Pages of reflection lay behind the pink, bedazzled cover of my journal. At the end of the day, I grabbed my journal from under my mattress and wrote about school crushes, future dreams, and secret fears. I thought if another person read its contents, I would have felt so ashamed. My younger self did not engage with journaling in a freeing way. Rather, my reflection kept me bound to the shadows of insecurity. This process, however, changed when I became a Christian. The gospel changed my writing. I began to invite God into my journaling time. Then, my writing shifted from talking about my issues to talking about my walk with Christ. I began to see that journaling is a powerful way to see God's goodness and reveal His glory.
When we think about spiritual disciplines, we may typically think of prayer, Scripture reading, and fasting. While these practices are common, journaling is also considered a spiritual discipline. And now that we are at the end of the year, it can be an effective tool for reflecting on the Lord's character and work over the last twelve months. However, for many of us, journaling can be intimating. We often think a certain level of writing skill is required to journal. Or we think that finding time to journal in our busy schedules is impossible. I can empathize with this sentiment. Though my journal was a prized possession when I was younger, I have found less time to journal in adulthood and felt discouraged if my sentences weren't perfect. However, we can look to Scripture to see the value of having a way to remember God.
Consider the story of the Israelites. In Deuteronomy 8, Moses recalled how God showed them mercy, grace, and love in the wilderness. He never gave them a reason to doubt. God provided for them every step of the way. But Moses pointed out the Israelites would be prone to forget God's goodness. Soon, the new generation of Israelites would enter the Promised Land and become comfortable. They would grow proud and forsake their need for God. As a result, they would perish. So, Moses urged them to hold onto and teach their story so that they would live in God's presence. Like the Israelites, we are prone to forget. When times are all good, we may forget our need for the Lord or the seriousness of our sin. When times are hard, we might forget the goodness of God and question if He is really working for our best interest. But every circumstance is an opportunity to relive the power of Christ's saving work.
We join the psalmist in Psalm 77:12 when he says, "I will reflect on all you have done and meditate on your actions." When we journal, we take a moment to remember God's sovereign hand. We remember times when He answered prayers and times when He closed doors. Times when He brought loved ones through disease and times when He called them home. This dated record helps us to see how far God has brought us and how God is perfecting us by making us into the image of Jesus. Below are some tips for beginning or enhancing our approach to journaling.
1.) Be with Jesus
Designate a time and place, even if it is only 15 minutes. Select your journal; it can be a book, loose-leaf paper, or computer document. When you are ready to begin, take some time to sink into the Lord's presence. Journaling is about spending time with the Lord, not completing a task. Sitting in God's nearness can lead us to a writing topic. But if we do not know what to journal about, we can always write a prayer to God, expressing gratitude and adoring His name.
2.) Lean on the Holy Spirit for Revelation
Retell the story of your year–or day, week, month. Explore your thoughts and feelings as you narrate situations. Allow the Holy Spirit to lead you into truth and resolution. How did the Lord show His character through those circumstances? What did you learn about yourself? How are Christ and the gospel magnified? Take this opportunity to embrace conviction over sin and encourage yourself to cling to Jesus.
3.) Paraphrase and Apply Scripture
You can also incorporate Scripture study with journaling. At the top of your page, copy a verse or two. Maybe something from the poetry or wisdom literature, like Psalm 90:12. Copy the text again, and then paraphrase it. After putting the verse in your own words, write a journal entry about how to apply its meaning into your life through Christ. Assess how the insight you gained may empower you for your next season of walking with Jesus.
As you begin this new year, I encourage you–if you don't keep a journal already–to take up the spiritual discipline of journaling. It will help you document God's faithfulness in your life and provide a tangible way to see the Holy Spirit's beautiful work of sanctifying you day by day.