Journaling Part II
“I shall remember the deeds of the Lord; surely I will remember Your wonders of old. I will meditate on all Your work, and muse on Your deeds” (Psalm 77:11-12).
On Journaling, Part II
In my first post on journaling I hesitated to write specific methods I employ in journaling because I do not want to give the impression that there is one “correct” way. There is no right way, and what works for one might not work for another. But I was given the task of writing a follow-up that would offer a more practical look at journaling. So here are some things I have learned through my years of journaling.
I determined the purpose for my journal
This helped me evaluate my writing periodically to see if it was accomplishing what I actually set out to do (to confess sin, to express praise to God, to exercise dependence on the Spirit, to work through conflict, etc). For example, there was a season I chose to exclude any specific details of circumstances and people. I would confess weaknesses vaguely and ask the Spirit’s help without describing my sin in specific terms. I thought, if people were going to read my journals someday, I wanted to preserve myself. But as I evaluated my time with the Lord, I realized I was missing out on what began as my greatest motivation to journal – to shepherd my heart. I was missing David’s plea, that God would, “search me and know my heart (Psalm 139:23). And I was missing the opportunity to allow the Word to cut through the bone and marrow to the motives of my heart (Hebrews 4:12). All for fear of man and the preservation of my reputation.
I discipline myself to write everyday
This was especially true in the beginning stages. I had to purpose to write everyday. The desire to write did not come naturally. And if I waited until I “felt” like writing, I would not have written more than once a month. Even if it is just a short entry, writing daily can be a helpful tool to cultivate the habit of journaling.
I don’t limit myself to writing once a day
For years I would spend time with the Lord in the morning, filling up journal pages. Then I would close it up and go throughout my day without a thought to ever open it until the next morning. Keeping my journal handy (I actually take it to school with me daily) has been a great tool to allow me to write down any sudden insights from a day or to shepherd my heart in moments of distress. I only add this little tip because some of my sweetest times writing have been outside of my normally-structured time. They have come at times that my heart is overwhelmed with conflict and I need to get before the Lord and remember what truths intersect my specific heart struggle. I also open my journal again at night. A couple years ago I asked a mentor of my mother how her time with the Lord looked and she told me in the mornings she would pray Psalm 143:8: "Show me Your lovingkindness in the morning for I trust in You; teach me the way in which I should walk for to You I lift my soul." Then in the evenings she would re-count the ways the Lord showed His lovingkindness. Along similar lines, CJ Mahaney writes in his book, Humility, that, "by reviewing our day and carefully assigning all glory to God for the grace we've experienced that day," we can weaken pride and grow in humility. All glory for saving grace, sustaining grace, serving grace and sanctifying grace should be transferred to the God who is gifting it. My nightly journaling, therefore, consists mainly of expressing gratitude to the Lord for the evidences of His grace I have recognized that particular day.
I developed a structure to my writing
Again, in my first journaling years my structure was very rigid. I used the ACTS acrostic (A- Adoration, C- Confession, T- Thanksgiving, S- Supplication) to pray. I would literally write an “A” on the left side of my page and then write out specific declarations of praise to the Lord, and so on with each letter. Over the years this became more fluid and I wrote through these four components more naturally. To this day, I still journal through those four major prayer postures, and I’ve realized it is actually a very practical way to review the gospel.
I record the things I am learning in Scripture
Along with praying “ACTS,” I also list out the portion of Scripture I am reading on that particular day. Under that section I will either write down a verse that stands out to me, specific insights I draw from the text, and/or some type of response or prayer of how I will seek to apply the Word. This is a great help to me in meditating on Scripture. Writing helps me remember and recall truths to mind more easily throughout the day (and even weeks, months, and years to come).
I periodically review my journals
As I recall the providences of God and see His faithfulness, I am moved to give thanks to the Lord, and I am motivated to continue to record my battles and my triumphs. To journal without looking over them defeats a great purpose in writing. Where there is no remembering, there is no thanksgiving. Along with cultivating gratitude, John Flavel says in The Mystery of Providence, “The remembering and recording of the performances of Providence will be a singular support to faith in future exigencies.”
One last encouragement if you are just setting out to journal now – plan to be persistent. The novelty of journaling will wear off and it can take time before you recognize the benefits of it. But plan to stick with it even in the moments where you don’t feel like it. The discipline of journaling itself does not make us more holy, but it can most definitely be a means for us to grow in our knowledge of and love for the Lord.