Posted by Naomi Vacaro on

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Vanessa Bonilla 

Although I have attended church my entire life, I didn’t make Jesus Lord of my life until I was about twenty-two years old. By then I’d had three children under three and a failing marriage. It was many years after that before I learned to sit at God’s feet with His word. For all those years devotionals were what I relied on for growth. 

Reading devotionals created a level of dependency on the “explanation” of Scripture and stunted my spiritual growth. Every time I would open scripture for myself, I shied away from it because I had not trained myself to wait on the Holy Spirit. The word made me uncomfortable, which it should, but because I hadn’t learned yet that being uncomfortable was a normal part of learning, I kept running on the devotional treadmill.

This continued dependency created in me a false theology. There are two ways to interpret scripture, the right way (exegesis: trying to figure out what a text actually means), and the wrong way (eisegesis: cramming our preferred meaning into a text). Unfortunately, a huge portion of devotionals I’ve come across has chosen the latter. I spent the majority of my walk reading out-of-context passages with various meanings applied to make the authors’ point. I was seldom encouraged to repent; I was instead encouraged -hopefully unintentionally- to trample on God's perfect grace. 

Repentance is the road to a real relationship. A relationship with Christ should be the reason we do everything. In order to develop that real relationship, we need time, dedication, and discipline. 

My nature is to be a checklist Christian. Devotionals made it so easy for me to continue to feed my pride of imitating Christian devotion through a checklist format. I didn’t need to set time aside, sit and wait on God or commit to anything. I could read my two-minute devotional while running out the door and feel better about who I am and where I am in my walk. 

My life was in shambles and for good reason! I hadn’t developed an ear to hear the good news that would reroute me into greener pastures. I was looking for devotionals to be what it was never meant to be. Only the actual Word of God can guide us in quenching our deep thirst for a real relationship with the Savior. 

Our hearts play a huge role in how much something can benefit us. We can so easily make a tool into an idol. That was definitely the case for me. The good news is there are some great devotionals to be found. A good devotional can: kindle a desire to encounter the living God; liven up a dry season in your life; and open your eyes to new insights on a piece of scripture you may be studying. 

If you need a little push for focus or motivation a devotional might be what you need for a season! There are so many options for devotionals, which can be risky. Speak with trusted believers of the faith to steer you in the right direction. Here are my top three recommendations:

  • New Morning Mercies by Paul Tripp - No feel-good aphorisms here, Tripp brings the truth of Scripture to encourage deeper spiritual devotion.
  • For the Love of God by D.A. Carson - will give you a grasp on the Bible’s overall story.
  • My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers - Chambers provides thought-provoking insights into Scripture.

May our ultimate devotion not be found in tools but in a heart sealed for Christ, burning like a mighty flame. It is there where the Holy Spirit can convict and encourage. May we grow in grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ always and may our lives be a witness to our faith.



Lives with her husband, Eli, in Brooklyn, NY where she homeschools their five children. Vanessa is also the Children’s Director at her church, and she loves fire pits, friends, and spending time with her family.


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  • Thank you Vanessa for opening my eyes to the good, the bad and ugly to devotionals! May God continue to bless you! ❤️

    Audrey on

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