Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Writing Devotions that are Short and Deep!

by Lucinda Secrest McDowell @LucindaSMcDowel

I couldn’t believe the assignment was to write ten devotions, using only 250 words. I knew I couldn’t do it—why it takes me almost 250 words to say Hello!

But I did. I completed that assignment and was thrilled to see my entries in a compilation book that arrived in today’s mail – Just Breathe.”

I enjoy a variety of devotions – spiritual readings that draw us into the presence of God, helping us grow in our faith. When I started writing such books, I realized that I wanted to write what I personally wanted to read. In other words, I wanted my devotions to be a balanced combination of inspiration and teaching, always with practical application!

And yet, the nature of a daily reading is that it is short, not exhaustive. So that was then the challenge of writing short, yet deep. Not easy! In the process of telling stories, I wanted to offer substance that enlarged the reader or made them want to dig in more to God’s Word. And then do something about it. So I included many other fascinating sources—not just my own limited wisdom. My devotions are best when they are a mere catalyst to further study.

Here is a checklist I use in my own devotional writing:

1. Inspiration
Please do not attempt to write devotions unless regular time in God’s Word and prayer is a vibrant part of your own life. You simply cannot pour out for others from an empty soul. Are you reading other devotional writing from various time periods? Do you follow spiritual disciplines such as silence, journaling, worship, prayers, and Bible study? As you grow in the Lord and discover new truth where His Word and your life begin to intersect, you will have the necessary inspiration to share with others.

2. Idea
If you are writing an entire book of devotions you must definitely find a thematic thread to tie them all together. Sometimes this is as simple as “devotions for new mothers” or “devotions based on all the ‘fear nots’ from the Bible.” Other times you may have an assignment to write a devotion which observes God and nature, for instance. But there always needs to be an Idea that is the crux of your piece. In one book I gathered biblical words that drew the reader into the presence and refuge of God – Dwelling Places. So that idea was to explore how to incorporate God’s commands for dwelling with Him into the life of the reader.

3. Intrigue
As you begin writing, start with a title that will pique your reader’s interest. If there is a bit of mystery and intrigue, your blog or entry will receive more hits. That’s why “You Are Not Her!” is a more inviting title than “Comparisons Can Be Deadly.” The potential reader wants to know who “Her” is and why they are being told that. Hook your potential reader from the very beginning. Use questions and draw your reader into the narrative. Often you can open with an illustration from your own life, then develop the devotional, concluding with how that real-life illustration was resolved. Full circle.

4. Illustration
A good devotional connects real events of daily life with the ongoing activity of God. But those can be events from a historic figure, a Bible story, your own life, or even a fictional character. The key is to retell their incident with as much interest as possible. Everyone knows the story of David and Goliath, but you could put your own twist on it by beginning with. He knew he was doomed. Way out of his league. How could he possibly be victorious? Digging deep into his pocket he pulled out his only resource – five small stones. They would have to do…. When you finally get around to identifying David and sharing how God equips us for even the most unlikely challenges, your reader is learning something in a fresh way.

5. Instruction
Your illustration is the story, but you must also include the meat of the devotion, which is the teaching part. Connecting how God steps in for our daily challenges and crises of life. It’s best not to try and cover an entire chapter in the Bible. In fact, I most always use one simple verse, and sometimes even just one word from that verse. Just be very clear in what you say and back it up with good theology (and maybe even a footnote or two).  This is the crux of your devotion. Everything you have said thus far builds to this place. And now the reader must make a choice.

6. Incorporation
What will your reader do as a result of this devotional they have read? The takeaway is an important aspect, because God wants both hearers and doers of His Word. And people turn to devotionals for help in what they are facing daily. This is a perfect time to share from your own life. Be authentic and vulnerable, but don’t feel that you need to reveal intimate particulars. More people will identify with broad statements that they can apply to their own situation. If you have writing guidelines that require a closing prayer, make it simple and short. Or you could leave an action point, or even a benediction (scriptural words from the Lord) as I did with two of my own books.

And all of this must be done under 500 words! Sound impossible? It’s not, but it does take practice. Remember, a devotional is more a Snapshot than a Movie. Make one point, but make it clearly. It’s as though you are saying, “walk with me for a few minutes and let me tell you something…”

Writing #devotions that are short & deep! Tips from @LucindaSMcDowel on @EdieMelson (Click to Tweet)

6 Tips to help you write devotions that are short & deep - @LucindaSMcDowel on @EdieMelson (Click to Tweet)

Lucinda Secrest McDowell, M.T.S., is passionate about embracing life — both through deep soul care from drawing closer to God, as well as living courageously in order to touch a needy world. A storyteller who engages both heart and mind, she delights in weaving grace and mercy into ordinary life situations. A graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and Furman University, she is the author of 13 books and contributing author to 30+ books. Her books include the award-winning, Dwelling Places (2017 Christian Retailing Best Award for Devotional) , Ordinary Graces Live These Words Refresh! and Role of a Lifetime.  A member of Advanced Writers and Speakers Association (AWSA), Lucinda received Mt. Hermon “Writer of the Year” award and guest blogs monthly for The Write Conversation.Whether co-directing  "reNEW ~ retreat for New England Writing,"  pouring into young moms, or leading a restorative day of prayer, she is energized by investing in people of all ages. Lucinda’s favorites include tea parties, good books, laughing friends, ancient prayers, country music, cozy quilts, musical theatre, and especially her family scattered around the world doing amazing things.  Known for her ability to convey deep truth in practical and winsome ways, she writes from “Sunnyside” cottage in New England and blogs weekly at http://www.encouragingwords.net/ 


  1. Great thoughts and even greater instruction Ms. Lucinda. Thank you for sharing God's blessings today.

  2. Blessings, Lucinda. Love how your 5 points all begin with an I. Impressive!

  3. Lucinda, this is so helpful! Thank you for giving us such clear direction on writing devotionals!