Monday, December 25, 2006

Writing Daily Devotions

Four years ago I started writing online Daily Devotions. It began for the congregation which I was then pastoring. I was discovering in the lives of parishioners what wider polling had been picking up -- that fewer and fewer Christians were spending time each day reading and studying the Scriptures. Even folks with a high commitment did not seem to understand the importance of a daily prayerful encounter with Scripture, and most did not know how to unpack what the Bible was saying to them.

I have always believed that preaching is not only for the immediate edification of the congregation, but cumulatively the preacher models how on a regularly basis Christians may feed themselves from God's rich revealed diet. A daiy devotional is merely a way of extending that approach to teaching the Scriptures. With virtually everyone online in my former congregation, I had the chance to help them meet the incarnate Word in the written Word first thing every morning when they logged on.

Over the years the readership of the Daily Devotions has grown, and now they are used all over the world. I am not quite sure how many people are receiving them each day because in several parishes they are fielded by one individual who then sends them on to a wider network. My guess is that what began for a couple of dozen folks is now reaching at least 1200-1500, and I have joked that whether I like it or not I have a job for life.

Writing Daily Devotions can be a bit of a chore. When I started doing it our bishop suggested, rightly, that such a thing is very hard to keep up, and doubted whether I would manage it! This is true, but the discipline of writing and sending the devotions is one that has fed me as much or more than those who might receive them, therefore I now do it for my own benefit as much as anything else. I am forced to dig into short passages of Scripture, see what the text is actually saying, and then apply it to the lives that we live today. Sometimes the texts that come up in the lectionary cycle are not particularly easy when trying to teach a crisp little lesson in a few well-chosen sentences!

What has also been a joy is the business of choosing an appropriate collect (short prayer) for the day. During the last few years I have gathered a self of books of prayers from all over the world, and these supplement what can be found in the various rich strands of the Anglican, Catholic, and Orthodox traditions. One observation I would make is that the relative absence of such materials in the USA suggests that Americans are not particularly adept at composing prayers in this way, although the feedback I have received suggests that they love using them.

When I committed my life to Christ on August 5, 1959, one of the earliest things I was taught was the importance of regular devotional reading of the Scriptures, and I was started out with simple bible reading notes. Like a pair of training wheels these got me going, and although I was less than regular at first, little by little the discipline entrenched itself in my life so that today there are no parts of the Bible that I have not read several dozen times, and there are few biblical books that I have not studied in significant depth. By the way, I do believe that constructive biblical scholarship should enrich and feed the devotional use of the Word.

As the years have passed my appetite has grown (and changed). The sweet tangy diet of those teenage years has given way to a palate that, like that of someone who has discovered fine wines, gives great pleasure, edification, and satisfaction. In dark moments as well as in the joys of life, the Lord who sustains my life has met, comforted, nurtured, and challenged me. This, in the Daily Devotions, is what I have wanted to pass on to others, and I know from the correspondence I have received that it is doing just that in the lives of some.

One of the problems of writing Daily Devotions is to keep them from becoming sentimental or overly individualized. In one of my former parishes we had a woman who had made little butterflies and smiley faces her personal trademark whenever she wrote a long-hand note or letter. Much devotional writing is, as it were, flavored in this way. While there might be an occasional place for such a thing, a regular diet is cloying. Over the years I have had to tussle to prevent myself from sliding down this slope.

I believe that the Daily Devotions are meant to be a place where the meaty doctrines that are embedded in the narrative and text of the Bible are brought out and presented in such a way that readers are building a base of solid knowledge of what the Scriptures say, and what they actually mean so they can live them out. They are meant to be mini-works of exegesis, that is extracting from the flow of words what God was saying then, and then how he is addressing us with these words now.

I confess that there have been times when I have shied away from something difficult in the particular paragraph. Sometimes that has been because it is impossible to explain what the writer is actually saying in the space needed, but at times it has been because, perhaps, of a loss of nerve. Scripture can be comforting and nurturing, but it also calls us to account, and asks us to deal with difficult questions from which many of us might withdraw in discomfort or horror.
So, the Daily Devotions are entering their fifth year in January. I hope and pray that those using them will be enriched in their faith. I also hope and pray that the one who writes them week by week will find his mind and heart kept open to all the huge possibilities that God has in store.


An Anxious Anglican said...

A wonderful post. At the risk of displaying my ignorance, where can we find these Daily Devotions?

An Anxious Anglican said...

Well, I found them! Please ignore my previous post.

Richard Kew said...

For anyone who wants to sign up for the Daily Devotions, the best thing to do is either to click on the Daily Devotions sidebar and follow the instructions, or if that doesn't work to email me at and I will add you.