Christianity 201

September 19, 2011

The Discipline of Devotional Writing

A couple of days ago I raised the possibility that some of you reading this might like to consider doing devotional or Bible study writing yourselves.  At the time I suggested starting a blog and attempting to get into writing something daily, and added that this is a wonderful spiritual discipline, that I would pursue now even if nobody showed up to read it.

Today, I want to help some of you make this a practical step.  Of the many devotional books and booklets published, the Upper Room Devotional is unique in that it accepts submissions from readers around the world.  Here are a few of their guidelines which are worth reading no matter what your approach to Bible study time:

Objectives for writers:

  1. Study the Bible and listen for how it connects to your daily life. Then include those insights in a meditation to help others connect scripture with their life.
  2. Study less-well-known parts of the Bible for insights that you can share with our readers. We get more meditations based on the New Testament than on Old Testament/Hebrew scripture. Since we try to balance New Testament and Old Testament readings and quoted verses, basing meditations on Old Testament books of Law and prophecy puts writers in a smaller pool of writers. However, we receive many more meditations based on the Book of Psalms than we could ever use.
  3. Write about current events and what constitutes Christian response to them.
  4. Write in a conversational way, as if you are talking to a friend. Don”t try to be literary or eloquent. Just be yourself. We want real people to talk to other real people about what it means to live their faith in specific situations.

They also list some possible subjects through the list of categories they use to sort submissions:

  • Spiritual Disciplines
  • Forgiveness
  • Relationships
  • Evangelism/Witness
  • Nature/Animals
  • Personhood/Uniqueness
  • Trust and Obedience
  • Biblical Story Retold
  • Christian Action
  • Family
  • Healing/Illness/Death
  • Struggle/Growth through Hard Times
  • Personal Relationship with Christ
  • Catholicity of Faith
  • God’s Love/Grace/Praise

Because of their world-wide distribution, Upper Room places a value on avoiding divisiveness:

“….Our title page describes the magazine as “International, Interracial, Interdenominational.” We seek to build on what we have in common as Christian believers, not on the points of doctrine that divide us, and we welcome diverse perspectives. We believe that our diversity is one of our riches within the family of God, and we seek to reflect that diversity in our publications. “

Another page deals with how to begin:

You begin in your own relationship with God. Christians believe God speaks to us and guides us as we study the Bible and pray. Good meditations are closely tied to scripture and show how it has shed light on a specific situation. Good meditations make the message of the Bible come alive.

Good devotional writing is first of all authentic. It connects real events of daily life with the ongoing activity of God. It comes across as the direct, honest statement of personal faith in Christ and how that faith grows. It is one believer sharing with another an insight or struggle about what it means to live faithfully.

Second, good devotional writing uses sensory details — what color it was, how high it bounced, what it smelled like. The more sensory details the writing includes, the better. Though the events of daily life may seem mundane, actually they provide the richest store of sensory details. And when we connect God’s activity to common things, each encounter with them can serve as a reminder of God’s work.

Finally, good devotional writing is exploratory. It searches and considers and asks questions. It examines the faith without knowing in advance what all the answers will be. It is open to God’s continuing self-revelation through scripture, people, and events. Good writing chronicles growth and change, seeing God behind both.

I should add here that many people reading a devotional with a name like Christianity 201 would find the end product that appears daily at Upper Room somewhat light.  However, the point I want to make today is that there is an entirely different dynamic involved when you are writing.  There are people with graduate degrees in theology or Christian education who write curriculum for toddlers and preschoolers.  Their work at the end of the day may convey the simple message that “God is Love,” but most of us never see the behind-the-scenes effort that went into painstakingly mapping out the entire lesson.

BTW, if this propels some of you to actually submit something to Upper Room, let us know if you get published.  Also remember that you are welcome to submit things here at C201; we don’t have a page of guildelines, but reading through past entries will give you an idea of the style and substance sought.