“If a man write little, he had need have a great memory.” -Francis Bacon
In my English Comp class during my freshman year of college, our professor had us start every class with a writing exercise. She would write a prompt on the board, and we had to spend 10 minutes just writing on that subject.
One prompt I distinctly remember to this day because it resonated with how I process information: “I don’t know what I think until I write it down” (Joan Didion). This is me! I’m not an external processor and do much better if I can think about it (process it on paper) before talking about it with another person. So journaling is right up my alley.
But even if you’re not a writer or internal processor, journaling is a helpful spiritual discipline because it enables you to remember what God has done or taught you since you have a written record of it that you can look back on. It also me to process what God is teaching me and to meditate on what I study God’s Word - so I don’t just forget what I read as soon as I close the book!
Another component that can be incorporated into journaling is identifying and monitoring spiritual goals. For example, memorizing Scripture is an area that I need and want to grow in, so in my journal, I wrote down what I plan to memorize and a time frame for when I want to memorize it. While I may not keep to the exact plan, it at least gives me a goal to work towards and a place to keep track of my progress towards that goal. I see and reminded to do it whenever I open my journal.
This may seem overwhelming, but keep in mind that the point of this discipline (and really any spiritual discipline) is to aid you in becoming more like Jesus.
Last night at small group as we were discussing the discipline of prayer, one of my girls asked if it was okay to pray “negative” prayers in that you’re questioning God or are expressing your anger or frustration about a situation. And if you look at Psalms, the answer is yes!
The same goes for journaling. What you write does not have to be tied up in a neat theological bow (or even written in complete sentences). In Psalm 62:8, the psalmist urges believers to “pour out your heart before him,” and pouring out your heart to God means that you’re raw, honest, and authentic, which may or may not be theologically accurate or be all put together.
There are often times that I journal my prayers to God - expressing my feelings about a particular person or circumstance, and it’s in writing them down that I realize how wrong those feelings are. It might be that I see the sin in my own heart, or maybe I recognize that what I wrote doesn’t line up with what the Bible teaches. But the verbal vomit onto paper helps me to examine the contents of said vomit. As Donald Whitney states in Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, “By slowing down and prompting us to think more deeply about God, journaling helps us feel more deeply (and biblically) about God. It provides an opportunity for the intangible grays of mindwork and heartwork to distill clearly into black and white.”
Journaling is not keeping a diary!
For me, diaries evoke images of being in middle school and high school with bad hair, 90s fashion, and big glasses, pouring out my teenage angst every day onto paper. (I heard one father say that it would be much easier to relive a day with his teenage daughter than to hear her tell about it…)
When we talk about journaling as a spiritual discipline, that’s not exactly what is being discussed. A spiritual journal is not necessarily a record of everything you did or said that day. Instead, it’s a way to record how God is working and what He is teaching you and can include prayers, insights into Scripture, praises, theological musings, etc.
It’s not “Dear Diary, sorry I haven’t written in a while. Here’s everything that’s happened since my last entry” type of thing. You might journal about things that have happened in the day/week, but it’s more about responding to such things and you interpreting them from a spiritual perspective.
I’ve been keeping a “Quiet Time Journal” at least since 10th grade and am still using the same type of Mead 3-section notebook (which I now have to order off of Amazon since I can’t find them in the stores anymore). I like having it divided into sections because my Type A brain can have one section for processing what I’m studying in the Bible, one section for my prayers, and one miscellaneous section that has everything from notes on things I talk about with the girls I disciple to a praise/thanksgiving list to goals (things I want to grow in and change) to reflections on things that stick out to me from a conference or sermon or book. For example, God did a lot of convicting me about work, rest, escapism, and recreation back in January as I was listening to a sermon series on the subject, so part of this section was a combo of sermon notes and me thinking through application.
This is just an example of what it looks like for me. Bottom line: find a system that works for you. There’s no right method to journaling. What it looks like will differ for each person and personality type. How you think and process information, your learning style - all of this will affect what helps you to evaluate yourself, to better understand God and His Word, to express what you think and feel to God, and to remember how God has and is working in your life.
If you want to know more specifically about journaling Scripture, click on this link for a handout from our June 2013 Women’s Gathering on journaling Scripture. Other helpful links include: