It's been years that I've been hounding one of my friends to keep a journal. I thought we'd made a break-through when she agreed on the terms that she could use post-its. "Absolutely! You can do whatever works for you!"
It was weeks, months that I'd pester about the progress she'd made on her journal. Finally, at one of our small group meetings, she glared at me from across the room when I'd asked again, sending an unequivocal kind of, "Drop-it-with-the-journal" look.
And I did.
I dedicate this post in her honor.
A journal is the place where we record how God is at work to reveal Himself to us. I happen to think it's one of the best things you can do to take your spiritual life deeper.
"Maybe nothing is more important than that we keep track, you and I, of these stories of who we are and where we have come from and the people we have met along the way because it is precisely through these stories in all their particularity. . .that God makes himself known to each of us most powerfully and personally."
-Beuchner, Telling Secrets
Here are five reasons I think you should keep a spiritual journal.
1. Picking up your pen as you read Scripture and pray forces you towards a greater clarity. There's something illuminating about the act of framing your reflections with words.
2. Writing as you read and pray helps you focus. (Coffee does that, too.)
3. Recording your spiritual journey is one of your most important spiritual protections. When we're in seasons of dryness or pain, looking back to specific accounts of God's faithfulness in our lives provides an anchor of hope.
4. Keeping prayer lists helps bring intentionality and depth to your prayer life.
5. Your journal can become your source of quiet accountability, a kind of gentle reminder that God's longing to spend time with you.
Have I been persuasive? I hope.
Now, onto ideas for your journal and how to organize it.
1. First, choose what kind of journal you'll buy.
Bound or loose-leaf? Lined or blank? Large or small? Hard or soft cover?
For the past several years, I've been a 3-ring binder girl with lined pages and subject dividers. I'm ditching that this year in favor of something smaller with a soft cover. But I'm sticking with lined pages. I'm just that kind of girl. And I'm kinda liking what I bought this year. It's a bound notebook (with a paper cover) that slips into a leather/canvas cover. I can buy refills of the notebooks and re-use the cover. Oooo, the compulsive organizer in me is imagining neatly lined rows of journals, all the exact shape and size!
I do like loose-leaf binders because you have the option for dividers, but I'll make do with tabbed dividers for my bound journal.
2. Next, choose a system for organizing. You'll want to divide your journal into sections.
I like a section for keeping notes on the Scriptures I'm reading. I sketch questions that emerge from the passage. As I mull over a verse or passage, I might sense fears or reluctance emerging. I write it down. Or, a verse of promise might stir in me hope. I write that down. I write down the conversation I'm having with God as His truth seeps into me.
Ruth Haley Barton, in Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership, suggests these journal prompts:
Celebrate my joys
Grieve my losses and disappointments
Feel my anger and frustrations
Attend to my loneliness
Sit with my questions
Confess my sins and shortcomings
I also like a section for recording prayer requests. For me, it seems to make the most sense to divide these up in terms of context: I have a section for family, for friends, for church, for missions, and for myself. Some of the important people in my life (my immediate family and a few close friends) get their own separate page. I like to trace out how God is moving me to pray for these people throughout various seasons. Also, I think it will be an incredible thing to give to my children, this record of the years of prayer on their behalf!
You might have sections for other books you're reading, quotes you want to remember, dreams you want to record.
3. Finally, include some prayer guides in your journal that will keep you rooted in how to pray each day. I suppose I'm in favor of a bit of routine. To be honest, having these helps you on the days when you don't know what to pray or simply don't feel like praying.
Here are some examples of different schedules you can use:
Keep a weekly schedule of how you'll pray through the different areas of your life. For example, I pray for the church on Sundays, family on Mondays, friends on Tuesday, small group on Wednesday, missions on Thursday, non-believers on Friday, and world affairs on Saturday.
Consider keeping a 30-day prayer schedule for your husband and your children. If you're not married or don't have children, write your own schedule that reflects your desires for your personal discipleship, your friendships, your career, your ministry. Over the years, I've developed my own schedule of prayer as I've pieced together ideas from a variety of different books. You're welcome to use mine and tweak them for the unique needs of your life and family. I printed and pasted these in my new journal just today, so because it's a bit smaller than a regular 8 1/2 x 11 page, I've given you both the regular-sized version I had been using with my 3-ring binder as well as the abridged version whose margins work for a smaller journal.
A Prayer for Smallness (I'll be keeping this before me for this next season of life.)
Ann Voskamp has some beautiful ideas for keeping journal-keeping. Check out the series of posts she did on journalling at www.aholyexperience.com.
If you have other ideas that have worked for you, share them! Thanks!