A Word about Journaling
Some of us may balk at the idea of journaling. It is not a practice that comes naturally to everyone. Those of us who have not journaled before might wonder where to even begin. We might ask why journaling is important or how it helps us in our walk with the Lord.
If this describes you, a good starting point is to recognize that there is no right or wrong way to journal. The practice can serve you in whatever way is most helpful to you, personally, as you seek to draw near to God through prayer and his Word.
Whether you use a book specifically designed for journaling or a basic notebook, you are not limited in your approach or method. You may want to write out your prayers, or you can use the space to record questions that have come up as you have read and meditated on the passage. You could jot down insights or observations about the passage you are studying, and you might write the ways that you feel the Lord is leading you to apply the teaching found in those verses.
Just as there are many ways to journal, there are also a number of reasons that journaling is a valuable practice for our time in Scripture and prayer. One of the most significant ways that writing down our thoughts, questions, and prayers benefits us is that it helps us to remember.
Throughout Scripture God calls his people to remember what he has done for us in the past so that we will trust him in the present. We see this especially in the book of Deuteronomy when Israel is afraid to enter the land that God had promised them. Again and again God tells his people, “Remember how I delivered you out of slavery” and “Remember how I led you in the wilderness.” He wanted them to remember that he is faithful—regardless of their circumstances.
Sadly, Israel failed to remember more often than not. We are, by nature, a forgetful people. Life is often difficult, and it is easy for us to focus so intently on everything that is wrong that we forget the ways God has faithfully cared for us in the past. We need help remembering the ways we have experienced his grace and compassion. Journaling is a valuable tool in helping us to record—and thus to be able to look back upon in a tangible way—the things God has revealed to us or done for us as we have walked with him.
Another practical benefit of journaling is that it helps keep us focused, both as we read the Bible and as we pray. Our minds are less prone to wander—we are not as susceptible to distraction—when we are engaged in the physical act of writing.
A Word about Prayer
It’s not surprising that some of us struggle to find the motivation to journal. Writing out our thoughts and prayers in this way is helpful, but it isn’t a biblical command. But it is startling how difficult it can be to pray. Prayer is foundational to our walk with the Lord. The Bible tells us that we are to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17). But, if we are honest, that command makes most of our jaws drop.
If you feel like it is hard to pray, or like you don’t even know how to pray, you aren’t alone. Many of us are overwhelmed by the concept of prayer. Some of us are cripplingly self-conscious: we feel like we don’t know the right words to say. Others of us feel overwhelmed by the number of things we need to pray about. In both instances the question once again is Where do I even begin?
There is no better way to start learning how to pray—or to start building a habit of prayer—than to talk with God as you study his Word. As we allow the Bible to inform and shape our prayers, we grow in both our understanding of Scripture and in our confidence approaching God in prayer.
God uses our prayerful study of the Bible to write his Word on our hearts. As we pray over and through the Scriptures, they become deeply personal. We begin to understand that God’s Word is for us and speaks to us personally—it is not hypothetical or detached.
There is no better way to start learning how to pray—or to start building a habit of prayer—than to talk with God as you study his Word.
In Matthew 6:7–13 Jesus teaches us how to pray. He begins by saying, “When you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (vv. 7–8).
These words are comforting. We don’t need to be concerned that our prayers will only be acceptable if they are long and consist of many impressive, spiritual-sounding words. God doesn’t need our words to know what’s on our hearts; he knows what we need before we ourselves do. But because we are in a relationship with him, and because he wants us to recognize and be mindful of our dependence on him, he tells us to talk with him.
Jesus goes on to give us a specific example of how we are to pray. He says,
Pray then like this:
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil. (vv. 9–13)
Note the simplicity and brevity of the Lord’s Prayer. Sometimes we will indeed need to spend long stretches of time talking to God, but we do not need to feel as though we have failed when our prayers are short and to the point.
When our prayers flow directly out of a portion of the Bible that we are reading, it keeps our prayers focused on things that are of eternal importance while preventing them from becoming mechanical. If we are praying God’s Word back to him, then we can be assured that we are indeed praying “Your will be done.”
As we prayerfully study the Bible, our souls are deeply encouraged. Seeking to understand Scripture by turning to God in prayer changes our posture and our attitude while we study. Both our prayers and our time in the Word become more personal, more relational—we approach both disciplines as a conversation with God. He speaks to us and we interact and engage with what he has said; we ask questions and make observations, and he takes us in deeper and helps us understand—and to long for—more.