Devotional Essentials, Part 2

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Devotionals come in many shapes and sizes. By “devotional,” we might mean a single piece of writing, somewhere in the range of 200 to 1,000 words. Or we might mean an entire collection of such readings, perhaps in 30-, 40-, 60-, 90-, or 365-day packages. These details vary, but I suggest that the “devotional essentials” fall within the TEST described in my last blog post. Today, we’ll discuss the Topic and Example of an effective devotional; next time, we’ll wrap up with the Segue and Takeaway.

Topic: There are two ways to arrive at your topic: choose it yourself or have someone else choose it for you. That may not seem profound, but it is reality.
If you want to contribute entries to anyone else’s devotional project, you’ll write to their topic—or if not a specific topic, to the general themes and style of the organization. Maybe a book publisher is planning a devotional for mothers of special needs children. Maybe a church denomination wants adventure-themed devotions for its men’s magazine. Maybe your pastor is looking for devotions to go with his preaching series on family finance. If you’re chosen to submit entries in a case like this, part of your work is already done.

If you’re writing your own devotional, you have limitless opportunities for topics—though not necessarily limitless opportunities for readership. Sure, you could write devotionals that draw their points from thrash metal music, but you probably won’t find a huge audience. Whether you publish traditionally, self-publish, or distribute your readings in other venues, you can address whatever topic is near and dear to your heart or whatever topic will help and encourage large numbers of readers. Ideally, both.

I have personally written full books of devotions on baseball (180 readings) and the Star Wars films (40 readings). I’ve also contributed to collections about movies in general, football, literature, the outdoors, fatherhood, and memorable Bible verses. Please note the focus of these collections—each book is centered on a clearly identifiable theme. If you’re shopping a devotional book proposal, you’ll probably get farther with a narrower theme (for example, running) than a collection addressing all your varied loves of running, coin collecting, Seinfeld, cats, and grandparenting. Sometimes “all things to all people” is tough to market.

What do you most like to read, watch, create, collect, or do? Do you ever find your mind connecting aspects of your favorite activity with portions of scripture? Maybe that’s your topic knocking.

Example: This is a micro version of your Topic, where you narrow the larger galaxy down to some individual stars. Say, for example, the Death Star.

In my Star Wars-themed devotional book The Real Force, I drew upon the Empire’s fearsome space station for an entry about pride. If you’ve seen the original Star Wars film, you know that this metallic menace, in spite of its awesome size and power, did have a small vulnerability—a “thermal exhaust port” the rebels exploited to blow the whole thing out of the sky. The Death Star exemplifies a dangerous human tendency to shrug off temptation and the “little sins” that can blow our lives sky high (see Song of Solomon 2:15 and Proverbs 16:18).

Or take the larger galaxy of baseball, and narrow it down to some individual “stars”—like Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron, the original “Home Run Kings.” Here’s an example of success and achievement, and the human desire to be recognized as important . . . perhaps a king (or queen) of your chosen field. But no matter how far we rise, we’re wise to remember One who is always and much higher, the “King of kings and Lord of lords” (Revelation 19:16).

It would seem, if your Topic is broad enough, that a little thought should yield plenty of Examples—ideally, with some related Scriptures (as noted above). Now, you need to put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, and actually start writing. Once you have a clear, concise, and compelling description of your particular example, the challenge becomes the Segue (transitioning from the example to the Scripture) and Takeaway (what you ultimately want your reader to learn/remember/do).

We’ll talk about those next time. Until then, think about your favorite Topic and see what Examples (and Scriptures!) may come to mind.

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