The Valley of Vision – Various authors, edited by Arthur Bennett. This has long been one of my favourites. This is a collection of prayers from Puritans and Puritan-minded folks. Prayers are here from Thomas Watson, John Bunyan, Charles Spurgeon and many others. My only complaint about this volume is that it doesn’t tell you where the prayers are from or who wrote which prayers.
Over the years, I’ve received many requests from people looking for devotional literature. The one person wants a book of devotions for retired couples. The other wants a book for engaged couples. Still another is looking for something for their teenager. I used to search high and low for things I could recommend for these niche needs. No longer.
Now I recommend that people just start with reading the Bible prayerfully. Why is it that everyone feels they need someone to make the Bible relevant for them? It’s almost as if we’ve returned to the stereotype of the medieval church: everyone talks about the Bible but no one reads it for themselves. The Bible seems to have become a mysterious book which someone else has to interpret and apply for us.
Not to Replace Scripture but Supplement
That said, there is a place for devotional literature. There is a place for authors to share their meditations on sacred Scripture. There is a place for us to learn from our forebears how to pray and think Christianly. Yet these things ought never to replace our going directly to the source for ourselves. They should be supplementary.
Moreover, I wish we could lose this idea of niche devotionals — the devotional for the unemployed single mother, the devotional for the engaged couple, etc., etc. This trend is reflective of the narcissism of our day: everyone needs something crafted exactly for their personal, individual needs. Whatever happened to the Catholic Church? Whatever happened to the communion of saints? Whatever happened to being able to think and apply general truths to your individual needs?
Types of Devotionals
There are different types of devotionals. There’s your traditional devotional which has a reading for each day of the year. Usually each day has a Bible passage to read, often just a verse or two. Most of the time the author expounds and applies that Bible passage, although there are now some devotionals which might rarely or not at all involve a reading from the Scriptures.
There are also devotional books developed out of sermons. These books go into depth with one or more Scripture passages. The purpose is not primarily intellectual, but spiritual and transformative. The Puritans and other older writers are well-known for this type of literature.
Finally, there are devotional books composed of prayers. You can read through these in a meditative fashion and then use them as the starting point for your own prayers. You can also pray them for yourself as they’re written. A deeper and richer prayer life can be gained by listening in to other saints’ communication with our God.
Cautions with Devotionals
Besides the niche concern, I see three other prevalent issues with devotional books. The first is one I hinted at above: devotions disconnected from the Bible. Beware of devotional books which are just presenting an author’s ideas. Those ideas may be based on the Bible and consistent with the Bible, but the less explicit that becomes the greater the risk of not being able to discern truth from error.