Journaling my life as a follower of Jesus began in 1980. What prompted me was the fleeting moments of life, my desire to record my life and thoughts as I read and meditated on scripture. At first, there were big gaps in my journal, but slowly over the years, the gaps shrunk as I dedicated time to writing. While I didn’t begin writing with quill and ink, it has been a long time since I started with my favorite Bic pen. Here is what I have learned.
Journaling is a personal record of events, experiences, reflections, and musings that is kept on a regular basis. It is not a diary of the events of your daily life. That would be tedious, boring, and unmemorable. For example, recording the weather on a particular day. What does it matter that it was raining that day in your life 10 years ago? Unless, of course, it is a derecho… That is the difference between a journal and a diary. A journal is a record of key events, thoughts, lessons learned, and memorable events in your life.
The core of the Christian experience is centered on the Bible and who the Bible is written about: God. The scriptures are a record of the events, actions, thoughts, and instructions for our human existence; all 66 books, authored by human hands that moved at the will of our God. In this sense, the Bible is a journal, THE journal for us to read, reflect, and respond to.
Why You Should Journal
To remember your life.
Moses, in Psalm 90:12 writes, “teach us to number our days…” They are fleeting, like a vapor as James says later (James 4:14). The reality that you draw breath is proof of God’s design for your life. You are alive! You think, feel, see, and experience the only life you know. Grasp it! Number the days, that is, be circumspect about all God allows you to experience.
To reflect on what God is doing.
The context, the days of our lives are important. Why? It is in the events of life that we experience the joys and sorrows of our life in Christ. It is a reflection of what we are learning. See the end of verse 12 in Psalm 90- “ that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” That word for wisdom refers to practical wisdom - learning to do the right thing at the right time. This is only learned by experience, and experiences are more likely forgotten if not written down.
To remember what you are learning.
There is something about a thought that flows from your brain, traveling down the arm to the fingers, exiting onto the page through your fingers that hold the pen. It becomes real. The mind sees the thought. It can be quite stark and memorable when seen on paper.
An example from my journal in 1985 as I was learning humility as a young father. My hair was graying a bit in my thirties, so I was discussing with my wife options to color my hair to rid myself of the effects of aging. Our 6-year-old daughter, who was discovering language, was listening, ”Oh daddy, don’t do that. You looked so extinguished!” Ahh, wisdom from the mouth of babes. Lesson learned. Lesson recorded. Lesson remembered.
To see the benefits for your family.
Your journal is a story of your life in Christ for your family to see. Our lives before theirs from which to learn. The struggles of life lived out in real time as we obeyed, or disobeyed, God’s instructions for us. Our history becomes His story in us for our loved ones to read and from which to grow. I was recently given my dad’s journals, which included his sermons, all written by his own hand. Five decades of his ministry life. Each date and location recorded. I could place myself in the context of his life as his son. The memories of learning, struggles, defeats, and victories in my spiritual life flooded my mind as I read. It reminded me too of the heritage of faith passed on to the next generation. I am not alone in this journey. I need the encouragement from the lives and lessons of God’s people who have lived before me. Year after year, decade after decade, records of faithful lives to remind me that I am in a stream of God’s people heading down this narrow road to heaven.
Practical Tips For Journaling
Be disciplined in your commitment to write but be prepared to “master the art of the restart.”
Those helpful words are from a sermon by Mark Arant, who pastors Veritas Church of Iowa City. Don’t be discouraged if you miss a day or two or more. Simply start again. Give yourself grace. Just do not quit!
Paper or screen? Choose the means of your journaling.
I will urge you to choose paper. Why? We get enough screen time every day. There are distractions in every popup, notices of an email that has arrived, etc. Plus, a journal notebook is easier to carry, more mobile for every place, AND, is a hard copy book which is accessible for your family in years to come. Yes, I know you can write your journal on your laptop, save, print, and bind. But there is something special about your words written by your own hand. It is much more personal.
Pick a time, pick a place, and stick to it.
You won't need to look for your Bible and journal if they are in the same place every day. It is your place to meet with God, think, pray, and write. My place is in my study in my small cabin just off our back porch. My journal is always there near a shelf of previous journals by my desk for easy reference, and for my family to find. I know flexibility is needed at times. Travel, vacations, etc., reflect the demand for mobility. So carry your Bible and journal when you travel. Just don’t misplace them. I speak from experience.
Be silent. Be quiet.
Shut out the noise that is constant around us. Just you, God, His Word, and your journal. Allow yourself time to think, to meditate, to muse - then write. Open your mind and heart to receive what God is showing you then simply write what you are hearing from him as his Spirit illuminates what he has for you.
Have the same spirit you see in Psalm 119 about the Word of God. See the primacy of the language of heaven to you. God speaks to you through His Word. See His love to you in his words on the page and from the pen of the psalmist. Pray “open my eyes that I may see glorious things from your word...” (Psalm 119:18).
Write your heart. Don’t be shy.
Record your struggles, joys, victories, defeats, and questions you have about life and, at times, of God. You only need to read Psalm 13 to see David’s anxious and troubled heart to make you realize you are in good company. And we read David’s journal today and learn from him. The same is true for you. Your honesty in your life of faith will teach others. Your family and friends will thank you. And people you will never know may get a glimpse into your life and see the goodness of God.
It is this goodness of God that you want on display. Show through your pen His greatness, His love and His grace to you as you journey through life. May all who read your writing see His presence in you through Jesus Christ. He alone is worthy of your time spent in journaling.
I pray that the words of David in Psalm 13 will be seen as the theme of your life; “But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, because he has dealt bountifully with me” (Psalm 13:5-6).