There is one key reason I haven’t yet given for keeping a journal. It is the one reason journaling is so important for followers of Christ. Before we leave the topic of journaling, I want to give you one powerful reason to keep a journal.
The whole purpose of these spiritual disciplines we’ve been looking at over the past few months is to help us to grow in holiness. Journaling can complement the other spiritual disciplines we’ve discussed in a specific way. How? By providing us with knowledge of ourselves, that is otherwise not possible.
Nearly all the wisdom we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves. But, while joined by many bonds, which one precedes and brings forth the other is not easy to discern.1
Calvin was right. If we want to be wise (Prov 9:10), we need to know God, but we also need to know ourselves. While Bible Reading will help you grow in your knowledge of God, we often don’t look for ourselves in scripture, and at least some of this is due to a lack of self-awareness, meaning we don’t see our need of scripture. This is where journaling can be helpful.
Why you don’t know yourself
Reading your Bible will give you knowledge of God, and praying will help you apply what you’ve learned directly with the Lord, but your heart wants to hide your sin. Jeremiah 17:9 tells us, “the heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; Who can understand it?” Our heart is so deceitful that it is happy for you to read the Bible, pray, and feel pious because of it, so long as you don’t examine and dig up your sin.
John 3:20 tells us that “everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.” The fear of having our deeds exposed keeps us from the light. Let us recognize first of all, that the flesh does not want your evil deeds exposed. It will fight to keep them hidden. When we sin, the flesh wants us to run. This tendency to run is common between those who follow Christ and those who don’t, and the reason is that the flesh is common to both Christian and non-Christian. The distinction between the Christian and non-Christian is the love Christians have for the light.
This love for the light changes our behavior. What Jesus is saying is that if we love the light, we will expose our sin, because while we are harboring sin, we will be running from the Lord who is light. If we love the Lord, this is the opposite direction to that which we want to run.
But we don’t have to run. We don’t have to hide our sin. In fact, this is the opposite of what the Lord wants of us. In 1 John 1:9, John tells us that when we confess our sins, God is “faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
Knowledge of self is necessary to worship
God wants us to worship Him in Spirit and truth (John 4:23). The word I want to highlight here is truth. God knows our sin. God understands that we struggle with the flesh even after we are saved. None of this surprises Him. God doesn’t call us to salvation if we are righteous. He calls the unrighteous to salvation. This means we need to come to Him as we are, aware of our need of Him, and dependent on His grace and mercy.
We are what God sees and what God sees in us, is often different to who we think we are. If we don’t see ourselves the way the Lord sees us, we are deceived and we don’t come to him in truth. Therefore, if we want to be truthful worshippers, we have a need and a responsibility to carefully examine ourselves, recognizing that our flesh wants to hide sin and exalt self and then we can approach God with greater integrity.
If we are to worship God in truth, it is important to know ourselves as we are so that we can confess our sin as we need to and grow in repentance, holiness, and humility
Journaling and knowing yourself.
What does this have to do with journalling? On the one hand, honesty with ourselves allows us to confess our sin, and this honesty with God is necessary to a right relationship with Him. Therefore, if we can confront ourselves daily and recognize ourselves for what we are, we can grow in holiness through confession and by asking the Lord to change us in specific ways.
Because the fall affects us by altering our view of sin, man, and God, the more clearly we see ourselves in light of the word of God, the more we will grow in our knowledge of the Lord. If we don’t confront our view of ourselves, sin and God so that we think the way the word of God teaches, our view of God, we will stunt our spiritual growth.
A journal can help by being a means of this confrontation. Asking questions of our heart daily allows us to recognize how the corruption of my flesh is affecting me today. It allows me to see how I don’t worship God like He is worthy. It allows me to recall the things I may have done or said to others for which I have not sought forgiveness.
Our journaling needs to reflect the issues of our heart with which we struggle. Do you struggle with anger? Each morning, recall any times you got angry yesterday and answer these four questions to interrogate your heart and understand what drives you? Do you struggle with apathy? Start with the first question in the quick and easy guide I provided, and when it is less than the Lord is worthy of, confess that to the Lord. Do you struggle with lust? Again, these four questions will be useful.
In order to grow in godliness, it is necessary to grow in self-knowledge. This means knowledge of our own sin and corruption so that we can correct our thinking about ourselves so we can worship with truthful hearts (as far as possible). This allows us to grow in our knowledge of the Lord and results in increasing holiness. Journaling is a powerful way to confront your heart and expose the sin that is there. This results in a pure heart before the Lord and an increasing appreciation of the grace of God in Christ Jesus.
1. John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion & 2, ed. John T. McNeill, trans. Ford Lewis Battles, vol. 1, The Library of Christian Classics (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 35.