December 15, 2017

An iMonkish Quiet Time: My Most Helpful Devotional Resources

bookdevo.jpgOne of the blessings- and I truly mean that- of the Internet Monk web site has been the amount of mail I receive. Of the various kinds of mail, some always contains questions from readers. Often the writer is seeking advice, or resources or counsel. Depending on how appropriate it is for me to be involved, I try to answer- briefly- most of those notes. (I don’t do serious counseling over the internet, and I don’t compromise on that one at all.)

There are some questions, however, that I seldom or never get, and it troubles me. Why, for instance, do I seldom, if ever, receive questions about devotional resources? Answering that question is another post for another day. What I want to do today is ask and answer the question, in hopes that some of my readers will benefit.

“Dear iMonk, What devotional resources do you use and recommend?”

Glad you asked.

Like many Christians, I’ve often been directed to devotional resources by other Christians, and just as often been disappointed in the results. I’ve often read Christians that I respect and wondered how they shape their own devotional life. Of those who share that information, many are temperamentally different than myself, and sometimes that has been more discouraging. For example, there is little chance that I am going to rise at 5 a.m. and read the Bible under a blanket. **cough- John Piper-cough** I am not the kind of person who participates in long, spontaneous prayers or finds the “prayer warrior” model of intercession meaningful.

My spiritual path has been a constant discovery and rediscovery of how God has made me. I’ve come to know myself well, and that is very helpful in shaping a devotional path. I no longer believe that the devotional life is a kind of pietistic, “spiritual Olympics” where we demonstrate how deeply serious and committed we are. The devotional life is my personal, private time to present myself and my world to God, to appreciate and worship Him in simple ways that are meaningful to me. I’m not impressing God or anyone else. This should be a place of enjoyment, not duty, and I have tried to increasingly make it enjoyable for me.

Before I talk about resources, I want to say a few words about time and habits. I am not, like my wife, a person who embraces a strict personal regiment on anything. I love having a school day and school term calendar to live by, but in my own life, I simply can’t do the same things at the same time, every day. I have to be flexible, and I have to learn how to make my devotional time work at various times and situations. Every day is different; I travel a great deal; I’m on call and keep odd hours. So my devotional time may be at 7 a.m. at home, or 8 a.m. while students take a test or after chapel or after a nap or after dinner or between grading papers and sermon preparation.

Alright. Back to the question. What devotional resources do I use and recommend?

Next to me on my desk is a small stack of books. All in burgundy leather (except one) and all important to me. They are the heart of my devotions each day.

The 1928 Book of Common Prayer. The BCP contains the daily lectionary, morning and evening, that is the heart of my devotional life. Twice a day, the lectionary supplies a Psalm and two readings. The BCP has a Psalter, but I usually read the Psalms in the ESV.

In addition, I try to read the Daily Office (morning or evening) at least once a day. This is, for me, my guide to prayer and worship. This includes the Christian calendar, sentences, scripture, confessions, the creeds, lessons, prayers, petitions and other ordered worship. This is helpful for me. Yes, it’s repetitious, but learning the services well allows a lot of changes throughout the Christian year and, when combined with hymn texts, leads to much richness in worship.

(It’s odd how I came to take up the BCP as my daily devotional. I was reading several novels about characters in the Church of England clergy. There was frequent reference to “reading the office.” Being Baptist and not knowing what this meant, I researched the term, and discovered how to use the BCP as my own devotional resource as a result.)

I particularly recommend the following aspects of the BCP:

-Learn to understand and use the Christian calendar. It is the best organizing principle for worship of any kind- personal or corporate.
-Use the daily lectionary (though a supplemental lectionary is good to have around, since some readings are just one verse or are from the Apocrypha.)
-Master the variations of the Daily Office based on the Christian Year, as well as other variations.
-Use a translation like the ESV for the scripture readings, especially the Psalms. (Though Cranmer’s Psalms are fun.)
-Explore the prayers for various situations and occasions.
-If possible, read the office aloud.
-Supplement the liturgy of the BCP with a good, God-centered hymnal.
-Look at the other services. They contain many excellent liturgies as well.
-Become familiar with “The Great Thanksgiving,” and other litanies.

What about the 1979 BCP? It’s certainly acceptable and the alternate language rites will be helpful to some, but the 1928 is hard to beat. All the BCP’s are online at this site (though some are less than complete) and there is a wonderful daily BCP site with added features here.

The 1928 is online in several places, and can be printed out from links at the bottom of this links page. You can purchase the 1928 BCP at Amazon.

The Greek New Testament. I use The Reader’s Greek New Testament. It’s perfect for my level of language use, because all words that occur less than thirty times in the New Testament are defined in the notes.

Why use the Greek New Testament? I invested more than two years in language study. I don’t want to waste it. I have a lot of Greek language tools, and I can usually benefit from the Greek text anytime I take the time to work with the words and the grammar. I learned long ago from Wuest and A.T. Robertson that Greek is a rich source of understanding the Gospel. (Just be careful not to inflict it on others.)

I understand that this may soon odd. It sounded odd to me at first. Robert Capon has a wonderful book on preaching that argues strongly for the use of the Greek text, and it did a lot to pique my interest. That book- along with admonitions from Piper and my Greek teachers- convinced me to stay with what I learned. Teaching Greek myself opened my eyes all over again to the helpful devotional use of the language. The men I know who use their Greek are men whose knowledge of the Bible is sure and certain. I’d like to be like that. I’ll never read and translate in the pulpit like Dale Moody or George Redding, but I can almost always use it on a verse or two in my devotions.

So I try to consult the Greek text as often as possible. That won’t be part of the devotions of many of my readers, but for those who have the languages, I recommend using them.

Tabletalk from Ligonier Ministries. R.C. Sproul’s devotional magazine is tucked inside my BCP, and its been part of my devotional life for many years. I grew up with something Southern Baptists called “Open Windows.” The folks at my church use something called “Daily Bread.” Every denomination has their version of a verse and a thought. You’ll starve, be bored and have to endure endless triviality in these booklets. Abandon them.

Tabletalk is different. It is classy and substantial. It has a monthly theme which is explored in various essays from reformed writers, featuring R.C. in the lead essay. Weekdays contain a Bible study from a book of the Bible or a theological series. Weekends contain short meditations. Monthly regulars like Doug Wilson or Al Mohler go into depth on assigned topics.

Tabletalk is the finest, most impressive, most carefully crafted devotional tool anywhere. There are readings for every day and solid thoughts and applications. I simply can’t recommend anything that compares to Tabletalk, though D.A. Carson’s “For The Love Of God” (a two book series) offers similar Bible studies in a through-the-Bible format. Ligonier deserves your support for producing this tool, and it is quite affordable.

I should also say that I do not like everything about Tabletalk. I don’t agree with all the theology of the writers. Many of the dailies and weekends are of uneven quality, and some content appears to be written by seminary students and interns. One of the monthly writers, on his own site, veers into the stranger corners of reformed fanaticism. But Tabletalk is too good to be ruined by these faults. All these imperfections don’t add up to any kind of qualified endorsement. Subscribe and enjoy Tabletalk.

The Reformation Study Bible. I recently gave away my New Geneva Study Bible and took up with the ESV-text Reformation Study Bible. The Reformation Study Bible has an excellent web site, and you can explore it in detail.

As study Bibles go, the NIV probably has the best tools, but the text can’t be rescued. (Particular with a Greek text in hand. It gets annoying fast.) Still, the RSB has good intros, detailed outlines, helpful cross-references, extensive notes, over 100 theological insets on topics of interest, a modestly extensive concordance and has absolutely no nonsense that I can find. Again, I don’t agree with everything here, and the notes are no substitute for a commentary. But as study Bibles go, this one is very good. (I love the new layout of the ESV-RSB, and I don’t use red letters.)

Why not a text-only Bible? Certainly that’s a choice for you to make. I like to refer to notes in my devotions, and don’t find them distracting at all. I don’t want to do exegesis, but I find the results of others’ study to freuqently be devotionally helpful.

If I use two translations, I take along my New American Standard single column. It has very good textual notes and cross references. (I don’t recommend computers for devotional times. I think they are simply too distracting.)

Blank Notebooks. I use two or three, depending on what I am doing. Moleskines are great (thanks Matthew), but I’ve used every kind of journal. I have a journal for my own thoughts, and one for sermon/teaching ideas. These notebooks aren’t organized. They take the shape of whatever I am thinking, reading, praying, contemplating or feeling that day.

Hymnals. I almost always use a hymnal in my personal devotions. I have a large collection, and among my favorites are the older hymnals. Many of my favorites are too old to tote around. (The hymnal on my desk right now is an 1877 Baptist Hymnal.) There are two comtemporary editions that will be helpful if you like older texts, with God-centered, reformational lyrics.

The first is “Our Own Hymn Book,” which is a Pilgrim Publications reprint of the hymnal Spurgeon assembled for his congregation. The second is “Psalms and Hymns of Reformed Worship,” which is only available from the Metropolitan Tabernacle bookstore. It is well worth the shipping cost from England. In fact, if there are musicians in the family, go ahead and order the tune book. This little hymnal is simply a delight. It contains a full Psalter and many excellent hymn texts. An extensive explanation of the philosophy of worship that lies behind this hymnal is found at the Metropolitian Tabernacle web site.

The Trinity Hymnal is a fine hymnal as well, and is certainly appropriate for devotional reading. The indices in the hymnal are very helpful in devotional reading.

These are my primary devotional resources, and make up the majority of what I use to build a daily time of worship, prayer and reflection.

There are other resources that I would like to mention.

The Valley of Vision is a fine source of Puritan Prayers, and is available in several editions, as well as audio.

A devotional study of Confessions and Catechisms is a good project. A number of good resources are available for Reformed and Baptist confessions.

The Puritan Paperbacks are a rich source of devotions.

Many solid and helpful writers have their material arranged into daily devotional form. Among those I have collected: Luther, Calvin, the Early Church Fathers, Spurgeon, Packer, Piper, Sproul, Lloyd-Jones, Dawn. Most bookstores- virtual and real- have a devotional section where these can be found.

Randall Working’s devotional arrangement of the Heidelberg Catechism is unique, and is a good way to explore one of the great devotional classics.

If the subject of the devotional life interests you, explore the work of Don Whitney. Whitney’s web site introduces you to many of his lectures and materials.

Music plays a major part in my devotional life, but since any discussion of music tends to displace all other discussions of any topic, I’ll hold off that one for now. I will say that music ought to take us into scripture, and the content of lyrics is extremely important. Entering some trance state is not a part of Christian devotion.

The discussion and comment area of this essay is an invitation to you to share devotional resources or further questions. May God bless you as you meet with Him in His Word and through these devotional tools.

Comments

  1. What? What is this Moleskine of which you speak and why do you associate me with it?

    http://flickr.com/photos/revmhj/10755831/

    😉

  2. Benjamin Nitu says:

    Tabletalk and Spurgeon’s devotional are great
    I also use to read Tozer’s The Pursuit of God from time to time.

  3. Graham Cochenet says:

    I have heard the “Anglican Brevery” is more exhaustive than the BCP having a devetional for all seven offices of the day

  4. franksta says:

    As a former Southern Baptist minister, now an Anglican priest-in-training, I was struck by your interest in the BCP. Using the Daily Office has radically changed my devotional life. Preferring more contemporary language, I started using the 1979 BCP then later switched to the Daily Prayer that is part of the Church of England’s “Common Worship”—I find it much simpler to follow while still keeping the basic shape of the Office. I also highly recommend the devotional guide published by the Society of St. James (the Touchstone magazine folks). It includes a basic form of the Office in each quarterly. The lectionary also includes the apocrypha, but you can omit those as the entire OT and NT are read every two years, so there are no gaps like in the BCP.

    I’m always amazed how many Evangelicals are closet BCP fans. I still visit the Baptist church I grew up in, and the pastor is a close friend. He confided in me that he uses the BCP for his devotional life, and even uses the Sunday lectionary for his preaching. While the church does not do the public reading of all the lectionary passages, his sermons come from there—if he is doing a series on I Corinthians, for instance, it is because the lectionary is there that month.

    (Graham, the Anglican Breviary is exhaustive–and exhausting–not for the faint of heart!)

  5. I don’t know if the Anglican Breviary has Compline in it, but the ’79 BCP does, and that’s a great devotional liturgy for individuals, too.

  6. Thanks iMonk! An answer to a pray this is! I’ve been looking for some guidance in my devotional time, I currently just read the Bible from cover to cover, 2-4 chapters a day.

    Also many thanks for the translation recommendations 🙂

    -Elizabeth

  7. Hi, Internetmonk!

    I will probably sound like I entirely missed the point. I know this question goes against the entire grain of your essay, but curiosity impels me to ask. Which novels did you read that featured the Anglican clergy? Any chance it was the Starbridge series by Susan Howatch?

    The series probably had a bigger impact on my spiritual life than years of devotionals. Not sure how a woman did it, but she sure pegged how men think, especially men who in essence limp through the Christian life.

    Thanks for a great article. I have the BCP both on my Palm and as a leather bound version, but I have neglected it much lately. I will have to inculcate it back into my life.

    Still, what WERE those novels?

  8. That’s the books. Read most of them twice. Love ’em.

  9. i picked up a copy of the BCP a few years ago in a second-hand store in Wales. i love it.

  10. This has got to be one of the best, most useful posts I have ever seen on a blog. Thank you.

    I have also read the Starbridge series. Mind- expanding. But I also enjoyed the Episcopalians in the Mitford books. 🙂

    I owned a BCP for awhile, but couldn’t discipline myself to use it. You are tempting me to have another try.

    My husband has studied some Greek and has a small New Testament he takes to church. Maybe I will get him the Reader’s edition you suggest.

    Again, thank you for this post.

  11. Great piece of sarcasm there, IMonk. Due to the fact that there was no mention of any PurposeDriven(TM) material in your list, it was obvious that this list was not to be taken seriously.

    I wake up to my PDL alarm clock (which plays Yes lord Yes lord yes yes lord) until you get out of bed and hop up and down while doing the “yes lords”. Then consult my PDL calendar (each month contains a full color photo of one of PopeRicks favorite hawaian shirts) which tells me which chapter of PDL i’m to meditate on today. I then feel worthy enough to go to pastor joels web site and find out how i’m to be a “champion” today.

    I then feel that i’m ready to approach the 27″ altar and turn on TBN for the real meat of the word.

  12. Thanks so much for this post. It’s so nice to hear someone else say that there are methods other than the “Pietistic Olympics”. I would love to see others write similar posts detailing devotional practices and resources that they have found helpful.

  13. My “tools” are a Bible (NASB), My Utmost for His Highest and Grudem’s Theology. The crux of my time is a sheet I fill out after reading a passage of scripture in which I answer three basic questions: What does it say? (Observation), what does it mean? (Interpretation), What will you do (Application). I’ve been doing this for the past 20+ years.

  14. If you want to make it really short and simple, the BCP has a very short morning prayer (opening from Ps 51, confession, Lords Prayer..) that works very nice with the lectionary. I’ve used the lectionary now for almost 15 years; it’s a very disciplined way of thinking through and praying through Scripture.

    The prayers int he BCP are nice, too. In the evening, I often supplement the readings with some spiritual text, contemporary or classic.

    Oh, and for notebooks? I’ve used Record books: 5 x 8, 144 pp lined, hard cover, available at the office supply big box store llike Staples or Office Depot. Order Wilson Jones ER20. They’re portable without bulk, and after a while, look pretty impressive on the shelf.

    A very practical post. Thanks

  15. Tabletalk is definitely my favorite devotional resource, and it’s a great reference for teaching also. But, I WISH they would come up with an index for the articles!! I have back issues back past 1998, and every time I want to teach Sunday School on a particular topic, I have to drag them all out and leaf thru every issue to find the stuff on that subject.

  16. thanks for this, brother.

  17. I wasn’t familiar with the ESV, but the website (www.esv.org) makes it sound pretty appealing. After 20 years of slogging through the KJV I finally bought a parallel bible including the NIV and am in heaven, because I can finally figure out what the more challenging passages of Isaiah and the writings of Paul are really saying.

    I’m really curious to find out how the ESV differs from the NIV, NASB, etc.. After years of just using one the plethora of translations is confusing to sort through.

  18. Here is an in-depth review of the ESV
    http://www.bible-researcher.com/esv.html

    Here’s Piper on it:
    http://www.desiringgod.org/library/topics/word_god/esv.html

    The NIV is simply unreliable as a translation. It continuously slips into dynamic equivalence when the editors think readers won’t get the meaning of the literal words. I always knew this, but when I taught a year of greek I was horrified at what the NIV was doing.

    Its not inaccurate on the larger scale, just very unpredictable and inexact on the smaller.

    The NASB is very very accurate, but lacks readability and a sense of the literary style of a passage. THe ESV brought literary scholars to the translation and so you have an accurate, but readable translation

    The ESV is the old RSV with 6% changes. The RSV was the best English translation and it was a mistake to reject it because it was produced by the mainlines.

  19. Bob Dixon says:

    I’m kind of new at the issues related to bible translations. Could you post or provide an example of what you refer to as a “dynamic equivalence” problem with the NIV? I’m not familiar with this term. I know places where I can compare the ESV and NIV verses online, but I’m not sure which verses to look in. 🙂

    If this is in the links above, just ignore this. I’m saving those links for later today, when I’ve got more time.

  20. It is in the links, and is available many places. Just do the research and you’ll find it.

    Let’s start with the most commonly cited example.

    The word sarx means flesh. The NIV translates it as “sinful nature.” What’s at work there is the idea that the reader might make a wrong interpretation. but Paul never wrote or intended “sinful nature.”

    Read Leland Ryken’s books on Bible translations. He nails it. I am not a fanatic against the NIV. I don’t rail against it. It simply does too much to “explain” things.

  21. I’m interested to see how prominently the BCP figures in your devotional time,iMonk, especially the daily lectionary. I have been using the daily lectionary in the Lutheran Hymnal during my morning devotions for several years. The readings include one each from the OT and NT and suggested Psalms. As I follow the liturgical year, I like to incorporate the introits and collects for the major an minor feasts, and for martyrs’, apostles and evangelists’ days, too. I do happen to be someone who engages in long, spontaneous prayers – not to prove anything to anyone, but because that’s the way I’m made, which is somewhat at odds with the fact that I’m a very organized, very self-disciplined personality type. It’s important to me, however, that my prayers be grounded in Scripture. It also helps immensely to “mix it up” with collections of written prayers passed down over the centuries, things like The Vally of Vision (which I use every day) and the collects in the Lutheran Hymnal. I like to use the ESV for my morning devotions.

    In the evenings I focus more on digging into the Word. There my favorite guides are Luther’s Large Catechism and the Book of Concord. Because I’m a fast reader, there’s a danger that I’m not going to absorb much as I read the Bible unless I read it aloud. For that reason, I work with the NIV in the evenings – it’s just got a better flow.

    At one point, I was hoping to acquire the 1928 version (is that the correct date?) of the BCP for use of its collects, until I realized that the Lutheran Hymnal includes many of the same ones.

  22. Andrew Dobbs says:

    This post piqued my curiosity, as I am looking for better devotional resources myself right now. I went to the library and looked at a BCP, and the whole thing was rather confusing to me (raised Baptist, then non-denominational, fell off and just now getting back into the faith seriously). I don’t know how to organize it or what to do with it. Is it pretty adaptable or what? Some explanation would help some of us that are a little inexperienced.

    Also, I don’t know your opinions of PDL, though I find it to be a pretty interesting book. Osteen is a joke, but Warren’s doctrine seems to be in the right place. Point me to some stuff if you’d like.

    Thanks!

  23. Bob Dixon says:

    “Me too” to the above. 🙂 My wife is a former Episcopalian and we have a 1928 BCP in the house, but I’m not sure how to use it. I can figure out the morning and evening scripture readings, but are there other prayers that should go with it? Is there a system for these, or just whatever the spirit suggests?

  24. Read the office for Morning Daily prayer, and pay attention to the italicized portions. They explain much.

    There are also shorter family prayer services in the back.

  25. There is a one volume version of the ’28 BCP that appends the 1940 Hymnal. I have one, and it is nothing short of superb. It’s also a manageable size, too.

    I’m not sure that it is still in print, but eBay and http://www.bookfinder.com would likely have them.

    I have heard people rave about the Anglican Breviary, but, as the commenter above put it, it is definitely not for the faint of heart. It’s also not for the faint of wallet, running you a whopping $60 for the in-print version.

    The full-blown Catholic/Anglican Divine Offices are very user-unfriendly, presuming that the user already knows how to pray it. However, it can be mastered with patience and online tutorials. Speaking as one who has prayed the Catholic office for the past year, it has aided my understanding of the Psalms immeasurably and has given me a much more coherent prayer life.

    Here’s a good site for the AB (ordering and tutorials):

    http://www.anglicanbreviary.com/

  26. For anybody still following along, here’s an excellent example of the NIV vs ESV and why the ESV might be considered better.

    http://www.matthiasmedia.com.au/ESV/ESVNIV.pdf

  27. Bob Dixon says:

    OK, I should have been more patient and posted these all at once. I had never heard of the ESV before. This has been fascinating to me.

    http://www.tateville.com/translations.html

    http://www.gnpcb.org/assets/products/excerpts/1581346433.1.pdf

  28. Got to say that the Reformation Study Bible is a great study Bible. I spent a lot of time in a Bible that had notes written by some group of zabroots that spent so much time “simplifying” the text that it lost the original meaning (a lot like a certain E. H. Peterson’s “translation”), but this is a smart study Bible, spending more time pointing you back to the scripture than elsewhere. I love it, if only it were NASB…thank you.

    (Moleskine, the notebook for those who demand the best…)

  29. Somehow I missed this post. I have two more recommendations:
    1. The Daily Devotional by the Society of St. James
    http://www.touchstonemag.com/docs/navigation_docs/products_dev-guide.html
    This devotional is very simular to the the Daily Office is the BCP. Unlike the BCP, the entire canon is reading in the course of 2 years.

    2. The Divine Hours by Philis Tickle
    http://explorefaith.org/prayer/fixed/index.html
    This is a modern breviery. It is not as rigorous as the BCP or the “Daily Devotioal.”