1 June 7, 2009 Volume 1
Journaling for DiscipleshipGarry E. Milley
The Bible does not command us to journal. You will find no verse that says "thou shalt write about thy spiritual life every day." However, you will certainly find it modeled, especially in the Older Testament historical narratives and in the Book of Acts in the New Testament.
What is journaling for discipleship?
J o u r n a l i n g i s c o m m o n l y u n d e r s t o o d a s keeping a written account of events and relationships. Such accounts form the content of most diaries. Journaling
for discipleship goes beyond the regular diary to include those events and relationships that focus on ones spiritual life. Included in such a spiritual journal one would expect to find such things as, records of Bible readings, Bible verses memorized, notes related to insights in Scripture, devotional or scholarly books read, prayer requests and answers, devotional musings, events attended that enhanced ones relationship to Jesus, and witnessing opportunities. In some cases, people have recorded temptations experienced and counseling received with an account of how the Lord gave strength to overcome. Others, as they mature in the Lord, have included long theological meditations in
their journals. So, the scope is quite broad as you can see.
Why journal for discipleship? The purpose of such spiritual journaling is obvious. We grow in our understanding of God and his ways. It is one way of expressing our
thoughts and feelings to God about our Christian journey. It creates a record of our meditations
Growing in Discipleship
2that can be a source of future reflection. Such meditations can become the raw material for witness, preaching and writing. As a record of prayers offered and answered, spiritual battles fought and worn, problems s o l v e d o r d o u b t s a n d perplexities clarified, such a journal becomes a valuable tool to recall the work of God in our life. To look back and see how the Lord's hand was leading us creates a heart of gratitude and praise.
Journals can help us to understand ourselves. Writing th ings down helps us to prioritize our goals in life and to monitor our progress. In the p rac t i ce o f t he sp i r i t ua l disciplines of prayer, fasting, Bible reading, meditation, etc., a journal can be of great help both as a rebuke and an encouragement.
Journals also help us to build and preserve a spiritual tradition. Tradition is not a favorite word of young people, but no one stays young forever. The older one becomes, the more important a spiritual tradition becomes, especially if you wish to pass it on to others. Some 'traditions' must be abandoned when they hinder the work of God, but others are to be kept faithfully (cf. Matt. 15:3; 2 Thess. 2:15).
While one does not write a spiritual journal with the sole purpose of having it read by others, one ought to bear in mind that it may be eventually of great help to someone other than oneself. After my father died I discovered a journal he
had kept over a number of years when I was very young. In a way, I discovered myself and I was linked with my spiritual heritage in new ways. My father's journal was a blessing, not only to him, but to me as well.
What blessings may I expect?
I must say that you will only experience the blessings of journal writing by actually doing it. As you progress you will find that it grows in its fruitfulness. In spiritually dry p e r i o d s , w h e n y o u a r e discouraged, your journal can b e a g r e a t s o u r c e o f encouragement. To look back and see recorded answers to prayers rekindles the fires of love and devotion to Jesus.
How do I begin? Just begin! It is not about creative writing; it's about recording those things that focus on your spiritual life. Keep it as simple as possible and write from your heart. If you write for only five minutes a day, you will easily fill out a journal in a year. Begin each daily entry w i t h a b r i e f d e s c r i p t i ve comment of the day's most significant events. Record any Bible verses memorized and
passage of the Bible read. You may even wish to include meaningful quotes from books read, classes attended, or sermons heard. Note the witnessing opportunities that the Lord leads you into. Write prayer requests and record answers to earlier prayers. You will find that your journal will become a major enriching factor in your spiritual life.
Just begin! It is not about creative writing; it's about recording those things that focus on your spiritual life. Keep it as simple as possible and write from your heart.
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3 Are there any rules?
I would not like to make any inflexible rules so what I have to say are mere suggestions. First, give the date, the time and the place for each entry. This will enable you to recall later more details than you have written down. Secondly, purchase a special pen and special journal book. This will motivate you to treat your
journal writing as the special event it is. Thirdly, attempt to discover a special place with a special ambiance where you can think, meditate and write without disturbance. I like a particular coffee caf. Others may prefer their bedroom, a favorite restaurant, a library, etc. Fourth, as long as you are focused, write as much or as little as you want. There are no rules regarding length but beware of writing so much on one day that you fall into the trap of making each entry compete with the previous one for equal length. Fifth, protect your journal from loss. Keep it in a safe place. Finally, discipline yourself to write something every day.
What do I include? Besides the things already mentioned above, I would add this two more suggestions. First, learn to pray directly from the Scripture passage on which you are meditating for that day. Why? Because, when believers leave out the Scripture, their prayers often tend to gravitate towards self-serving requests for health and finances. Just listening to prayer requests in a church should convince you that we are mostly concerned with our health and bodily provisions. I do not deny the value of that, but we need to focus our prayers on our spiritual needs as well. Secondly, make a very specific application to your personal life. Don't neglect this. Do not permit yourself to be satisfied with a vague sentimentalism about the Bible. Actually put it to work in your life. Note the example on page 4.
Write something every day!
On Prayer! Prayer in the sense of petition, asking for things, is a small part of it; confession and penitence are its threshold, adoration its sanctuary, the presence and vision and enjoyment of God its bread and wine.
C. S. Lewis
4An ExampleBible Passage
What is the Lord saying to me here?
Heavenly Father, I ask . . .
John 6:47-51 Jesus is the living bread that came down from heaven. The
source of our spiritual life must come from Jesus. Our
salvation is a gift that is given to us. We cannot earn eternal
Forgiveness for feeding my soul
with things that did not come
down from heaven.
What would the Lord have me to do?I will be more careful of what goes into my mind and my
soul. I will cut my TV time and/or video game time by 30
minutes less each day. My daily bread must come from the
living Word of God.
The application is very specific. It is measurable. I can know if I have accomplished it. Let's suppose I was meditating on the parable of the Good Samaritan and read about how he had compassion on the wounded victim. I could easily be moved emotionally by the story and pray, "Lord, help me to have compassion on the hurting people in this world." It wouldn't be a bad prayer at all. Indeed, it would be a good prayer. However, if in the personal application I said, "I will be more loving to hurting people," I would have left the issue vague. I would be unable to know if or not I had ever actually made progress towards the goal of loving hurting people. What do I do? I must be specific in the application. Why not write, "I will volunteer at a soup kitchen this week for at least three hours." You may say, "I will take that homeless person I pass each morning out for lunch." Maybe you could write, "I will offer to baby-sit for free for that single mom so she can have a night off." There are many ways to make applications specific. The more vague you leave it, the less applied the Bible becomes.
What do I exclude?
I urge you not to turn your journal for discipleship into a diary of your feelings about people or a record of "the blues." If you "confess" all your gut feelings to a journal and it falls into the wrong hands it could become quite embarrassing. Don't use it to criticize or express malice or bitterness. With that word of caution you are going to experience a tremendous blessing by keeping a spiritual journal. The Holy Spirit will use it in your life.