WHY TRY JOURNALING?
If you want to strengthen your friendship with God, here’s an idea: Try journaling. Last weekend as part of our…
If you want to strengthen your friendship with God, here’s an idea: Try journaling.
Last weekend as part of our SCHOOLED series at Mountain I talked about the importance of nurturing a close connection with God. Jesus calls it “abiding” – remaining in him, knit together at a soul level (John 15). Here is a 15 second clip. For the entire message watch here.
Journaling isn’t commanded in scripture, but a bunch of the Psalms read like David’s journal, giving windows into his personal spiritual journey with God. Jeremiah’s feelings about the fall of Jerusalem are recorded in his journal, a book of the Bible we call Lamentations.
It’s no coincidence that the root of the word journal is the same as the word journey. For centuries disciples have found tremendous value in journaling their journey with God. Here are some of their, and my own reasons for its value.
- My journal works like a mirror. Peering into what I write helps me see myself more clearly. I need this self-sight in order to grow.
As Donald Whitney says, “The simple discipline of recording the events of the day and noting my reactions to them causes me to examine myself much more thoroughly than I would otherwise.”
John Calvin wrote in his Institutes: “Without knowledge of self, there is no knowledge of God.” My journal forces greater objectivity and gives the Holy Spirit a way to show me areas of sin or weakness, the emptiness of a path I’ve chosen, and insight into my motives. It’s also a place to unburden myself to the Lord. Sometimes I am not aware how much junk there is until I see it on the page. I look at the pile of stuff and realize, “Wow, no wonder I’m so cranky.” Then I can begin surrendering junk to the Lord. But without the journal, I often just power through, holding the burdens inside.
When I find myself bumbling through external life but paying little attention to the progress or decline of my inner life, I need the help of my journal. It helps us observe patterns, noting where we have made progress or slid back.
The journal begins in my hands, pen on paper. But it becomes a mirror in the hands of Jesus to reveal His perspective on my life, attitudes, words, and actions.
- My journal helps me express thoughts and feelings to the Lord. Sometimes one of my kids and I get into it. In the heat of the moment, my offspring gets upset and sometimes it’s just hard to say what is going on or why things feel so terrible. But often I will later receive a note from that child of mine. It clearly lays out what is going on, the feelings felt, with a clarity and focus that were absent when we were face to face. The relationship moves forward. We journal before God for the same reason, expressing what is often muddled in the moment.
- My journal helps me remember what God has done. Without a written record I would forget so many answered prayers along the way. I would overlook so many ways God showed up to encourage and help. Some days I think the sky is falling. I list all my gripes and fears, sorrows and sadness, sure the world is coming to an end. Reading it later is a beautiful reminder of how God helped, and guided me through. Psalm 77:11 says, “I will remember the deeds of the Lord.” A journal helps me do that.
- My journal helps me get clarity on what Jesus is saying to me. Francis Bacon said reading makes a full person, dialogue makes a ready person, but writing makes an exact person. We need to read and talk. But writing forces a precision I desperately need. Writing things down forces me to figure out what in fact I really do think. What do I really feel about this? I seem to have a terrible time identifying emotions sometimes. But my journal allows honesty and exploration that meanders to the truth. All I know to tell you is that the more clear I am in journaling the more clear my impressions are from Jesus.
- My journal helps me set and track spiritual goals and priorities. There on the page I can track my lifelong spiritual priorities. Jonathan Edwards, one of history’s greatest theologians, evaluated his conduct daily in his journal. The world traveling preacher George Whitefield had a very broad influence. But he was as deep as he was wide, largely because of his journaling in which is asked himself 15 questions every day, such as “have I been fervent in prayer? After any pleasure, did I immediately give thanks? Was I meek, cheerful, and pleasant in everything I said or did today? Have I confessed all my sins?”
The truth is I’m not a good journaler. I’m sporadic at best. I’ve gone long seasons without touching it. I’ve determined not to be legalistic about it. I’m encouraged that there is really not a right or wrong way to go about it – as long as it is producing results for your personal journey with God.
My friend Erin McDade is what I call a faithful, regular sort of journaler. I occasionally journal and appreciate its benefits. For her it’s one of her major lifelines to Jesus.
I wanted to encourage you to try journaling, or to renew your commitment to it. So, to close out this post, I asked Erin to share some things about how journaling has been helpful in her own journey. I hope it encourages you to type or draw or jot some things that draw you nearer to Jesus.
Wife, pastor’s wife, mom of two young kids, paid church staff, mentor, friend, neighbor, board member…there are many roles that occupy my time and energy in life. All too often it’s easy to focus on the to-dos associated with each. I started journaling years ago as a way to remember that which stood out in each day and process some of the emotions attached with each new experience. Over the years, these entries have morphed more into a collection of prayers, bringing me back to who I am rather than what I do.
There’s no secret formula to how I journal—I’ve found that God supplies the words. With pen and paper in hand, I just write that which comes to mind in the moment. “Lord, I’m tired.” “Today I feel like I’m failing as a parent.” Father, my heart is heavy for ________.”
There is such a sense of freedom that increases with each word—freedom to be brutally honest about how I’m struggling, where I’m stuck in life, unmet expectations, and so on. Like David in so many of his written psalms, almost always my journal entries end in praise. Something profoundly transformative happens when I connect with God through journaling—no matter what reality I pour out to him, the greater (truer) reality that He alone is Lord and that His immense love and care for me is enough always seems to triumph.
18 years since I started journaling and this is still the message he supplies! In his grace, he takes whatever I bring him through my writing and transforms me through it!