Tag: devotional (page 1 of 2)

5 Beautiful Devotionals for Lent

We have one window in our living room—one window highly sought after by the cats, who get their best bird views there—and it’s in that window sill that I heap the books I’m currently reading. This is a terrible place for books—they fall when you bump them or when you put the blinds down (or when you lunge at a bird), and they block a small portion of coveted daylight. But it’s close to the armchair where I like to read, and so that is where the books stay.

And with Lent upon us, a handful of the books in that sill are Easter-related, which made me think of other Easter-related books you might like, which made me think that a post about Easter reading for you, dear grown-up reading this blog, might be well received. This list is a short one, but I’m sure you have other books worthy of joining its ranks. I would love to hear about them in the comments.

5 Beautiful Devotionals for Lent | Little Book, Big Story

So, here it is: a list of  devotionals for Lent! The first two are the ones I’m reading this year, followed by ones I’ve read (and loved) in the past.

Comforts From the Cross, by Elyse Fitzpatrick

Comforts From the Cross, by Elyse Fitzpatrick | Little Book, Big Story

This devotional isn’t marketed for Lent and I didn’t plan to read it for Lent, but I did start reading it and it struck me that it is, in fact, perfectly Lent-worthy. Each reading describes some new aspect the gospel—the beauty of it, how it transforms our lives—in Fitzpatrick’s warm, grace-filled voice. Familiarity may tempt us to grow deaf to the melody of the gospel, but Fitzpatrick reminds us that the Lord plays endless variations upon it in our lives, and that that melody will never grow repetitive to those who pay attention. Comforts From the Cross highlights some of those variations, and the result is stunning.

The Valley of Vision, edited by Arthur Bennett

The Valley of Vision, ed. Arthur Bennett | LIttle Book, Big Story

The Valley of Vision is a collection of Puritan prayers and devotions written by a plethora of authors whose names occasionally end with “Spurgeon,” “Edwards,” or “Bunyan.” You can see by the condition of the cover that this is an oft-frequented book at our house (or at least one that got knocked off my nightstand and lost under the bed for a while), and I’m reading it this Lent with Joe Thorn’s guide for praying through The Valley of Vision.

I’m two weeks in and I love it already: these little breaks for prayer reorient my heart every few hours, and I need that. (It’s true that I pray on the stairwell, often with one or two daughters in my lap, poking my face and asking me what I’m doing, but praying in the midst of that is perfect training for praying through the greater storms of life. Right?)

Fifty Reasons Why Jesus Came to Die, by John Piper

Fifty Reasons Why Jesus Came to Die, by John Piper | Little Book, Big Story

You thought there was just the one reason, didn’t you? Nope. In fifty short chapters, John Piper lays out fifty illuminating reasons why Jesus suffered and died for us. What this is, really, is fifty reasons to praise God for his redemption!

Note: Piper’s book The Passion of Christ is actually the same material repackaged under a new title. How do I know? Because I own them both and planned to review them each separately here—until I read the table of contents. But hey, now we know they’re both good books!

Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross, Ed. by Nancy Guthrie

Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross, ed. Nancy Guthrie | Little Book, Big Story

I read this book during Lent last year, and it was beautiful. Nancy Guthrie has curated a collection of twenty-five readings from authors that span church history. You’ll find Augustine here alongside J.I. Packer, John Calvin next to Francis Schaeffer. This isn’t technically a devotional but an anthology, one that’s easy to pick up and read any time of the day. (Guthrie’s Advent anthology Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus is lovely, too.)

King’s Cross (Jesus the King), by Timothy Keller

King's Cross (Jesus the King), by Timothy Keller | Little Book, Big Story

This is one of my favorite books, and again, it’s not one specifically written for Lent. But Timothy Keller’s study of Jesus’s life through the book of Mark places Jesus’ life within the greater framework of God’s redemptive story. This is not a difficult read, but it’s a deep one that will give you much to ponder.

Note: This book has been republished under the title Jesus the King, so don’t let that throw you off the scent. Even if you don’t read it during Lent, it’s excellent reading any time of the year.

What about you? What are you reading for Lent?

Exploring the Bible | David Murray

Within one week of starting this reading plan with the girls, I wanted to review it for you. “Look!” I wanted to cry. “We found it! The One!” Our relationship with family devotionals has been tumultuous, and after my recent revelation that we had only made it four days into our last attempt, I had the sort of clarity one has when, while trying to eat raw onions on a sandwich, one realizes that one is an adult who neither likes nor has to eat raw onions.

Family devotionals aren’t working for us, I realized. And they don’t have to. We want to study God’s Word with our daughters; we want them to love it, to see the beauty and the brutality and the bottomlessness of it, and we want to them to love the One who wrote it. We need to find another way, I prayed. What does this look like for us?

Exploring the Bible: A Bible Reading Plan for Kids, by David Murray (review) | Little Book, Big Story

And then, behold! I ordered Exploring the Bible as a Christmas gift for Lydia, thinking it would be nice for her. But when I received it and flipped through its pages and began to see what it was about, I paused. I considered. I ordered two more copies. Lydia, Sarah, and I started working through it together and discussing it as part of our morning routine (while Phoebe colored Slugs & Bugs coloring pages and pondered the meaning of “atonement”).

A week later, Mitch asked me to get him a copy, too, and now we’re all studying through the Bible together, and it is glorious. I was ready to review it right then but I refrained, thinking it would be better if we were farther in, had given it time to stick, and could be sure that Exploring the Bible was as awesome months later as it was at the start.

Exploring the Bible: A Bible Reading Plan for Kids, by David Murray (review) | Little Book, Big Story

Months later: it is still awesome.

Here is what Exploring the Bible is:

It is a reading plan for kids. In one year, it takes readers through the entire story of the Bible by hopscotching from key passage to key passage. The point is not to read the entire Bible in a year, but to follow God’s Big Story through it in a series of short but central passages.

Here is how it works:

David Murray arranged the readings in a series of week-long expeditions: one week we spend with Noah, reviewing the big picture of his story within the context of the rest of Scripture, then the next week we spend with Abraham. Murray helps us find a focus for the week but is otherwise pretty hands-off. No guided discussions here, no personal application. I’m glad for that.

Exploring the Bible: A Bible Reading Plan for Kids, by David Murray (review) | Little Book, Big Story

Here is how it works for us:

Each day, our reading is about five verses long. Lydia, Mitch, and I do ours independently in the morning; Sarah does hers during our discussion. Later in the morning, the girls and I read the passage, then I ask one of the girls to narrate it back to me. Together we answer the one simple question in the workbook, and then we either stop there or we let discussion blossom however it likes. I love the questions in this book, because they point us back to the text: Murray doesn’t ask us to extrapolate on the text or draw out morals, but asks us instead to look back at a key verse and see what really happened.

“What did God say to Abraham?”

“How does Moses describe God?”

“Where was the sacrifice to be placed?”

They direct us back to the text itself, not to our own thoughts on it, and I love that. Our own thoughts bubble up naturally as we discuss the passage, but I am glad the questions anchor our discussion in what Scripture really said, not just in how we respond to it.

Exploring the Bible: A Bible Reading Plan for Kids, by David Murray (review) | Little Book, Big Story

So, most days offer those simple questions with the readings. Sometimes, there is a “Snapshot Verse” that Murray encourages us to copy out in the book and to memorize. The Sunday readings contain one of my favorite features: rather than doing an individual reading, we do what Murray calls “Exploring with Others.” First, we pause for a moment and look back on what we read that week; we answer a simple question about it. Then we have space for sermon notes that we all four work on during our pastor’s sermon. (This has been both enlightening and highly entertaining.)

Exploring the Bible: A Bible Reading Plan for Kids, by David Murray (review) | Little Book, Big Story

Also: Scotty Reifsnyder’s illustrations have this great retro feel that has spurred interesting discussion as well. And the book itself—both its design and its actual composition—is a pleasure to use. It feels so nice to hold it and turn the pages.

In Conclusion

Taking a year to trace the big story of Scripture through Old Testament and New has already begun to bear fruit in us as well as in the girls. We can pick out the main themes of each book more clearly; we have already spotted connections from one story to the next that we might have missed if we’d spent weeks on each story rather than days.

Do our kids still fidget and complain when it’s time to read Scripture? Yes. But Exploring the Bible is like a set of training wheels for the spiritual disciplines of prayer and Scripture reading, and watching our girls gain their balance and become more confident as they read the Bible has been delightful. I am already a little sad that Exploring the Bible won’t go on forever, but I am also excited to see what we learn from this experience and how that shapes our future family reading.

Exploring the Bible: A Bible Reading Plan for Kids
David Murray; Scotty Reifsnyder (2017)

Wise Up | Marty Machowski

In Wise Up, Marty Machowski (whose books The Ology and The Gospel Story Bible have become standards in our home), takes families through the book of Proverbs in ten-minute jaunts. He asks probing questions about selected passages, all with the aim of teaching our kids to value and pursue wisdom.

Machowski pulls passages from all over the Bible into the discussion as well, showing that the pursuit of wisdom is not a topic limited to the book of Proverbs, but one that is prevalent and highly-prized throughout the whole of Scripture. This is a quest that matters—to God and, therefore, to us—and Machowski is careful to emphasize that while not leaning toward a moralistic interpretation of Proverbs. The gospel is everywhere in this book, and that is beautiful.

But here is where I need to make a confession.

Wise Up, by Marty Machowski | Little Book, Big Story

When I flipped through this book just now, I found our bookmark, placed there months and months ago, holding our place at the reading for “Day 4.” I have written before about our inconsistency with family devotions, but I was sure we’d made it at least a week into this one before shelving it. So, I need you to know that: we haven’t read through this full book as a family. We didn’t try any of the projects (though I love the idea of them), and I don’t think we sang any of the hymns (though we love singing hymns). But I wanted to share this book anyway, because it is a great study and I want you to know about it.

Wise Up, by Marty Machowski | Little Book, Big Story

I also want to ask for your help: for those of you who make family devotions a part of your day, what does that look like? We read together before bed—sometimes from the Bible itself, sometimes from a story bible—and I just embarked on a study with the girls as part of our school day that I hope to share here a little later.

But I’m learning that when presented with pre-written questions, the five of us old enough to know what’s happening seem to wilt and conversation dries up. If we read a story Bible and follow the girls’ questions wherever they lead, a rich and rewarding discussion sometimes ensues (or sometimes, people flop on the floor and pretend to sleep). It’s harder to measure our progress when we have discussions that way, but I’m starting to make peace with that.

Wise Up, by Marty Machowski | Little Book, Big Story

What about you? How does your family read Scripture and hold devotions together? I’m on a quest for ideas here and, through that, I hope to win some wisdom.

Wise Up: 10-Minute Family Devotions in Proverbs
Marty Machowski (2016)

For Such a Time as This | Angie Smith

After reading a picture book that praised Eve for her courage in defying God, I almost quit my search. But the stories of so many women are sown quietly throughout Scripture, and I loved the idea of drawing those stories out. I loved the idea of reminding our daughters, in a time when Paul is derided as a misogynist and the question of women’s roles in church is hotly debated, that they have a treasured place in God’s Great Story.

For Such a Time as This, by Angie Smith | Little Book, Big Story

Moses went on to guide the Israelites out of Egypt, but his mother, sister, and midwife shielded the infant Moses from Pharoah’s wrath. Israel fell into fragments, yet one Moabite woman became the thread God used to sew redemption into Israel’s tapestry. Surely some author has told the stories of those women in an honest, yet beautiful way? Right? One that steers clear of the “bad girls of the Bible” motif?

Yes. Dear friends, the answer is yes. Angie Smith did it, and she did it well.

For Such a Time as This, by Angie Smith | Little Book, Big Story

For Such a Time as This is an anthology of stories about the women of Scripture, and there are more stories in it that I thought possible: Mary and Sarah and Esther are in here. Ruth, of course. But Gomer is in here, and Delilah and Jezebel and Sapphira, too. Smith did not shy away from the less savory characters of Scripture, but even in their stories found the beauty of the gospel pricking through the soot and grime. She approaches them all from a gracious angle, not asking “What does this tell me about me?” but “What does it say about God that he would graft this figure into his family tree, that he would use this figure to do mighty things despite her brokenness?”

For Such a Time as This, by Angie Smith | Little Book, Big Story

Breezy Brookshire’s illustrations get the tension of that question just right: her fluid, glowing watercolors are punctuated by understated pencil drawings. By mixing those two, she captures the tension of our sin and God’s grace in a luminous way.

For Such a Time as This, by Angie Smith | Little Book, Big Story

For Such a Time as This is, I suppose, a selective story Bible. It’s obviously not comprehensive, but focuses on the women of Scripture specifically. But it is also a devotional, as each story ends with a section for young girls to read alone or with parents, and for a prayer that families can pray together for their daughters. If your daughter has a birthday this summer and you invite us to her party, be warned: we’ll probably buy her this book.

For Such a Time as This, by Angie Smith | Little Book, Big Story

Update (Sept. 2017)

We are currently reading this aloud as a family and I love it more after each reading. We’ve read about Abigail and Bathsheba, Hagar and the Queen of Sheba, and Angie Smith does a beautiful job of connecting each story to the Big Story of Scripture, while drawing in details that bring their stories to life. My daughters are enthralled with all these women they had never met before, and I am a little obsessed with the illustrations.

I just wanted you to know that. I loved this book when I wrote about it, but we love it now, all of us. The girls each take sections from the devotional readings, I read the prayer, and even Phoebe repeats our “Word of the Day” and memory verse after me. This book is one of our favorites now.

For Such a Time as This
Angie Smith, Breezy Brookshire (2014)

Brave Girls: Beautiful You | Jennifer Gerelds

Nine. My eldest daughter just turned nine.

I thought this was momentous because it was her last single digit year, but no: a friend mentioned yesterday that she was halfway there, and the park around us got suddenly swimmy. It took me a minute to realize what my tear ducts understood instantly: “halfway there” meant halfway to adulthood, and the park looked swimmy because I was crying.


Brave Girls: Beautiful You (A 90-Day Devotional for Girls) | Little Book, Big Story

But this birthday called for a little something different, as birthday books go, and so I explored the “devotional Christian girl” shelves of Amazon. I found a cheap book, one that looked promising, and ordered it.

Brave  Girls: Beautiful You was (whew!) not a theological mess in pink and floral print. It is a collection of devotions that encourage girls with a growing awareness of their appearance and identity to measure these things by God’s metric and to weigh their beauty on his scales. As I flipped through it, I was impressed by the depth of the devotions and the simple way they illustrated, through the imagery of “putting off” our old selves and “putting on” Christ, how a young girl can best glorify God in whatever situation comes her way.

Brave Girls: Beautiful You (A 90-Day Devotional for Girls) | Little Book, Big Story

There are quizzes in here, too, which initially made me nervous, but again and again I saw that they were intended as an expedition through a girl’s heart and not as a measurement of her value or success.

So, this is a new sort of book for this blog, because we are in a new sort of season. Brave Girls: Beautiful You is sweet, yes. But it is also rich, and, I hope, it is the sort of fuel my young daughter needs as she begins to set her sights on becoming a young woman.

Brave Girls: Beautiful You (A 90-Day Devotional for Girls) | Little Book, Big Story


I was not able to read this book from cover-to-cover before I needed to wrap it up, so though I recommend it, I can’t promise that there isn’t some murky spot in there somewhere. But every page I landed on was good and true.

Brave Girls: Beautiful You
Jennifer Gerelds (2016)

My ABC Bible Verses From the Psalms | Susan and Richie Hunt

Lydia and Sarah curled up on the floor, listening or coloring as I read from My ABC Bible Verses From the Psalms. It was winter and we were well-pajamaed; outside, it was probably raining. I had just finished our reading for that day and moved to pick up our book of fairy tales when Sarah spoke over the squeak of her markers and said, “I like this book because it helps me see how to behave.”

My ABC Bible Verses from the Psalms, by Susan and Richie Hunt | Little Book, Big Story

I was struck by her insight: after all, that’s exactly what I like about this book, too. Susan and Richie Hunt collected twenty-six verses from the Psalms, fit them all to a letter of the alphabet, and wrote stories about a particular family to fit each one. There are stories about disobedience and service; stories about conversion and loving those that are hard to love. They all illustrate different qualities that we’d love to see our children take to heart, but they press past that, pointing toward our dependence upon God in a way that keeps this book from reading like a blue print for good works without faith.

My ABC Bible Verses from the Psalms, by Susan and Richie Hunt | Little Book, Big Story

For a five-year-old who is told daily to put others before herself but struggles to understand how that ought to look, it must be helpful to see a family live out that sort of love in the pages of a book. I know it’s helpful for me as a mother to watch the way the parents in the book answer their children’s questions, honor their own parents, and weave Scripture into their interactions with their children. Though the family may seem a little too perfect in places, the book is rich in grace and I’m thankful for that.

It’s easy to forget, as a grown-up, how hard it can be for a child to see how to behave, and so I was grateful for Sarah’s reminder that we do need to see it, parents and children alike: we can’t just be told, but we need to see those around us living out their faith. And while a good book is no replacement for a real, live example, it can certainly be a help.

My ABC Bible Verses from the Psalms, by Susan and Richie Hunt | Little Book, Big Story

My ABC Bible Verses From the Psalms
Susan Hunt, Richie Hunt (2013)

Mission Accomplished | Scott James

Our daughters have a knack for arriving on holidays. Our first made me a mother on Mother’s Day, which made me feel a little like an impostor: when a nurse wished me “Happy Mother’s Day” as I sat there holding my hours-old infant, I must have given her a “Who, me?” look, because she laughed and said, “Yes, you.”

Our second arrived in the midst of a month of family birthdays; our third, on St. Lucia’s Day, early in the morning (though she was due the next day, on our anniversary). Our girls seem to like days already made significant by our family or the world, and we like that about them. I thought that this daughter might be the exception, until I looked at the calendar for Lent this year and realized that she’s due right in the middle of Holy Week. That gives her something like four holidays to choose from.

Having had one daughter during Advent, I can tell you: this was welcome news. Anticipating the birth of a child during a season that celebrates the birth of the Christ Child was beautiful and deeply significant. Rejoicing over the Resurrection of Christ and our new life in him while holding the newest illustration of new life in my arms sounds equally lovely.

(Of course, that assumes that I won’t go horribly overdue. But I have my hopes. And my trust in God’s timing.)

A two-week devotional for Easter: Mission Accomplished, by Scott James | Little Book, Big Story

And so Lent is a quiet, mildly planned event in our home this year. Today’s book is the only new Easter book I’ve discovered this year, and because it is a devotional meant to be read during Holy Week and the week after Easter, I can’t guarantee that we’ll read it all the way through as a family this year.

But I read it through and found it worth sharing, so I thought I’d kick off the Lenten season with a new book for you, then follow by republishing a few of our favorite Lent and Easter books during the following weeks.

Mission Accomplished is a collection of fourteen family devotions, meant to be started on Palm Sunday and read for the next two weeks. I don’t know what your history is with family devotions, but ours is spotty, and a two-week devotional is right up our alley. Each devotion begins with a reading from Scripture, followed by a short reading from the book. There are questions and prayers and, at the end, a hymn to sing or a project to work on as a family.

A two-week devotional for Easter: Mission Accomplished, by Scott James | Little Book, Big Story

I liked that last part, because the hymns were (almost) all hymns I knew, and the projects were simple projects that I’ll actually (probably) do with the girls: painted rocks or crosses made from twigs and twine—stuff that doesn’t take a lot of preparation but that does deepen the lesson learned through the reading.

Illustrated by A.E. Macha (who also illustrated The Gospel Story Bible), Mission Accomplished ties our Lenten celebrations back again and again to the Gospel. Whether we read it now, well before Holy Week, or during Holy Week (accepting the very real possibility of being interrupted by a trip to the hospital), I’m excited to share this book with our family and to remember the Reason we have for singing together, reading Scripture together, and painting rocks together.

Mission Accomplished
Scott James, AE Macha (2015)