Why I Quit Devotionals

Jessica LaGrone

Jessica LaGrone

By Jessica LaGrone –

I have a confession to make. I’m done doing devotionals.

It started a few years ago. I showed up for an appointment and learned I would have to wait for about 45 minutes. I headed to my car to find something to do during the wait (this must have been before smart phones, because now none of us ever wonder what to do with 45 minutes). I found a Bible in my car, so I brought it inside. I thought: “Great, I’ll take this time to do my devotional for the day.” Then I realized I couldn’t.

First of all, I didn’t have my devotional book with me – the one with two sentences of Scripture printed at the top of the page, and then a full two pages of someone else’s thoughts and stories to give me something inspirational to meditate on.

I didn’t have my special colored pencils and Bible highlighters. How could I do my devotionals without those? To make matters worse, the Bible I had stashed in my car wasn’t the one I was used to using – my devotional Bible – the one where a third of every page was Scripture, while the rest was the devotional writing of the celebrity Christian author and editor whose name was on the cover.

Think about that. That’s how you know you’ve arrived: Your name on the cover of a Bible. God’s not your co-pilot, he’s your co-author.

Somehow in that moment of waiting, sitting there bored with my Bible closed on my lap, I realized how ridiculous the whole thing was. I had gotten so dependent on these resources that would help me study God’s Word, that I had forgotten how to directly engage with The Source itself.

So I stopped doing devotionals.

I don’t want you to think I stopped reading the Bible. This absurd moment actually made me realize how much I longed to reconnect directly with God’s Word. I cut out the middleman in my spiritual life and began reading the Bible for myself.

I love great writing about God’s Word. I’ve been called to give my utmost, heard Jesus calling and discovered a life driven by purpose. All of these have made me a better Christian. But none of them contains all things necessary for salvation. None of them is the Word I long to hear spoken from the heart of my Creator and my God.

There’s a kind of devotional reading that satisfies a need to feel we’ve checked off a box somewhere in heaven. And then there’s reading that truly brings us greater devotion to the God who longs more than we can imagine to connect with us. While I return from time to time to devotional reading of other books for inspiration to love God more, I find I am no longer satisfied just with someone else’s words about the Word. Give me a spoon and let me dig in myself.

I’m a little wary when I become too attached to one author or another for spiritual sustenance. A person’s teaching on Scripture should make you hungry to hear more of God’s Word, not more of that person.

It just makes sense to me that the resources, the cups of water bearing life into a thirsty world, would point us back to the well of living water. I’m done being satisfied with anything less.

Jessica LaGrone is the Dean of the Chapel at Asbury Theological Seminary. She is the author of Namesake and Broken and Blessed and a contributor to Under Wraps: The Gift We Never Expected.

Comments

  1. Just two word, Jessica, two words – “lectio divina”

  2. Well said, Jessica, and wonderful insight into what we are really seeking when we study the Bible.

  3. Naomi Babcock says

    I am so thankful that someone else shares my concern about devotions just being a ten minute quick read of a verse or 2 of scripture and someone else’s thoughts about it. I have always enjoyed reading God’s Word and trying to decide what God has to say to me in what I am reading. Way back when I attended Asbury U before it was a university, I learned to read and listen for what my Jesus was saying to me. When I was an active pastor, my devotions always led to conversations with members and questions from them to preach about. If you are in the Word, your always have something fresh and new to preach about. God bless, and thank you for seeing that even though many people hear from God we should be listening to Him for ourselves, and not taking everyone else’s ideas as God’s word to us. I would agree with you whole heartedly.

  4. David Samuelson says

    Just wondering, Jessica, should we abandon the insight and inspiration of devout thought leaders like John Wesley and Francis Asbury?

    • Thanks for your comment, David. I suspect you already know the answer to this one and are just engaging in further discussion. Clearly we have so many wonderful sources and voices in our tradition that lead us back to Scripture and help us engage in meaningful ways. My concern was that sometimes we neglect Scripture as the main course in our spiritual diet.

  5. I have heard many people speak and know everything about certain authors they followed. Many times I thought much like I think you are saying, if these people had spent the same amount of time reading, studying and seeking in The Holy Bible the real truth and direction God would have you to travel would have a better chance to become apparent through the gifts of The Holy Spirit. A devotional program should never take the place of reading, learning and inwardly digesting the Word of the Lord.

    • Really good thoughts, Bill. A good writer makes us hungry for more of God, not for a certain personality. There are certainly authors that I love and return to again and again. I also have to remind myself “there’s nothing new under the sun” and go back to the source! Blessings to you.

  6. To reword David’s “tongue-in-cheek” question:

    Just wondering, Jessica, should we throw out the baby with the bathwater? Duh~~~~

    Thank you, Jessica, for the article. I GET IT!!!

    I belong to a S S class that studied a book at a time from the Bible, verse by verse. It was such wonderful fun learning that way. Then we got a new teacher and back was the Sunday School Quarterly … second hand meals … little class discussion … each person reading in turn … needless to say the class is a quarter of its former size. Yawn~~~~sigh

    • Ellen,
      I love the idea of a Sunday School class reading verse by verse. That’s exactly the kind of engagement that dismisses the myth that only experts can handle and interpret Scripture for us. The best times of Christian Community I’ve experienced have almost always been when we gathered around God’s Word. I do believe there are great resources and curriculum out there that help us do so, but they do that by pointing us back to the Word as truth and light.

  7. Jerry Higgins says

    Thank you Jessica for such timely thoughts for me. I have been dwelling in that same neighborhood for some time…..God bless

  8. Jesus said to ask, seek, and knock and you would find the Kingdom. I think you just matured in your Spiritual journey and realized that the Ministry you were in was not adequate. You were seeking a deeper substance of faith for your life. Good News people have the fortitude to leave the ruts that they have found themselves in.

  9. Hello, I understand your concerns about devotionals becoming a substitute for God’s Word in the hearts of some, and that you were becoming “attached” to certain authors instead of wanting more of the Word. That’s a legitimate concern. However, I don’t feel it’s necessary to get rid of devotionals altogether as I believe they serve a very real and divine purpose.

    I use devotionals from time to time as a supplement to God’s Holy Word. It just gives me more to think and meditate on. That’s a good thing. I would ask you to also consider the fact that not a lot of people read the Bible even though they claim to be followers of Christ. Perhaps they don’t read well, lack good study skills, etc. A daily devotional would at least give them scripture along with an encouraging word. I fail to see the problem with that. Isn’t a scripture a day better than none?

    If you’ve become attached to certain authors and their ability to speak to you using the Word of God, they are obviously gifted with that ability. Who do you think gave them that gift? Also, if you think there’s something wrong with being interested in listening to “someone else’s thoughts,” on things, then surely you must not be interested in reading advice columns, movie reviews, book reviews, opinion pieces about restaurants, etc. Those are “someone else’s thoughts.” What’s wrong with that?

    Besides, do you think that if all devotional writers quit writing devotionals, that people would be forced to read the Bible? I don’t think so.

  10. Hello there,

    I had written in response a few days ago, but I’m not sure if my answer actually made it to your comments box. First of all, I’m a little confused by your take on this. I understand if you’ve just decided Devotions are no longer for you. However, you don’t need to, in my opinion, announce it to the world. It kind of reminds me of when Oprah decided to announce to all of the world that she was done eating hamburgers (due to the mad cow disease scare, remember that?)

    Again, no need for the big announcement. But since you did, allow me to share my thoughts. I was wondering first of all what kind of devotions you were reading that were a “full two pages” in length. Wow! that’s a long devotional. It shouldn’t be more than 300-400 words. Then you mentioned it’s just scripture and “someone else’s thoughts” written down to help you study the Word.

    Surely you’re not opposed to reading someone else’s thoughts. If you are, then you must not read movie reviews, or restaurant opinion pieces, or advice columns. The weather man can only tell you what he thinks will take place based on what he sees on radar, but no one but God really knows. The Bible itself is full of someone’s thoughts. The Word points out to us in specific passages about how someone “said in their heart.” That means it was thought, not spoken and audible to hear.

    So I guess I’m just a little confused about why you say you’re done. I’d like to also point out that a devotion may be just right for someone with a hectic schedule, or even a new believer who lacks study skills. Think appetizer, not 7 course meal. Sometimes an appetizer is all you can handle at a time. Is it possible to get full from appetizers? Sure it is. Is that a bad thing? No. I sometimes order appetizers only. The point is, it’s still food. Just like a devotion is still the Word of God.

    However, if you still think you’re done. That’s certainly your decision and I respect that. I just feel you should keep it to yourself for the sake of those who enjoy devotions.

  11. Yes! I am so glad I found this blog! I have been having similar thoughts for a while and even had a conversation with my husband and a friend about it. Devotionals, blogs, books, and etc. from Christian authors have their place but have you ever wondered why we seek so much substance outside of the Bible? Also, if you look into it further and research some of these authors or publishers, even some of the better known and respected, you will see that there is an emerging community of Christians who are concerned about some of these books/authors. Now, please understand I’m in NO way judging the hearts of others and I have over 20 devotionals, studies, or books that are by Christian authors. It wasn’t until I was in a Bible study at church that was completed that I started to really think about this and started doing my own “research” if you will. See, the speaker during an event at church was the author of this particular Bible study we had just done. I really enjoyed the study and the fellowship during. I learned a lot and was able to glean new insight to passages I had read before. That was a great thing! But when the speaker came to an event the church had, something wasn’t right, at least for me. Due to the popularity of the study and the fact I was learning and enjoying it myself, I never said anything about my concerns to anyone. I didn’t want to rock the boat with my church friends or say anything about this woman I didn’t know. Still, it troubled me for weeks and to this day I feel something wasn’t right about her. Then I remembered a comment someone had made during one of the study evenings about the auhor seeming to try to add to Scripture with her own opinion. The entire speech the author gave was so little Biblical content and her take on it. That was the problem! Anyway, we should always go with our gut. We have gotten so used to approving anything that has any kind of attachment to being Christian or the Bible (shows, movies, music) that I think we kiss te point entirely! The Word is what we need to focus on. Of course there are wonderful, Godly people writing studies, producing movies, music, shows, and books, but then some (if not most) may be wolves in sheep clothing. Perhaps not for malicious intent, but when one person tries to add or detract from Scripture with their own insight, that’s dangerous territory. We focus so much on being anti-secular movies, music, books, etc and I think while we need to be vigilant to guard our hearts, again, we miss the point and let the most dangerous ones walk among, lead, and teach us. Again, thank you for this post! I feel like I’m not the only one now!

  12. Bobby J Price Jr. says

    Hello, my everyone, my name is Bobby, I know I’m a little late to reply to these posts as they’re a few years old, still I think devotionals rock. Devotionals are resources to help the of God’s word, not hinder it. Again, I agree with one comment that was made by an individual, something like this,” if the content you read steer you away from God’s way ,then you need to make a 180 degree turn, and head to God directly.! Besides, I think that first of all, any believer attempting to study God’s word should head to the Source before stopping at a source.
    I’m glad to have read this article, it really opened my eyes, as I was about to rid my devotional. Thank you and God bless!

  13. Robert Root says

    Jessica, thank you very much for writing this. It’s an overwhelming feeling and thought I’ve had for quite some time now. It’s why I’ve steered away from not all but a lot of devotionals over the past few years. We need the word of God desperately, exceedingly so. O too love rich, intelligent thought and commentary on God’s word and have been inspired by so many authors. As you said though, this should inspire us to reach for more of God’s word, not less.

    Several devotionals are beautiful pieces inspiration and concise encouragement. Yet, others are distracting, derivative, watered down and occasionally heretical. I find most to be mildly insightful but wanting too bad to narrow the rich, layered original scripture too much, compressing it into bite sized, easily digestible nuggets for a quick fix.

    I say go for them if they uphold God’s word unquestionably and always guide you back to the word itself. Otherwise, dive into the source. As an aside, even as early as my teens I was uncomfortable with Bible’s named after certain authors. I’m actually a writer, so I say please, write more for us to to all read. But, for the sake of unclustered truth and clarity, keep your name, sales pitch and additions out of the Bible. You can do all that in another book. We’ve got entirely too many Bibles that seem to serve, largely, as uniquely packaged items to sell to every Christian sub set imaginable.

    To all out there…please read more excellent Christian writing, study materials, commentary, apologetics, and more. But when it comes to our daily serving of the Word of God, let’s dive in without distraction, right to the center of His great gift.

    Much love to all of you,
    Robert

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