Devotionals, which offer daily doses of uplifting spiritual content and often quotes from the Bible, are taking on a greater importance in the market today, according to religion publishers. Many devotionals follow a 365-day format, with a reading for each calendar day, while others are shorter and can be read in any order. The goal of every devotional is the same, however: to guide readers into a deeper relationship with God. This year, new devotionals are catering to audiences in an especially troubled season.

“People are hungry for spiritual content written in modern language that helps ground them in chaotic, difficult, or simply mundane times,” says Keren Baltzer, v-p, editorial director, Convergent and Image.

IVP is publishing more devotionals in the next two seasons than it has for the past several years. In addition to citing the perennial sales associated with Advent and Lenten devotionals, Justin Paul Lawrence, IVP divisional v-p of sales and marketing, says he believes the books can play a key role when it comes to overall wellness. “I think the pandemic has caused many to spend more time in personal reflection as the flexibility of remote work coupled with increased stress from the news has made spiritual care an essential component of self-care,” he notes.

Bonne Steffen, senior editor at Tyndale, agrees. “Devotionals are a quick read, but when the message resonates, the effect can be long-lasting,” she says. “These inspirational pauses can speak to heart issues in ways that are uplifting and challenging, possibly even life-changing.”

With church attendance in decline, devotionals can fill contemporary spiritual needs, according to Becky Nesbitt, editorial director at WaterBrook. “Readers who disconnected from the church during the pandemic are looking for ways to reconnect to their faith outside of a church setting,” she says.

Short takes on big issues

Devotionals releasing in the coming months explore the intersection of spirituality and inclusivity, healing, and growth, as well as the ways faith can provide solace in times of fear.

“There’s no denying how difficult things can be,” writes Jesuit priest Gregory Boyle in Forgive Everyone Everything (Sept.), Loyola Press’s lead fall title. “But the way out to the place of resilience, the place of restoration, the place of not allowing your heart to be hardened by resentment, relies on one thing: forgive everyone everything.”

The book collects 50 reflections on loss, pain, and redemption gleaned during Boyle’s more than 30 years of experience as founder of Homeboy Industries—a gang intervention, rehabilitation, and reentry program in Los Angeles. Nearly every entry is accompanied by muralist Fabian Debora’s artwork. Debora is a former gang member who now serves as executive director of Homeboy Art Academy—a trauma-informed art center that’s a division of Homeboy Industries.

According to Joellyn Cicciarelli, president and publisher of Loyola, Forgive Everyone Everything is a unique devotional. “The powerful combination of words and images humanizes people on the margins and focuses on the inherent dignity of every human person,” she says. “This is a book many people need now, given the tensions of political polarization, cultural battles, and the nationwide focus on racism.”

E. Carrington Heath, senior pastor of the Congregational Church in Exeter, N.H., addresses topics including authenticity, coming out, relationships, chosen family, and religious trauma in Called Out: 100 Devotions for LGBTQ Christians (WJK, Sept.). Heath aims to nourish the spirits of LGBTQ people while also helping others grow in both understanding and faith, according to the publisher. Jessica Miller Kelley, who acquired the book for WJK, says, “So much attention has been given to apologetics and advocacy for the full inclusion and affirmation of God’s LGBTQ children in the church that books written by LGBTQ authors for the spiritual edification of LGBTQ readers were on the periphery.”

That is shifting, though, Heath and Kelley say. Heath writes in the book, “The world has changed for queer folks, and for the better. It has changed even more for trans folks, who for too many years received less than even crumbs. I pray that this change continues.”

Kelley adds, “Devotion and spirituality books for this audience will appear more frequently in the future.”

A Just Passion: A Six-Week Lenten Journey (IVP, Nov.) is a call for Christians to confront injustice, written by Ruth Haley Barton, Sheila Wise Rowe, Tish Harrison Warren, and Terry M. Wildman. It includes short readings, breath prayers, and scripture passages related to repentance, lament, worship, and healing.

Looking at the bright side

Daily readings can lend support in life’s toughest chapters, and several new releases take an optimistic perspective of common challenges and obstacles. Tyndale is offering Seasons of Waiting: 52 Devotions (Nov.) by Barb Hill, a clinical mental health therapist with a specialty in trauma. The book explores the tension and pain associated with the universal experience of waiting—including for a spouse, a child, a career, or mental or physical healing. “The struggle of waiting has an uncanny way of unearthing thoughts, feelings, and reactions in us that not many other things can,” Hill writes. “It exposes what we believe, challenges our patience, refines our character, and confronts where we’ve placed our hope.”

Tyndale’s Steffen notes that people today “are living on the edge of anticipation, not know-
ing what we will wake up to tomorrow.” She adds, “Barb Hill reassures us that hope is always ready to displace fear and uncertainty. Choosing the way of hope requires trust on our part, but nothing is more rewarding.”

Liturgies for Hope: Sixty Prayers for the Highs, Lows, and Everything in Between by Audrey Elledge and Elizabeth Moore (WaterBrook, Nov.) collects entries, prayers, and scripture references, geared toward readers experiencing burnout, anxiety, shame, and other stressors. Explaining what drew her to the book, WaterBrook’s Nesbitt says, “As a postpandemic culture, collectively, we’re experiencing such a range of emotions, yet we’re struggling to articulate them in ways that bring hope to our concerns. Liturgies for Hope helps us to express our common felt needs in ways that make us feel seen and bring healing.”

In their new book, The Lives We Actually Have: 100 Blessings for Imperfect Days (Convergent, Feb. 2023), Kate Bowler and Jessica Richie, the writers behind last year’s bestselling Good Enough: 40ish Devotionals for a Life of Imperfection, offer “a spiritual account of time that is rich enough to name the breadth of our experience,” according to the publisher. “Good. Bad. Difficult. Sublime. Mundane.” Each blessing focuses on gratitude and hope “without making light of our real, messy lives.”

Bowler and Richie write in the book, “When I bless the actual days I am living, I suddenly find I have a great deal more to say that is honest. I am mourning. I am bored. I am exhausted. I am apathetic. I discover that I am freed from the need to declare everything #blessed. Good or bad, I don’t have to wait to say something spiritually true. I can simply bless it all instead.”

Divine by design

In addition to offering encouraging words and spiritual wisdom, devotionals often feature artwork and other design elements intended to relax and inspire readers. Ruth Chou Simons, an artist and the author of Emmanuel: An Invitation to Prepare Him Room at Christmas and Always (Harvest, Sept.), aims to provide a fresh take on the Advent experience by reminding readers that “the birth of Jesus—the Christmas story—is only the beginning,” according to the publisher.

Too often, Christians view Christmas as a once-a-year-event, but “God intends for our Christmas hope to thrive all year long,” says Steve Miller, senior editor at Harvest House. “In Emmanuel, readers are invited to experience Advent in a way that outlasts the month of December. As Ruth says, this devotional is all about letting the Christmas story ‘fill our hearts so that it changes the way we celebrate the season and live the rest of the year.’ ”

The book will be featured during a ticketed gala hosted by the publisher in Nashville on November 12.

A Psalm for Every Season: 30 Devotions to Discover Encouragement, Hope and Beauty by Arnold R. Fleagle (Chosen, Oct.) features “full-color calligraphy” by Timothy R. Botts, says Kim Bangs, editorial director at Chosen. She was drawn to the way Fleagle uses the Book of Psalms “to speak to the seasons of life that everyone encounters.”

Another devotional on the Bible’s sacred songs, Endless Grace: Prayers Inspired by the Psalms by Ryan Whitaker Smith and Dan Wilt (Brazos, Jan. 2023), features custom line art by Nathan Swann. Robert Hosack, executive acquisitions editor at Brazos, says Endless Grace was a natural next step following the success of the authors’ first title, Sheltering Mercy. The second volume on the church’s prayer book provides “further poetic, free-verse prayer renderings on the rest of the Psalter, Psalms 76–150,” he notes.

Brazos’s creative director Paula Gibson adds that Endless Grace’s interior layout “was purposely designed to help the reader enter into a calm and inviting space—one that would visually enhance a reader’s devotional reflection.”

Heart Speak: A Visual Interpretation of Let Your Life Speak (IVP, Oct.) by Sherill A. Knezel, with Parker J. Palmer, pairs excerpts from Palmer’s 1999 bestseller on connecting with one’s inner self with more than 70 inspirational images. The book is intended to help readers “explore and embrace both their own limits and their own potential as they listen to their inner voice and courageously follow its lead,” according to the publisher.

Carrying on the tradition

Publishers have no plans to reduce the number of devotionals coming out any time soon. At Crossway, chief publishing officer Don Jones notes, “We are continuing to invest in this important category and view it as a way to fulfill our mission to help individual Christians and the church grow in knowledge and understanding of the Christian life.”

Miller at Harvest House says devotionals are immune to market cycles because Christian readers are constantly searching for ways to bring spiritual enrichment and nourishment into their daily lives. “There will always be a base-level demand for devotionals that feed their hearts and minds so they can face the day with the peace and strength only God can give,” he explains. “Given the stressful effects a lengthy pandemic—and the aftermath—has had on people, we would expect demand for devotionals to remain strong.”

Despite cultural shifts and various content, format, and design options, Hosack at Brazos says, “the need for additional texts—beyond the Bible—to inspire and comfort the faithful remains the same. In an increasingly busy and hectic world, the devotional as a tool to pause and encourage prayer remains an ever-present balm for believers.”

Read more from our Religion and Spirituality feature:

Bibles that Broker Hope
Bible sales remain strong, and Christian publishers are offering new translations and editions to meet today’s needs.

Stars Add Power to Devotionals
Well-known figures such as Roma Downey, Tim Tebow, and Lysa TerKeurst are writing devotionals in order to reach audiences in new ways.