Keeping a journal sounds like a daunting, time consuming, impossible commitment sometimes. What’s all the fuss about journaling about, anyway?
Often, we don’t know what we think until we write it down. I realize that may not be the case for everyone, but I’m confident it is for the majority of us (it is for John Piper). Ideas and thoughts get jumbled in our heads quickly and easily. Thoughts that remain free-floating through our minds, never taking any concrete form, are likely to find themselves tangled up with all the other thoughts that we left free-floating through our minds.
There is something about writing it down and visualizing it that makes it real to us. In his preface to the Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin wrote, “I count myself to be among those who write as they learn and learn as they write.”
It is when I am journaling that I often realize where I have been selfish, or proud, or unwise with my time, or any number of sins. It can be a very convicting experience in all the best ways. Writing things down helps us understand our inner lives more clearly and rationally.
Journaling is a good tool to help us steward the lessons that the Holy Spirit has taught and is teaching us. It’s a tragic thing for the Lord to show us something sweet in our time with Him one day and not be able to remember what it was the next day. Often, physically writing something down is a good way to ensure we remember it, if not the only way. Don’t waste the things that God reveals to you through His Spirit.
Psalm 105:5 implores us to remember the wondrous works that God has done. We are to keep track of the goodness of the Lord in our lives. There have been many times in my life that keeping a journal has allowed me to track gifts and graces from God that I did not even notice or see clearly for what they were when they happened.
I’m a verbal processor. It’s easy for me to get caught up ranting about something going on in my life before I have even processed what’s going on. When I do this instead of writing it down, it is likely to become nothing more than complaints and gossip. When I write these things in a journal, ranting turns to prayer. Often without realizing it, burdens are offered up to the Lord who has told us to cast those burdens on Him, because He cares for us (1 Peter 5:7).
The Posture of Journaling
Journals are a tool of remembering. In Psalm 77:5-6, Asaph displays a desire and commitment to remembering the work of the Lord that ought to inspire us to do the same through whatever means we are able. He says, “I consider the days of old, the years long ago. I said, ‘Let me remember my song in the night; let me meditate in my heart.’” And he continues in verses 11-13, “I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember Your wonders of old. I will ponder all Your work, and meditate on Your mighty deeds. Your way, O God, is holy. What god is great like our God?”
We should journal from the posture of Asaph — in recognition of God’s holiness, out of a desire to meditate on the deeds of the Lord, remember His wonders, and ponder His work. We have an opportunity to remember, meditate on, and ponder what the Lord is doing in us in addition to what we read He did in Scripture.
How do I journal?
There is no one-size-fits-all objective “best way to journal.” The posture, the why is what really matters. The how is less important. You could journal in an old fashioned notebook, or on a document on your computer, or on a collection of sticky notes. You could try to write down something God taught you every day for a year, or you could recount a few months of lessons in a couple of pages every so often. You could journal through art across your notebook’s pages that capture memories. You could journal through bullet points once a week. How you do it is irrelevant if you are striving to reflect on the goodness of the Lord in your life.
My personal goal when I started keeping a journal several years ago was not to document every day of my life or write an emotional treatise every time I sat down; it was simply to write something down once a week. It gradually grew to become more frequent, but it did not have to. There is a great benefit in writing down a single Bible verse that we can dwell on once a week with a sentence of our thoughts on it. Sometimes my journal entries are as brief as that.
Ultimately, journaling is a tool. You may choose to take advantage of it or you may not. If you do, it’s my prayer that it leads you to pause occasionally and remember, meditate on, and ponder God’s grace and work in your life. Turn your reflections into prayers that praise the Father who walks with His children through every moment and season of life.