The Spiritual Disciplines: Journaling
August 19, 2014
by Peter Amsterdam
The Spiritual Disciplines: Journaling
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Do you regularly stop and reflect on your relationship with God? Are there times when you evaluate how you are progressing in your spiritual life, its vitality and robustness, and how you are growing as a disciple of Jesus? Do you think about what the Lord showed you or spoke to you about in past months, and can you tell whether you have responded to His instruction to you? Do you have a record of the prayers He has answered?
Most of us have fairly short memories, as today’s events are added to the plethora of yesterday’s and yesteryear’s memories, which progressively recede into the recesses of our mind. It becomes increasingly difficult to recall anything more than major events as the weeks, months, and years pass. A written record can help make it possible to recall the journey of your life in a meaningful way.
When we have committed to grow in our spiritual lives, to become more Christlike, and to grow in godliness, journaling is a helpful discipline. It aids us in keeping track of the important details of our spiritual life and growth and how our relationship with the Lord is developing. Like all the Spiritual Disciplines, journaling takes commitment and time to do it properly, but it’s worthwhile, since it can enhance the effectiveness of some of the other disciplines you may have committed to.
What Is Journaling?
Journaling in the context of a Spiritual Discipline is keeping a record of the interaction between you and God. It can include your prayers, prayer requests, questions, and His answers. You may want to write your thoughts and insights about the scriptures you’ve been reading, or what you are learning through reading and study or experience. You can include what the Lord has been speaking to you about. You can record the small things, the tokens of His love shown to you throughout the day or week. You can record your devotional musings. It’s a good place to chart your progress in any of the Spiritual Disciplines you are engaged in, or any spiritual goals you are aiming to achieve, as this written account can help to hold you accountable to the goals you’ve set for yourself. It helps you to see where you are going with God and provides a record of your journey with Him, how He’s been leading in your life, and how you’ve grown.
A spiritual journal isn’t the same as a diary of the events of your day, though it may include descriptions of some events. Its focus is more internal, regarding what you are experiencing in your spiritual life; what you are learning from your interaction with God, His Word, and the application of Scripture. It’s a means to not just record, but to give deeper thought to how the Lord is working in your life. It’s a place to express your reflections on your experiences, how you feel about them, how you interpret them, how you respond to them, their effect on you, and what you are learning through them. It’s a place to express any questions you have about why various things are happening to you or others. It’s an opportunity to record the events of your journey with God, to see His hand in your life and how He is using you in His kingdom.
So often we struggle to deal with the events of our lives or those of our loved ones and find ourselves questioning why the Lord isn’t providing answers or solutions. It may be quite some time in the future before those issues are resolved, so when they are, you may not even notice. However, if you have written your thoughts and questions in your journal, you are more likely to recognize how God did, in fact, take care of the situations that were troubling you.
Journal writing is a sharing between our true selves and the God of Truth. In journaling, we come to know ourselves as we really are and feel the acceptance of the One who loves us no matter what. Journaling becomes a spiritual discipline when we use pen and paper to strengthen our faith in God … Journaling can be a significant tool in deepening our spiritual lives because by its nature it leads us to further revelation of who we are and who God is in our lives.
Benefits of Journaling
One key benefit of journaling as a discipline is that it motivates you to regularly take time to step back from the busyness of your daily life, in order to enter into God’s presence. It requires you to take stock of what you’ve experienced and put it into perspective. Making time to not just live life, but to think about it within the context of your relationship to God and your faith, is a means of gaining deeper understanding of your experiences and reactions, and of processing what the Lord is doing in your life.
Journaling provides a record for your spiritual thoughts and realizations, which makes it possible for you to see your experiences from a distance and learn from them, rather than only reacting to them at the moment. This helps to clarify your thoughts and feelings.
Journaling about what you have experienced and the things you have learned brings greater awareness of God’s presence and what He’s been teaching you over time. It also acts as a reminder of what God has spoken to you about in the past, of times when He has given you direction, has come through for you, has given you answers, and has worked out difficult situations. Such a record can renew your faith that He will do the same now and in the future.
The journaling I’ve done has been especially helpful to me in seeing God’s presence in my life. I so easily forget the prayers answered, the times when God has solved problems I was facing. Going back and reading my journal reminds me how real God is and how He cares about me and is involved in my life.
When we regularly write entries into a journal, noting our reactions to the things we experience, it can cause us to more thoroughly examine our inner selves, to let the Holy Spirit show us areas in which we may be sinning or that need strengthening. Through journaling, we can notice patterns which would otherwise go unnoticed. Looking back on what you’ve written three, six, or twelve months earlier allows you to look more objectively at past events, making it easier to identify goals reached and progress made in a particular area, as well as helping you recognize areas you may want to focus on. It can propel you to make targeted progress in your walk with God.
Journals are a good place to write about Scripture passages you have read and are meditating on. This helps to crystalize your thoughts as well as record them, which enhances the effectiveness of the spiritual input you read and study. Journaling while reading can also put you in an attitude of expectation and receptivity, a prime position to receive the message, instruction, or lesson that God may want to speak to you about.
A journal is a place where you can talk with the Lord, where you can be honest with God and yourself. It’s a place where you can pour out your heart, share your fears, frustrations, uncertainties, and heartaches, as well as your victories, goals, and prayers—the whole range of your emotions and thoughts. It’s a means of communicating these things to God “in the heat of the moment,” and it allows you to revisit issues as needed in order to think more deeply about them and learn from them.
Journaling allows you to record the specific prayers God has answered, which are so easily forgotten when no record is kept. He answers so many prayers throughout our lives, yet we often remember so few by comparison. Being able to review the wonderful things God has done in answer to your prayers over the years can bring about gratefulness and awe, and is a beautiful account of His presence in your life. It can bring increased faith to come before Him again and again in time of need.
Including your spiritual goals in your journal and reviewing them regularly will help you to monitor your progress toward reaching them. It can remind you of those things you have committed to do in order to become more Christlike. It can help you with self-accountability for your spiritual goals and priorities.
Here is one person’s account of the personal benefits of journaling:
At first it was difficult. I felt self-conscious. I was worried that I would lose the journal or that someone might peek inside to see what I’d said, but slowly the self-consciousness began to fade, andI found myself sharing in the journal more and more of the thoughts that flooded my inner spirit. Into the journal went words describing my feelings, my fear and sense of weakness, my hopes, and mydiscoveries about where Christ was leading me. When I felt empty or defeated, I talked about that too in the journal. Slowly I began to realize thatthe journal was helping me come to grips with an enormous part of my inner personthatI had never been fully honest about. No longer could fears and struggles remain inside without definition. They were surfaced and confronted…
Ways to Journal
The best way to journal is the way that works for you. Some people like to have a hardback book with blank or lined pages; others a spiral notebook; some prefer loose sheets of ring-binder paper which they can easily carry with them and then insert into a binder at the end of the day. Many prefer to keep their journal on their computer or portable device, perhaps with the possibility of printing pages out later to insert the pages into a binder. You may choose to use a variety of methods, depending on your circumstances. Some who use electronic devices throughout the day prefer to write their journal by hand, as that facilitates their disconnecting from the world in order to connect with the Lord.
Some people journal every day, others every few days, others once a week. There is no set amount of writing necessary in journaling. However, if you have started to journal but have found yourself slacking off, or you know you have tendencies to procrastinate, you might consider a commitment to write at least one sentence a day. If you do, chances are that sentence will lead to another and you’ll find yourself writing a paragraph or two.
Your journal is yours. It’s meant to be a safe and private place for you to communicate with yourself and God without worrying about what someone else might think of your thoughts and feelings. It’s a place where you can write what’s in your heart and mind, what’s real and true. You can be honest with yourself and the Lord, without being afraid to write what you’re truly feeling or thinking, your fears, concerns, or worries. It can help you, and free you, to get these things on paper before the Lord, knowing that He loves you.
As with the other Spiritual Disciplines, to benefit from journaling over the long term requires commitment to not give up when the novelty wears off, as it will. Those who stick with it are rewarded with its benefits. Many people who journal attest that it has helped them to develop an additional means of communicating with the Lord, gain deeper insight about themselves, grow spiritually, and strengthen their relationship with God.
Unless otherwise indicated, all scriptures are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
 Points for this article were inspired by the writings of Donald S. Whitney, in Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life (Colorado Springs: Navpress, 1991).
 Ann Broyles, Journaling: A Spirit Journey (Nashville, TN: Upper Room Publishers, 1995), 11.
 Gordon MacDonald,Ordering Your Private World (Thomas Nelson: New York, 2007), 131.