Life tends to move at a sprint. Each day, the demands of work, family, and friends come thick and fast, creating a constant juggle of competing expectations. Sometimes, I get to the end of a week and feel like I don’t even know what happened. Rather than being proactive, I was simply reacting to the busyness of my schedule.
Counterintuitively, I’ve found that adding one more thing to my schedule is the best way to manage the sprint and create space for God to speak. Journaling enables me to prioritize, seek God, and re-order my life so that I’m are focused on doing the right things, not every thing. Journaling has helped me to consciously reflect on the past and deliberately choose my future. I think it can help you too.
Journaling as a tool for reflection
Proverbs 14:8 says “The wisdom of the prudent is to give thought to their ways, but the folly of fools is deception.” Proverbs 14:15 and 22:19 have similar themes. Journaling is an intentional means of giving “thought to my ways”.
Journaling engages your body in the process of thinking. It’s a way to get your hands and your eyes involved in your thought life. Journaling allows you to re-read your thoughts and to organize a rush of emotions into words on a page.
When I journal, I intentionally transition out of “doing” mode and into “reflecting” mode. I cast my thoughts backwards, rather than forwards, and I weigh what has happened over the past day, week, or month. This grounds me in reality and forces me to confront situations that I’d pushed to the back of my mind. For times when I’ve sinned, journaling can lead me to repentance. For times where I’ve had victory at work or in a relationship, journaling can lead me to thanksgiving. At other times, it brings me back to my core purpose and calling in God, helping me to re-prioritize and re-focus on the things God has called me to. It culls the distractions and focuses my life.
Journaling as a tool for prayer
These times of journal-based reflection often cause me to eagerly seek God and ask him to intercede. But this doesn’t have to be the moment that you put down your journal! Writing out your prayers in your journal can be powerful. Written prayers provide a record of the things you’re praying for. If you go back and re-read a section of your journal, it’ll provide an opportunity to see the ways that God has answered your prayer. For 1 John 5:15-15 says “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us – whatever we ask – we know that we have what we asked of him.”
Frequently, God answers our prayers but we don’t realize it because we forgot what we prayed for! But if you make a habit of writing out your prayers, you’ll have a record of answered prayers sprinkled throughout your journal. Your journal will become a testament to his faithfulness.
Journaling as a tool for listening
This is probably a more surprising use of journaling, but I encourage you to try listening prayer using a journal. Listening prayer involves being still before the Lord and asking him to speak to you. As you listen, write out the thoughts that are entering your mind. When they are written down, reread what you wrote as a way of seeing which of the words are your own thoughts and which are from the Lord. If you aren’t sure, ask God to show you which are his words and remember that his words will never contradict Scripture! When I’ve figured out which words are from him, I’ll respond to what he said by journaling a prayer response. This can initiate a conversation with God, recorded in your journal.
For some of you, this may seem like a crazy idea, but this practice gives you an opportunity to really learn what the voice of God sounds like. I’ve found it to be a really powerful way to practice hearing from him.
Below I’ve listed out some practical tips for journaling. These are the ones that work best for me but as you build the habit, you will identify other methods that work even better for you.
Be consistent – to get the most out of journaling, try to journal at least once a week (preferably every couple of days). To strengthen the habit, it can help to journal at the same time and the same place each time. This creates a rhythm that helps to grow the habit. I typically journal in the morning as a part of my quiet time. Not only does it create a routine that’s easier to keep, it also results in a journal that more accurately reflects what’s going on in life, since it won’t have large time gaps without any entries.
Make it fun – journaling can feel like a bit of a chore if you are trying to do it frequently. To counter that feeling, establish patterns around journaling that you enjoy. For example, drink coffee, sit in your favorite comfy chair, and turn on some chill music. This can go a long way towards creating positive associations around journaling.
Use a template – sometimes, it can be difficult to know what to write. When I’ve struggled with this, I’ve often based my journal entry around a list of questions. Here are a couple of the ones I’ve used in the past:
- What is one thing that I deeply desire right now? Is it of God or of the world?
- How is God glorified through my work today? Or am I glorifying myself instead?
- What is one thing I’m grateful for today?
- What is the most recent moment that sin manifested itself in my life? Is it part of a larger pattern?
- Which of the eight core feelings (hurt, lonely, sad, angry, fear, shame, guilt, glad) most closely captures how I feel right now? Why is that what I’m feeling?
- What is a lesson I’ve learned this week?
- What is something I’m praying for this week?
Pick a medium that works for you – I’ve journaled on paper journals and using computer programs. There are pros and cons to each, so just pick the one that works for you. For reference, I currently use OneNote for my journaling. I like it because I can type quickly, so I’m able to write more, and I can journal using my computer or phone. It also enables me to word-search through my journal.
Re-read your journal – this is important. Although the writing part of journaling is great, periodically going back and re-reading journal entries takes it to another level. I recommend re-reading the previous month’s entries at the start of each month. If you’re feeling ambitious, you can also re-read a previous year’s worth of entries at the start of a new year. Looking back at what God has done in your life can help you look forward to what God can and will do.