Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way…
(1 Timothy 4:7-8, ESV)
In high school and college, I spent a lot of time around athletes. Up until the age of 40, I was an avid athlete myself. Now, I’m just an avid sports fan. One of the many lessons I learned hanging around athletes was how meticulous they had to be with their diet. Good nutrition and supplementation were keys to getting the best performance out of their bodies on the court or on the field.
The Apostle Paul often compared the Christian life to athletics (1 Cor. 9:24-27; 2 Tim. 2:5). Even Solomon urges us to “keep our hearts with all vigilance” (Prov. 4:23). For the Christ-follower, one of the keys to running the race we call the Christian life successfully is being disciplined about feeding our soul.
Just as athletes need to feed their bodies good fuel, Christ-followers need to feed their souls good fuel each morning.
Since giving my life to Christ as a college student, I’ve been able to feed my own soul each morning with a steady diet of God’s Word and a solid devotional guide to provide additional insights.
INGREDIENTS IN HIGHLY NUTRITIOUS DEVOTIONAL BOOKS
Over the course of my 25 years walking with the Lord, I have been searching for really good devotional books. Some have been really good, some average and others…shall I say…not so good. There are 3 important qualities that I look for in a devotional book. Excellent devotionals will have all 3. Good ones will have at least 2 out of the 3.
- Commentary: After reading a passage of Scripture, I need the devotional author to tell me something about the text that isn’t obvious in the text itself. For example, why is it significant that Jesus stopped in Samaria of all places for water in John 4? Tell me something about the culture, context or people in the story that will make the text come alive.
- Insight: In the mornings, my soul is hungry for more than just an explanation of the text. I want the author to tell me something about God or myself that the Holy Spirit revealed to them that can minister to me. Connect the truth being stated to my life so it is relevant for me.
- Application: It’s the hardest part of personal bible study but it’s also what produces growth in us. Application asks the question “What must I do now that I have read this?” Really good devotional books will ask a challenging application question at the bottom of the page or give an example of how I can apply the passage to my life.
MY TOP FIVE SO FAR…
As of this date, I have nearly 25 different devotion books in my library. Because I don’t own all the devotional books ever printed and this topic is subjective, I am by no means declaring these the best of all time. They are simply the best I have found so far. And they are also gender neutral. So, both men and women can benefit from them. Without further ado, here they are…ranked from best to really good with a couple of distinctives that make them unique.
1. Time To Get Serious by Tony Evans (Crossway). In my humble opinion, it’s the best devotional I have found because it’s so well rounded. As a 365 day devotional, it’s broken down into 13 months with a topic of emphasis for each month. For example, the month of February contains 4 weeks on the topic of faith, June on prayer, December on Christmas, etc. This allows you to break from the chronological order if you feel led to study prayer in January instead of June. Time To Get Serious also provides excellent commentary, illustrations, insights and challenging applications. It’s like giving your soul steak and eggs for breakfast.
2. The One Year Book Of Psalms by William J. Petersen & Randy Petersen (Tyndale House). It’s an excellent resource for studying an already difficult book in the bible to understand. The short, daily readings make the metaphoric language in the Psalms relevant to life, tell little known stories from church history, cross reference additional Scriptures for further study and includes quotes from influential leaders across the centuries.
3. Morning and Evening by Charles Spurgeon, revised and updated by Alistair Begg (Crossway). The famous 19th century Baptist preacher from London, England was known for his incredible insights, illustrations and humor. In addition to having readings for both morning and evening on each page, Ohio pastor Alistair Begg has done a masterful job of modernizing the language of this classic for our current generation.
4. Mornings with Tozer by A.W. Tozer (Wing Spread). This popular, early 20th century preacher from Chicago was considered a modern day prophet by many. His Holy Spirit insights and challenging applications have spurred millions to get serious about their walk with the Lord. I recommend Tozer’s work for days that you don’t have time to feed your soul a complete breakfast. Mornings with Tozer isn’t steak and eggs, but it’s still as good as a healthy bowl of granola cereal.
5. 90 Days of God’s Goodness by Randy Alcorn (Multnomah). If you’re going through an intense season of refinement that is causing you to question God’s goodness, then Alcorn’s work is for you. 90 Days of God’s Goodness provides encouraging stories, timely truth and helpful prayers to strengthen your faith each day.
Devotional guides can be a helpful resource. Even I like to use them. However, please remember they are never meant to replace the Scriptures. They are a supplement to help you understand God’s Word better.
If you’re going to “fight the good fight” and “finish the race”, then you’ll need to give your soul the nutrients it needs to make it. I hope these suggestions can help you get through the next leg of your journey.