For the last several years, journaling has been a regular spiritual discipline in my relationship with God. It’s become an essential tool for sorting out my thoughts, processing major decisions and applying the Scriptures to my life with, at times brutal, honesty. But it wasn’t all that long ago that I thought the idea of journaling was unmanly at best and downright silly at worst. Maybe journaling worked for teenage girls but definitely not for grown men and certainly not for leaders!
Truth be told, I just didn’t know how to journal in a way that led to real spiritual growth. As I’ve been growing in this area, I’ve developed some habit and guidelines that have made my journaling richer and more transformative. If you’re thinking about journaling but not sure where to begin, they might be helpful to you as well.
1. Don’t Fear Trial And Error
The key is to develop a personal style that works for you – so a lot of learning to journal is going to be trial and error. Get started, experiment and see what works for you. Don’t be afraid to apply this principle to the frequency with which you journal, the length, the content, the format (notebook or computer app) and any other variable you can imagine. I’m not trying to offer you a recipe. I’m offering some suggestions.
2. Keep Communication With God Central
The only thing that is almost 100% consistent for me is that I write my entries as a letter to God. And, yes, that means I literally start with the salutation, “Father,” and then start in on the letter. I found this helped me turn journaling into a form of prayer. This simple format reminds me that what I really need is to communicate with my Father. I’ll often write very introspectively but always to God.
3. Use Scripture As A Guide
Before I write, I read. I will grab a passage of Scripture, many times just one psalm, and start reading it and looking for the verse that impacts me the most. I’ll then copy that verse to the top of my entry and allow the text to guide my letter. Yes, “impacting” is vague but deliberately so – it may be the verse that encourages, challenges or rebukes me the most. It may be a new insight. It may be an aspect of God’s character I haven’t considered in a while. What I’m really looking for is the thing that jumps off the page.
4. React To The Scripture That’s Guiding You
The reason I picked a particular verse will almost always dictate the form and content of my letter to God. If it’s a new insight, the entry will seem very much like a Bible study – picking the verse apart, linking it to other sections of the Scripture, thinking through applications, etc. If I’m rebuked by the text, then my letter often turns to confession. Add in gratitude, encouragement and a range of other reactions and the letter will start to write itself.
5. Include Specific Prayer Requests
I almost always ask God for something. But I try not to make that the dominant theme of my entries. I’m not organizing God’s To Do list for Him. I’m talking to my Father in response to His Word and the circumstances of my life. But I do love recording specific requests because I’m then able to record specific answers to those prayers in time.
6. Don’t Hold Anything Back
My biggest rule is to be brutally honest. I’ve always made the assumption that no one else will read my journal (or if they do, I’ll be dead already) so I don’t write in vague generalities – it’s the place to get everything out and be as specific, honest and vulnerable as I possibly can be. It’s often the things I least want to write that I most need to get out and work through with God.
Journaling isn’t about adding one more thing to your spiritual routine in the hopes of earning favor from God. The gospel frees us to think much differently – in Christ we are already loved and approved. Journaling is about having one more tool that enables us to connect with the God who has already lavished grace on us. If you start journaling, my prayer is that this simple tool will increase your affection for Jesus and your love for the gospel.