Last week I had the great joy and privilege of speaking at a Group Mission Trips Workcamp in Pocahontas, Virginia. It was a blast being able to share and see students out serving. There were 216 campers from 14 churches and 8 different states. They served on 37 different work crews at 25 different homes and completed all of their projects. They served a total of 6,480 hours and also donated 2,050 cans of food to bless the community. So proud of them!
As a Christian in community, there are likely to be times when you are asked to share a devotional — maybe in a small group, on a missions trip, at camp, on a retreat, etc. This can feel intimidating if you think, “Woe! I am no pastor. I could never see things in the Bible that they see, let alone share them with other people.” This thinking contains several false beliefs.
- “I have to be a pastor.” The whole Reformation of the 1500s was to refute the thinking that only professional pastors can understand the Bible and teach people what it says. While some people have the gift of teaching and can communicate the truths of the Bible in a more effective way than others, the Bible teaches the priesthood of all believers (1 Peter 2:5), and that God can speak to our hearts directly, because the Holy Spirit who helps us understand God’s Word lives within each of us (John 14:26; 1 John 2:27).
- “I have to be really smart.” Another false belief is that understanding the Bible is simply an academic exercise. The truth is that the Bible is the living Word of God (Hebrews 4:12), and understanding and applying it to our lives is a matter of the Spirit of God enabling us to do so (1 Corinthians 2:14-15).
- “I have to be a good public speaker.” Some people are naturally wired and gifted to be communicators in front of people. Others are not. The good news is that sharing God’s Word in a devotional setting isn’t about eloquence. It’s simply about telling people what God is showing you in the Bible.
When we are living in community, it is important to share with others what we are learning. Paul told Timothy, “The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others” (2 Timothy 2:2). He wrote to the Colossians, “Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts” (3:16). And he said to the Corinthians, “What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up” (14:26).
So, here are some simple steps to take in preparing a devotional. Writing is important in this process. For me, I underline key words or verses in my Bible. I jot down notes, questions, thoughts, ideas, etc. as I am preparing. In the preparation process below, you will find all kinds of questions and thoughts to consider, which you should scribble down responses to.
Preparing a Devotional:
- Pray – Sometimes you will have a passage of Scripture assigned to you. Other times you will be given the freedom to find a passage to share. Whatever the case may be, prayer is the essential first step in prep. Thank God for the opportunity He has given you to share from His Word. Invite the Holy Spirit to lead and guide you as you prepare, and help you understand what He wants you to learn. Pray for the people you will be sharing with — that their hearts and minds will be open to receive God’s Word.
- Study – 2 Timothy 2:15 says, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.” Once you have a passage of Scripture, ask questions about what is going on in the passage. Ask questions like, Who is writing? Who are they writing to? What was going on? Why are they concerned about this? Why do they feel this is important to share? What did these words mean to the people who read them first? During this step you are not focussed on what this means for you, you are trying to understand the context. Context is the most important thing in Bible study, because if you don’t understand the original intent of the author to the people he was actually writing to, you will misunderstand what it might mean for your life. Another good idea at this step is to look at different translations. Sometimes the way different translators interpret various words will help you get a better sense of the message.
- Interpret – Once you have a handle on the context, now you can ask some interpretive questions. The two main questions you want to answer here are:
- What does this passage tell us about God? Complete the sentence: God is …
- What does this passage tell us about human beings? Complete the sentence: Human beings are …
- Check Other Sources – At this point (not before!), it is good to see if your understanding is on track. Visit biblestudytools.com/commentaries or biblehub.com/commentaries for Free online commentaries. These are insights into the passages from scholars. You want to see if your understandings are consistent with others (there will be variations, which is fins; you just want to make sure you are not way off.) Another thing you can do here is share with a pastor or spiritual leader what you learning and ask for their feedback and insights as people who do study the Bible with regularity.
- One Point – What is the emphasis of the passage? You may have learned several things that are rich, but if you only have 5 minutes to tell people something you learned, what would you choose? What is the one point you want to drive home? In a devotional, your goal is not to preach a full sermon, but to give people one nugget of truth to walk away with and think about that day. What’s the BIG idea? Make it memorable. How can you say the big idea in a catchy way? Rather than saying, for example, “Jesus loved us and died on the cross for us. Because of this, we should love other people,” you could say, “Loved people love people.” It’s simple, catchy, and memorable.” Someone once said, “make it something that could go on a t-shirt.”
- Personal Story or Illustration – What is something you have been through, or a current event that illustrates your main point?
- Application – What do you want people to do to live out the main point? Give them a question or some suggestions about what they can do to live out the truth you have shared.
Sharing a Devotional:
Now your study and brainstorming is done. It’s time to bring it all together in a way that you can share with others. I would suggest that you write it out like you are speaking to people. Then, when it comes time to share, you have the option to simply read what you have written (with practice you can do this without simply staring at the paper), or you can share from an outline you have created from what you have written, which is basically bullet points to remind you what you want to share. Note: Generally speaking, one single-spaced, typed page takes about three and an half to five minutes to read out loud, so you should have about a page and a half or so for a 5 minute devotional (Hand written would be different based on your handwriting.)
A Few Tips and Reminders:
- Know Your Audience. What are their ages? What are their interests? What similarities do you have that you can connect with them over?
- Use a Bible translation that reads well and says things in a way that your audience can understand.
- Be yourself. While you may be shy and speaking in front of people may not be your thing, but that doesn’t mean you have to pretend to be a loud, funny speaker. Just share like you are having a conversation with a friend at Starbucks. If you are funny, use some good, appropriate humor. If you are a good story-teller, bring us into your story. Whatever the case, be yourself.
When is comes to actually sharing your devotional, a good format to follow is Hook, Book, Look, Took (Creative Bible Teaching by Lawrence O. Richards & Gary J. Bredfeldt).
- Hook – A brief introduction to grab the audience’s attention. Ways you can hook people is through humor, sharing a story, or asking a question to get people thinking.
- Book – Share the Bible passage, briefly tell us what’s going on.
- Look – Help the audience understand the big idea. Tell a story, give an illustration, help people see how the passage applies to their lives.
- Took – How can people practically apply what you have just shared with them? What do you want people to take away? What do you want them to believe? What do you want them to think about? What do you want them to do?
This is fascinating. Obviously there are some things that are cause for question/skepticism, but there certainly is a fundamental truth in the beautifying affect of speaking positive words of life and the destructive nature of speaking words of negativity.