Journaling can be a powerful tool for spiritual growth. Yet many Christians never consider it as worth their time or effort.
Keeping a journal is not essential to a vibrant Christian life. The Bible doesn’t talk about it. Jesus didn’t journal (to our knowledge). And yet, many of the men and women whom we consider “heroes of the faith” kept a journal. It can be a valuable spiritual discipline.
How Journaling Feeds Spiritual Growth
My journals have played a significant role in my own spiritual growth. While being a writer makes journal-keeping something I naturally enjoy, the benefits to me go far beyond the joy of writing.
Journaling Helps Me Remember
Very practically, writing things down helps me to remember them. I have a terrible memory. When I copy a passage of Scripture, I’m reading it over and over again – first in my Bible, then in my journal as I’m writing it down. It becomes more deeply ingrained in my memory bank than it would be with just one reading. The same is true for lessons I learn through my studies. Writing them down helps me to remember them and to think about them throughout the days ahead.
Journaling Improves My Communication Skills
The act of writing things down helps me to more clearly communicate them to others. It’s very rare for me to share a spiritual insight with someone that I haven’t first written in my journal at some point.
Journaling Is Like a Mini-Retreat for My Soul & Mind
It forces me to slow down. To be still. To stop. There’s so much going on in life, in the world, even in my own mind. Taking the time to write in my journal helps me to quiet my mind enough to formulate clear thoughts, to really think about what God is saying to me through His Word, to reflect on how He’s answering prayer. It’s like a mini-retreat for my soul.
Journaling Deepens My Prayers
When I journal my prayers, I find I pray with more intention. I pray about things I don’t normally think about. And I remember my prayers and take more notice when God answers them.
Journaling Cultivates A Heart of Worship & Gratitude
Worship, praise, and thankfulness are a natural result of my journaling. Recording what God has done, how He has answered prayer, what He’s shown me through His Word… these all cause me to respond to Him in gratitude.
Journaling Encourages Me In Difficult Circumstances
Referring back to what I’ve recorded is a delightful exercise and can be a powerful encouragement during tough times. This kind of journaling reminds me of God’s faithfulness and goodness when my circumstances distract me from the Truth of who He is.
Journaling Reminds Me of the Gospel
Many of the Psalms read like a journal entry. Honest lament, heartfelt pleading, earnest confession, enthusiastic praise… the Psalms have it all. What I love about them is how they almost always end with hope. The Psalmist writes openly, expressing real emotion, but reminding himself of Truth with intention.
Journaling helps me preach the Gospel to myself. I express myself freely, but I always want to end with the Truth about who God is and what He’s done.
Journaling Enhances My Bible Reading & Study
The discipline of daily writing in my journal what I’m learning from God’s Word enhances my Bible reading and study. I read with greater diligence, actively seeking the Truth I can apply to my life that day. Even the simple act of writing out a passage of Scripture opens my eyes to Truth that often escapes my notice on a quick read.
I like how David Mathis puts it:
“…[As] we journal, we’re able to disentangle our thoughts, draw out our emotions, and dream about new endeavors. The discipline of writing facilitates careful thinking, catalyzes deep feeling, and inspires intentional action.”David Mathis, Habits of Grace, p.131
Journaling Inspiration: A Help or a Hindrance?
One of the biggest hindrances to journaling is believing it must be done “the right way” or not done at all.
The internet is dripping with gorgeous images of journals that are genuine works of art. Talented artists with baskets full of inspiring art supplies create beautiful pages full of color, stunning doodles, and skillful lettering. Gifted writers share their pages filled with neatly penned poetry or inspirational quotes based on their Bible reading. Large groups have formed around writing out Scripture or journaling in the margins of their Bibles.
It’s all a feast for the eyes (and I thoroughly enjoy browsing and dreaming), but it can be discouraging to those of us who can’t make that style of journaling a reality for any number of reasons.
Here’s the thing: There is no perfect formula for journaling to the glory of God. There is more than one “right way” to journal well for spiritual growth.
4 Quick Tips for Faithful Journaling
1. Be Realistic
Deciding to take on a new challenge or to develop a new habit often leads to overly ambitious goals and unrealistic expectations of ourselves. Even if you have time for a 1-hour journal session every day, why not start smaller? If you’re committed to this for the long haul, make your primary goal consistency at first. Staying consistent is far more likely if you start small and simple.
2. Keep It Simple
Simplicity will help with consistency, too. As journaling becomes a habit, you can change and grow your method. You can get fancy, if you want to. But when you start, keep it simple. Focus on one thing. Instead of becoming distracted by colored pens and perfectly-drawn doodles and fancy lettering all at once, focus on the substance of your journal. Take baby steps. Maybe start with a simple goal like writing out one verse from your daily Bible reading that stands out to you. Or writing a single sentence prayer of praise every night before you go to bed.
3. Keep It Private
With all the online inspiration, it’s easy to get caught up in a performance mentality with our journals. We can forget that our journals don’t need to be seen by anyone else. You don’t have to share photos of your journal on Instagram. Your journal won’t become the next New York Times bestseller. So relax! Keep your relationship with Christ the focus of your journal. It’s just between you and Him.
4. Stay God-Focused, Not Me-Focused
While there is value in being real, open and honest, pouring your heart out before God in your journal, remember that your primary purpose is growing in your relationship with Him. Your journal can have personal reflections and raw emotional expression, but always bring it back to the Truth of who God is and what He’s done. Make your journal more about Gospel Truth than about yourself.
What Journaling Looks Like For Me
Over the last 4 decades, I have journaled almost continuously. I journaled through my school years, early marriage and motherhood. I kept a journal through hard seasons and wonderfully joyous seasons.
But my journals change constantly. I’ve changed the tools I use for journaling, what I put inside my journal, when I journal, and how often I journal. If you came across my collection of journals, it might surprise you that they were all kept by the same person – they are that different.
Tools I’ve Used
I’ve journaled digitally – on my computer. I simply created a document and just added to it whenever I wanted to, using the date as a heading. Sometimes, I’d have one document for the year. Other times, I’d create a folder for the year with sub-folders for the months and separate documents for each day. I’ve used Word and OneNote. (If this format interests you, it might be helpful to know that you can password-protect these files, if privacy is important to you.)
What I like about this kind of journal-keeping is that it’s fast for me. I’m a very fast typist, so this method works well when I want to write out my prayers. It’s also handy for blog writing because I can easily copy and paste things I’ve typed in my journal and incorporate them into a blog post.
Even before scrapbooking became commercialized, I used to cut out pretty pictures of flowers or inspiring scenes from old magazines to decorate the pages of my journals (using a good old-fashioned glue stick). I don’t consider myself a good artist (I can’t even draw good stick people), so this was an easy and affordable way for me to make my journal beautiful.
Sometimes, I’ve used photography or doodling to make my journal more visual and creative. I have a “thing” for stickers and sticky notes and washi tape and colored pens and markers. So, I’ve had my seasons of more “scrapbook-style” journaling.
Primarily, I’ve just filled dozens of notebooks with words. (I’m a writer. I can’t help it.)
Most of my journals are simply spiral notebooks I wrote in with whatever ballpoint pen was nearest to me when I wanted to write.
How I’ve Journaled
Writing Lots or A Little
Before I became a mom, my journals were basically where I thought through things. I wrote out my prayers to God word for word, real and raw. I wrote dozens of pages at a time.
As my responsibilities increased, I didn’t have time for detailed writing anymore. During exceptionally busy seasons, I didn’t journal every day. I’d sometimes use my daily planner as a journal by just jotting little notes as they came to me – a Scripture that I wanted to meditate on that week, or some encouragement I received through a sermon or a conversation with a friend.
Presently, I have a digital prayer journal in which I type out my prayers and a hardcover devotional journal where I track what Scriptures I’m reading each day and what I’m learning from them.
Multiple Journals for Different Purposes
I’ve had multiple active journals at a time. Whether I’m using them all at once or only one at a time, I always have at least one journal in progress.
- Stones of Remembrance: My Stones of Remembrance notebook is where I record the ways God has provided and answered prayer.
- Prayer Journal: This has taken various forms over the years. Sometimes it’s a simple notebook where I jot down prayer requests so I don’t forget them. Other times, it’s been more elaborate with categories and tabs and entire prayers and Scripture passages written out to pray through. My prayer journals vary depending on how I pray in any given season.
- Devotional Journal: This is the journal I’m most consistent with. I use this to write down notes from Bible studies I’m doing, or notes I make from my daily Bible reading. Often I’ll copy a Scripture verse or passage. Sometimes I combine prayer and Bible reading by copying out a passage of Scripture and interjecting my prayer response after each verse. I’ve sometimes included sermon notes from our church services, too.
The Value of Good Journaling
It’s impossible for me to quantify the impact journaling has had on my life and spiritual growth. It’s massive, immeasurable. I can’t imagine life without the freedom to journal. For me, it’s become an indispensable tool to deepen my relationship with Christ.
What about you? Do you journal? If so, what does journaling look like for you? How has it affected your spiritual growth? Please share in the comments. We can learn from each other!