Frankly, journaling is hard work. Who can be bothered writing? Especially personal stuff!? In spite of my initial distaste for journaling, I gave it a go some years ago, and while I’ve had times when I’ve stepped away from it, I keep coming back to it. These 6 benefits keep me exposing my heart in a journal.
1. To keep a spiritual logWhen was the last time you read through the Old Testament? Or, when was the last time you read through Genesis? What did you learn from it? Many of us struggle to answer these fundamental questions, but the answers help us plan our quiet times. If you have a plan for your quiet time at all, you’ll need a way to stay on track and to know what areas you need to review. If you’re not keeping a log of what you read, you might even struggle to remember yesterday’s reading and what to read today. Don’t just maintain a record of what you read, also keep a log of your prayer requests. In fact, you should probably have a prayer list to track different people and subjects for which you pray. In your journal, record your prayer requests each day and when you find one has been answered, write an entry in the back of your journal of when you started praying for something, when it was answered and how. These entries then become a testimony of the Lord’s faithfulness and will be an encouragement of how Lord has worked through us, for us, and in us.
2. To grow in holinessThe Lord does work in us, and recording the specifics of his work to make us holy is a great use for a journal. If you’ve got a heart goal, use your journal to record the particular sin you are seeking to overcome, when and why you fall into that sin, and what Scripture teaches about it. In this way, journaling will help you understand your own heart more completely, and this self-awareness will help you Start by confessing any instances of sin from the previous day. Often the war against sin is lost just because we don’t stop, recognize and confess our actions before the Lord as sinful. Writing this down is an effective way to force us to be confronted with the reality of who we are and our need for the grace of God. The more we see our sin, the more brightly the grace of God shines.
The more we see our sin, the more brightly the grace of God shines.If you make it past the confession stage, take it up a level. Take an instance when you fell into sin from the previous day and consider how the three functions of the heart were operating in that time instance. If you write a paragraph on this 3-4 times a week, you’ll start to understand why you are struggling with that sin. Write out what the Bible says (i.e. a verse or two) about the thoughts, desires and actions that are active when you commit this sin and use this pray for the particular change you find taught in the word of God.
3. To better understand scriptureA journal is also a great way to gain a better understanding of scripture. Write down lessons from what you’ve read and how you will apply it personally. Doing this will force you to think through what you read and what it means. In other words, journaling will help you meditate on scripture. This has additional benefits. You’ll be better able to explain the text to others. You can then use this for family devotions or just to encourage someone else. It may not even be that day; the more you reflect on the text, the more it will come out, often weeks, months or years after you note it. If you wrote a single thoughtful paragraph every day for a year, what do you think this would do for your knowledge of the Word and your retention of it?
4. To focus your heartThis benefit is perhaps the reason that has resulted in the most change to me personally. Used right, your journal can be a powerful tool to focus your heart where it needs to be. Do you want to be focused on doing what is right each day? Your journal can be a tool to do that. What to be someone who is more thankful? Use your journal to make it happen with prompts to direct your thoughts and desires in the right direction. I’ll write more about this in my next post.
5. To encourage othersWhen you’ve taken in the scripture for yourself, you’ll have much more to share. This is a key principle for pastors. If your spiritual life is dry, your ministry to others will be negatively affected. On the contrary, if dwell on the riches of the word of God, you’ll have a reservoir of material at the top of your mind that will shape your thinking and allow you to speak truth to others. Journaling plays a role in this since it results in a deeper personal change on your part, which means your knowledge of the word of God will be more practical, and therefore more useful to others. Increasingly your words will be focused on helping others glorify the Lord and filled with genuine love and concern for their relationship with and usefulness to the Lord. Your journal isn’t the only way to make this happen, but by journaling what you read, and how it challenged and changed you, your deeper thinking will make a discernible difference that will encourage others.
6. To leave a recordFinally, if you’re chronicling your walk with the Lord over time, this will leave a powerful legacy for those who follow you. Your children or grandchildren will be able to read your journal and see your struggles before the Lord, and they’ll be encouraged by your tenacity, impressed by your conviction and thankful for your honesty. We don’t like exposing our failure and sin to others, but often when we do so, we provide the greatest encouragement to others to continue the fight.
If you’re chronicling your walk with the Lord over time, this will leave a powerful legacy for those who follow you.Not only this but if you’ve been praying for someone consistently and they see this in your journal, they will be greatly encouraged and will see not only your care for them but also the way the Lord has used your faithfulness over the years. In other words, think of your journal as a beneficial to others, but remember that this benefit aligns with what you and the Lord want in them. You want them to grow in Christ? What better way than to leave them an example to follow, with all your struggles and the victories that come from the Spirit of the Lord working in you.
ConclusionYes, journaling is hard. But there are a number of useful benefits to exposing your heart in a journal. Don’t pick just one of these that appeals to you, adopt all of them. Let them all drive you to keep a regular journal.
What benefits have you received from keeping a journal?