Journaling can be a means of grace to your soul. It could turn into a mere diary, a source of pride as you vent your secret thoughts for no purpose. But a Spiritual Journal is different, to be done to the glory of God it will not be a soap opera with you as the star. We are created to be purposeful, to be creative, to be in communion with our Creator, to be ever growing; journaling therefore can be creative, ought to be purposeful, and will bring us further into communion with our Creator as He grows us in grace and knowledge.
Spiritual journaling cannot be done apart from prayer and the Word; and comes alongside other Spiritual Disciplines such as study, contemplation, meditation, fasting, memorization, solitude, praise, and others I’m sure.
Why journal? Mainly to remember. We no longer raise ebenezers, because in our culture paper and ink are affordable. When God was speaking to Israel in her early years, words were etched with stylus on tablets of stone, and verbally repeated often enough to be written on the tablets of the hearts of listeners. Tablets were expensive, and literacy rates were low. In a culture such as ours, most people no longer repeat and memorize. Some often never even speak of spiritual things (to their own demise). Although American literacy rate is rather low, it is not so low that the Church should not pursue this. I generally pay $5 or less for a journal, and each journal lasts roughly a year. A very low price for embracing a means of grace.
So, we can journal to remember. One of Israel’s greatest, and most repeated sins, was forgetting God, forgetting the covenant, forgetting His works and words. As God would pursue His people, bringing them back, He would remind them how He never forgets His covenant. Journaling helps us remember.
The Word of God ought to be our delight. We must be a Word centered people, listening to God as He speaks through His Word. He alone has words of eternal life. Do we cling to them? Do we strive to ponder them, muse upon them, remember them, grow in knowledge? In the past few years many in mega churches have muddled this for us by driving us to be image centered. Words also seem cheap when we praise God with a chorus over and over and over and over and over (cue the fog machine) and over (dim the lights, set out candles) and over. Some fight this by turning to liturgy as a means of escaping trite words, and the need to express my own thoughts in prayer. Though He knows your heart, and your every thought, He longs for the communion of sharing. To use liturgy as a catalyst for prayer is beautiful; as a tool in the dark nights of your soul it can be enlightening and enlivening; but as an escape from using your own brain and heart it must be put down.
Journaling is a way of pressing on to maturity (Hebrews 6:1) as we embrace the truths of Scripture, and seek to know Him more. Journaling is a way to prepare our minds for action (1 Peter 1:13a) as we find connections throughout Scripture, seek meaning from the Spirit of Truth, and guard what He has entrusted to us. Journaling aids us in praying, that we would “keep sober in spirit for the sake of our prayers” (1 Peter 1:13b). Journaling slows you down, you are less likely to spin out of control as you order your thoughts, pray with intent, and are able to look back on prayers and passages and lessons learned. If you journal at times to focus on what is good, what is true, what is lovely, what is of good repute, what is beautiful, what is noble, what is excellent or worthy of praise, whatever is pure…(see Philippians 4), then the God of all peace will flood your soul and guard your thoughts. That journal entry (or entries) will be there to lead you in future prayers as anxiety fills your soul. Will you pursue being drunk or sober in spirit? So write about the day, the week, the struggle, the joy, the trial, the overcoming; write, and later look back to see what is truly going on in your ‘inner man’ by noting patterns or growth or decline. While being inwardly focused is ill advised, self examination has a place in our spiritual journey.
We journal too because we are lifelong learners. God has created you to be ever growing in grace and knowledge. So journal through things you are learning, or want to learn. Make lists. I still turn to my journal entry from 2001 when I listed out all the New Testament passages detailing instructions to the church in “one another” statements. I returned not too long ago to the entry from years ago detailing all the passages telling us to Seek God, and the promises in store for those who seek Him with all their being. I have written out questions, having them answered little by little over the course of a year’s reading. God says “come, let us reason together” and your journal is a great place to record this reasoning/questioning/seeking. I have written out prayers; and re-read them years later realizing all that God has done in and for me since. I have written out all the particular verses on a topic, and enjoyed re-reading later. We forget, but writing helps us remember. It makes our brains more attentive in the moment; and draws our whole being deeper into intimacy with our God.
To sum, journaling will help you:
To pray, while remaining ‘sober in spirit’
To ponder, muse upon, and contemplate Scriptures; allowing them to seep down into your soul
To meditate on passages, to write out passages for memorization.
To make note of things you want to study or have questions about
To confess your sins, crucify the flesh, and learn about your struggles; and later to celebrate growth
To look back–reading later about God’s goodness that you recorded.
To remember. His words, His works. To remember who God is as revealed in His Word, what He has made clear and plain in your times of study, what He has taught in His Word by His Spirit, who He says you are, your own calling, the greatness of His grace and Sovereignty, the beauty of His works in creation and redemption…
Be wary of anyone who says they have the one way of journaling. There are many sure “do nots” but much freedom in how you journal. Do not lie, or write in such a way that you are pleasing men. Do not wonder how to dress up your journal for others. This is between you and the LORD. And yes, perhaps someone will it when you have made it to the Celestial City. Will your children or other future readers be encouraged by your prayers, your thoughts, your confessions and repentance, your favorite passages, quotes from your favorite authors (mine has a lot of small quotes here and there), declarations of God’s glory, meditations on His work in your life, etc? Do not write solely for your posthumous readers, but seek to glorify God in your writing. The more you journal for the glory of God, the less likely you are vent your anger, or cling to bitterness, or puff up in pride. Writing helps put things in perspective, if you slow down, seek Him first, and seek to be renewed in the spirit of your mind. There is not much “how to” other than buy a journal, perhaps a special pen (and any other writing implements you enjoy), and begin. Date each entry. There have been seasons in which I journal daily, and seasons in which mothering small children has made that impossible, and seasons in which spiritual dryness has changed my writing, but journaling is indeed a discipline that has helped me persevere.
This from Donald Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress), 1991.
“While reading makes a full man, and dialogue a ready man, according to Francis Bacon, writing makes an exact man. I’ve discovered that if I write down the meditations of my quiet time with the Lord, those impressions stay with me much longer. Without journaling, by day’s end I usually can remember little…” (page 213).
“How did men like Edwards and Whitefield become so unusually conformed to the image of Christ? Part of their secret was their use of the Spiritual Discipline of journaling to maintain self-accountability for their spiritual goals and priorities. Before we give reasons why we cannot be the kind of disciples they were, let us try doing what they did.” (page 215).