riting short devotionals is difficult. Difficult, but not impossible. If you believe you have a biblical insight worth sharing with others, it may be tempting to go into great detail to ensure readers get the point. You don’t want them to miss the takeaway. But devotional readers want to see a snapshot, not the entire photo album.
One way to stay within the recommended word count each publisher establishes is to focus on one main idea. You must telescope your ideas from panoramic to snapshot and only have three or four sentences to get the main point across. You must be concise and avoid repetition. And most importantly, you must get your thoughts across without any hint of condemnation or accusation.
There are several keys to writing a short devotional or meditation: Grab the reader from the start, present an interpretation of the chosen scripture passage, give a practical application the reader can take away, and conclude with a challenge for the reader to take action.
Devotional readers want to see a snapshot, not the entire photo album.
Grab the Reader
In order to grab the reader’s interest early and keep it, start with a strong lead.
That can be a brief story readers can relate to—which highlights a spiritual problem, question, or experience we all face—or a story from the Bible. For example:
One widow tricked her father-in-law into having sex. One was the town prostitute. One widow left her country for a foreign land. One became pregnant by a man not her husband. One was a pregnant unwed teenager.
So why are these women’s stories in the Bible? Because God used each of them to bring His son, Jesus, into the world to save it.
Present an Interpretation
Next, state a biblical truth from the Bible that supports your case. Think single photograph instead of full-length movie at this point. Throw out anything that doesn’t lend support to the main idea. If you keep a copy of the assignment in front of you while you write, it makes it easier to stick to the assignment and not go down rabbit trails.
As you write, you need to be careful not to make yourself the center of the meditation when relating the story. Your job is to draw readers closer to God, not to you.
Tamar, a Gentile, desired to be part of God’s people.
Rahab, a Gentile prostitute, believed in the God who led His people out of Egypt.
Ruth, a widowed Moabitess, chose to identify herself with God’s people.
Bathsheba’s husband was killed to hide her adulterous pregnancy.
Mary, the teenage virgin, was the mother of God’s son.
Five women with different backgrounds and stories whose lives were woven together throughout history.
Your job is to draw readers closer to God, not to you.
Include a Practical Application
Some publishers allow essay writers to choose the verse for their meditation. Some assign the verse. If you choose your own verse, you need to resist the urge to use more than one verse unless absolutely necessary.
You don’t need to retell the verse in your meditation. Your job is to comment on it and provide a way for readers to apply these ideas to their everyday lives. Here is an example of practical application to complement the verse about the five women:
What did these woman have in common? Faith in a God bigger than themselves who could take their brokenness and bring something beautiful out of it. A God who deals in redemption and grace just as surely today as He has throughout history, using broken and battered people to achieve His goals.
Conclude with a Challenge
Finally, a devotional should challenge readers to grow closer to God by developing a deeper relationship with Him through the words you’ve written. The last sentence should be memorable and move readers to make a decision. That’s the whole point of your meditation after all, isn’t it?
Just as God loved and used these five women, He can use us. We all can be redeemed through His grace when we have faith enough to say yes to Him.
Once you have your idea written down, it’s time to edit what you’ve written to make every word count. Now’s the time to eliminate wordy phrases, such as in my opinion, it appears to me, it has come to my attention, the story’s been told ... and make sure you use strong verbs instead of weak adverbs.
This is also where you count how many times you used the words that, just, then, to, was. Is each one necessary? Will the meaning of the meditation be altered if they are removed?
You should be careful not to rely on Christianese words like blessing, in Christ, and by faith.
A devotional meditation is not the time to rant about pet peeves. Your aim is to inspire readers. Instead of saying, you need to, we should say we need to. We’re on this journey together, after all.
To write a devotional in 300 words or less:
- Grab reader’s interest from the start: begin with a strong lead.
- Tell a brief life story readers can relate to: think snapshot not panoramic view.
- Declare your key point: stick to the assignment and focus on one main idea.
- Close with a bang that challenges the reader to respond and leads to a decision.
- Make every word count: get rid of unnecessary words.
Do you have a brief story, spiritual question, or experience we all face you feel will grab a reader’s and editor’s attention in 300 words or less? If so, check the guidelines of publishers listed in the sidebar, submit, and see what happens.
Example of a Devotional
In the days before Smart Boards, perhaps you remember blackboards and white chalk. To remove the chalk, a black felt eraser was pushed back and forth to clean the board. Still, traces of words remained until the board was washed.
When I taught elementary school, pre-Smart Board days, I found an amazing new eraser made of foam. This eraser took away every speck of dust, leaving no residue behind. Everything I wrote on the board was gone. All erased. All forgotten. Washed clean.
Fortunately, God has an eraser like that. When he erases our sins, through the shed blood of Jesus on the cross, there isn’t any residue left. No faint reminder to show all the times we’ve sinned. It’s all gone. All erased. All forgotten. Washed clean.
Satan’s not real happy with the fact our sins can be washed away. He wants to keep accusing and reminding us of all the times we tried and failed. Sort of like using the felt eraser. He wants our sins to stay visible.
But Jesus took all our sins upon himself and nailed them to the cross. When we name him as Lord of our life, we don’t need to keep dredging up the past and its sins. God has an eraser that’s far superior to the foam one I used. His eraser stretches from one scarred hand to the other.
Hanging on to past sins? Talk to Jesus about them. Let Him forgive you and wash every trace away.
As high as the sky is above the earth, so great is His love for those who honor Him. As far as the east is from the west, so far does He remove our sins from us. Psalm 103:11-12
Sandy Kirby Quandt is a writer with a passion for history and travel—passions that often weave their way into her stories and articles. She has written numerous articles and stories for adult and children’s publications. Looking for words of encouragement or gluten-free recipes? Then check out her blog, Woven and Spun. You can also find Sandy at Inspire a Fire and Christian Devotions.
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