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Keeping a journal can be one of the most helpful spiritual disciplines a Christian can undertake. By journaling I mean not just writing down events that occur in your daily routine like a diary, but recording your insights, reflections and observations of what God is doing in you and through you to sanctify you and bring Himself glory. This discipline of writing or typing out your personal meditations and reflections for preservation and consideration will help you no matter where you are in your Christian life, whether you were saved last week or have been saved for forty years.
Check Your Motivation
Whether you ultimately decide to ever journal or not, there is one crucial thing to understand about spiritual disciplines. You will have no success in spiritual disciplines if you consider them to be something you just do. Avoid becoming deluded into thinking that if you perform disciplines consistently that you will increase in spiritual formation and thus, sanctification. Sanctification is a supernatural and internal work imposed on us by the Spirit and does not emanate from within us by what we do (Philippians 2:13). Being completely dominated by your own thoughts in a journal will not sanctify you, for that is just spiritual navel-gazing. To be like Jesus should be the motivation to start any spiritual discipline, including journal keeping.
Although to some, journaling may seem dauntingly time-consuming, boring, or simply unnecessary, I have found several excellent reasons to begin the discipline of keeping a journal as I walk with Christ.
Journal to Pay Attention to the Beauty of God’s Work in your Life
21 Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of man! 22 And let them offer sacrifices of thanksgiving, and tell of his deeds in songs of joy!
How has God been faithful to you recently? Have you been paying attention to His goodness through answered prayer? Journaling reminds us to rehearse God’s wonderful works to the lost world and believers around us. Whether through sin or spiritual triumphs, keeping track of God’s consistent faithfulness has a way of enabling you to look back and give all the praise to God as He transforms you through the good and difficult times (Psalm 145:3; Romans 8:28).
Be careful though not to spend hours “dumpster-diving” into your soul. Journaling is not supposed to be an opportunity to wallow in self-pity and focus only on your problems. Instead, focus on truths about God found on the pages of Scripture.
Journal to Grow in Thankfulness
Journaling can help to cultivate an attitude of gratitude. Do you find yourself grumbling and complaining? Journaling could encourage you to be disciplined in growing out of your grumbling and complaining spirit. By keeping track of the blessings that God has given you over the years and right now, a true sense and belief in God’s faithfulness will bring great joy and delight. There’s a huge difference between feeling “lucky” for your good fortune and blessings and realizing that “every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights” (James 1:17). Try writing down five things you are thankful for every day and watch how God uses that discipline.
Journal to Model Scripture
The prophet Jeremiah in Lamentations and David in the Psalms consistently write heartfelt pleas to the Lord, just as you would find a Christian today typing or writing in his or her journal. Of course the critical difference is that no one today writes anything God-inspired like the biblical writers. Yet we can learn so much from the examples of the divinely inspired writers by their prayers, meditations and questions. They supply us with examples of how to express our thoughts to God.
Please understand that journaling is in no way an attempt to add any kind of new revelation from God. Journaling is for the follower of Christ to keep track of thoughts, response to verses, prayer requests and the marking of personal growth. We already heard from God and all that He wants us to know of Him is found in the Bible. Beware of popular books that encourage people to believe that “Jesus Himself can speak” through the journaling experience.
Journal to Learn
Journaling aids in self-understanding and evaluation. You will be able to look at yourself with more clarity as you read your journal. A journal can act like a mirror, a capturing a realistic portrait of your mind and heart. It’s a valuable way to organized ones thought in the midst of many distractions and business of everyday life. The discipline of journaling should force you to meditate, aiding in the internalizing of Scripture (Joshua 1:8; Psalm 1).
Journal to Begin and Preserve a Spiritual Heritage
Journaling is an effective way of teaching things to our children and transmitting our faith into the future. Being open in your personal journal about spiritual highs and lows now could encourage future generations to serve God when life gets rough or difficult for them. How sweet would it be if we all had a journal from our grandparents, detailing how grandpa and grandma prayed during severe trials. Never underestimate the power of a written record of faith acting as a spiritual time capsule. It might be 5, 10, or 50 years down the road, but the spiritual impact could last eternity.
Journal to Articulate Thoughts
Have you ever wanted to say something but you just couldn’t get the wording right? Thoughts have a way of disentangling themselves when they move past your lips to your fingertips. Clarity in life often will come as you write thoughts out. Over the last two years at the Master’s Seminary, I have heard John MacArthur say from the pulpit that he does not prefer live, formal debates with those who hotly contest him. MacArthur knows that debating tends to get emotional, and that writing is the clearest and most definitive way to communicate. There is something to learn from that wisdom!
Don’t be surprised if you find that writing in a journal turns out to be of immeasurable value in helping you to sort through the joys, difficulties, problems, triumphs, and perplexities of your Christian walk. It is likely to help you draw closer to God, enjoy peace in stressful times, and focus more on eternity than the here-and-now. Once you find a way to journal that feeds your relationship with God, stick with it and share your ideas with others!