas. Using this method exclusively prevents a believer from digging deeply into particular passages. In fact, none of the three methods listed above provides the opportunity to delve into the profound truths of the Bible.
A variety of devotional methods can lead to a well-rounded devotional experience, as each method contributes its own areas of strength. While I don't advocate jumping from one method to another with no cohesion or plan, it is certainly reasonable and advisable to alternate methods - perhaps a year at a time, a quarter at a time, at logical junctures, or when freshness is lost. Consider the following sample progression.
Read the Pentateuch at several chapters a day.Read Genesis, examining the promises of God.
Use Leviticus as a springboard for studying God's holiness.
Study Moses' charge to Israel (Deuteronomy 29-30).
Study the phrase "wait on the Lord."
Read the gospels at several chapters a day.
Read Mark, focusing on Jesus' heart of service.
Study names of Jesus found in John.
Study in detail abiding in the vine (John 15).
Do a word study on peace.
Do a verse by verse study of James.
Broader, general studies can be interspersed with deeper, specific studies to provide a fresh and well-rounded devotional life.