Devotional Essentials, Part 3

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It’s probably no exaggeration to say that millions of people—maybe even tens of millions—use devotionals as a regular part of their Christian walk. And while many of them are re-reading classic works like My Utmost for His Highest, Morning and Evening, or The Real Force—A 40-Day Devotional (sorry, just a little shameless self-promotion there), many others are looking for brand-new readings that speak to their particular interests or needs. Book and magazine publishers, web sites, and churches all regularly produce new devotional material for this large and hungry audience. If you’re interested in writing devotionals, I hope you’ve found this “Devotional Essentials” series helpful. In this third installment, we conclude by discussing the S and T of the TEST I’ve suggested: Effective devotional pieces move from Topic to Example to Segue to Takeaway.

While every aspect of a devotional is important, the Segue and Takeaway are truly vital. If your Topic intrigued someone enough to start reading, you’ve already won a small victory—there are plenty of other devotionals that she could have chosen. Assuming your Examples are worthy of your Topic, the “storyline” of the devotional should keep his attention. But now we get to the devotional’s raison d’être: the biblical tie-in and spiritual point of the whole thing. Done well, your devotional will educate, edify, even excite readers. Done poorly, it may convince readers not to come back.

A Segue is a transition, “made without pause or interruption,” in Merriam-Webster’s definition. How do we move from the Example of our devotional—often a “secular” topic such as a sporting event, a movie scene, or some everyday experience—to the biblical teaching and the ultimate spiritual point, the Takeaway?

The Segue will be vary in complexity, depending on how closely the scriptural information parallels your example. If they’re very close, you might not need any transition at all—the connection will be obvious enough. But in most cases, a Segue should bridge the two ideas. It might be as simple as inserting a phrase like “In a similar way. . . .” Or the Segue may need to be developed over a couple sentences. (If you need more than that to explain the relationship, though, you might be trying to connect the wrong Scripture and story.)

Beware of the too-easy transition. In the “Home Run Kings” example of my last post, it would be easy (but cheesy) to come out of details about Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron by saying, “And Jesus will always hit a home run for you!” Give your devotional more thought (and your reader more respect) by developing Segues that are less obvious and more memorable. While devotionals aren’t a place for deep theological discussion, they can and should challenge readers with some fresh perspective on the Bible.

It’s that Bible teaching that comprises the Takeaway, the point of information or call to action you want readers to remember. As with each part of a devotional, the Bible teaching must be concise—the Takeaway will challenge your skills of condensing material, while staying true to the actual context and teaching of your chosen Scripture. Ideally, the Takeaway ends with a pithy, memorable wrap-up that encapsulates the entire entry and sticks in the mind.

Let’s finish today with a sample devotional that breaks out the elements of the TEST in context:

Topic: Major League Baseball

Example:

He was good enough to reach the major leagues, but not good enough to stay long. Yet he’ll always be good enough in the record books.

Confused? It’s a baseball riddle, of sorts.

The answer is Bill Goodenough, who appeared in ten games for the 1893 St. Louis Cardinals. The 6-foot, 1-inch, 170-pound center fielder was a late-season call-up for the Cards, debuting on August 31 for a squad that would finish tenth in the twelve-team National League.

Goodenough’s statistics were as mundane as his team’s performance that year. In 31 at bats, he rapped only four singles and a double for a batting average of .161. He reached base six other times—equally divided between walks and hit by pitches—stole a pair of bases, and scored four runs. And then Bill Goodenough, apparently not good enough, disappeared from the major leagues.

Segue:

We might play off Mr. Goodenough’s story to encourage people to try a little harder, live a little better, strive a little more to be “good enough” to please God. But that really misses the point.

Takeaway:

The apostle Paul wrote to Christians in Rome that, “no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law” (Romans 3:20). Our good works aren’t what please God—it’s what we believe about the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. As Paul asked the Galatians, “Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard?” (Galatians 3:2).

It’s good to do good, but never think that’s your ticket to heaven. Only faith in Jesus makes you “good enough.”

 Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. Because of what law? The law that requires works? No, because of the law that requires faith. For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.

Romans 3:27–28

Thanks for reading. Now go write some devotionals!

 

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About Paul (Kent) Muckley

Paul (Kent) Muckley hopes to spur interest in the Bible for readers of all ages and backgrounds. He has written several books, including Know Your Bible: All 66 Books Explained and Applied (with more than 2 million copies sold), Bible Curiosities, Playing with Purpose: Baseball Devotions, and The Real Force: A 40-Day Devotional. In his day job, Paul edits books for other writers. He and his wife, Laurie, have adopted three children and live near Grand Rapids, Michigan.