Staying On Track: The Practice of Journaling & Its Rewards
Do you find yourself forgetting what God has spoken or done? Do you lose track? Do you feel like time has been wasted? Do you wish you could just keep it all straight? Do you feel like life is just spinning at times, and you need a candid yet accurate reference point in your personal walk with Christ? Do you struggle recalling the last thing God spoke to you, when He said it, and what context? If you said yes to any of these, this post is for you.
This post is not a deep theological article. It is a very practical one. And I truly believe that journaling is a key fundamental practice that any one of us can begin to implement. Journaling is as varied as the day is long. It will look different for all of us. But I believe that if you can begin journaling some key things, your walk with God will stop drifting, and it will aid you in staying ‘true north’ on the right track. In this way you’ll be able to reference your progress very easily. Your journal should reveal your ‘annual rings’ in the same way a tree trunk reveals the life of a tree. Your growth and progress can be recalled and evaluated with ease – simply at a glance.
An Invested Discipline that Pays Huge Rewards
Christ calls us to walk the straight and narrow path. And sometimes we need all the help we can get to stay on track. Staying on track with God is more than living a righteous life and walking in the Spirit. It’s also about keeping your focus. Because when we can’t recall certain things God has intimately spoken, or when something took place, we can easily lose our spiritual reference point. We can end up at a standstill trying to remember, recall, and place key people or events. Journaling removes all of that stress when used strategically. A few moments each day can save you an enormous amount of wasted spiritual time throughout your day. And if you know how to do it right, it will serve you very well.
So we all understand the moral principle here with regard to the straight and narrow. But what about the practical one? I, for one, can easily lose track of my spiritual progress if I don’t get it on paper. There is something profoundly powerful about getting your spiritual life down on paper. Here’s why:
#1. It keeps things in check. Journaling actually creates and stimulates neural pathways in your brain that begin to send signals to your memory through your visual and tactile faculties. Your memory, vision, and hands are all working together simultaneously to record your most recent spiritual experience. This practice actually helps ‘cement’ what just happened in your life, and you’re not near as likely to forget the details.
#2. You have a tangible reference. Dates, times, places – these are all important with regard to what God is doing in your life. Journaling helps you make references to times past in which key events took place. We are often propelled forward when we are enabled to remember what God has done and spoken to us. And for those times when the Holy Spirit quickens you about an experience – you can easily and accurately reference it.
#3. You have a memoir; a legacy; and an heirloom memorial set down for yourself as well as others (if you so choose). Journals can be wonderful keepsakes for family members. Through your journal your life can extend far beyond itself.
How to Journal Effectively
If you’re frowning at the thought of journaling, that’s okay. You’re not alone. Writing, for many people, is worse than having all their teeth pulled. So I want to put you at ease and discuss some different types and ways of journaling. They’re not all the same. Each person, depending on personality and practicality, will journal differently. Let’s talk about this a bit.
Seven Key Points
For those of us who LOVE to write, if you’re not careful, your journal can dominate your spiritual time. You can actually end up writing and recording more than you are reading or praying – in which case your journal has become the focus. Don’t make this mistake. Journaling should be concise. You may journal everyday religiously, but I don’t personally see the need unless something specific takes place to warrant an entry. Spend your time wisely. If you feel obligated to make an entry each day, learn to develop your own journaling language and style. If you’ve ever referenced a journal where each entry reads like a chapter in a novel, it makes it very difficult to reference. I personally suggest including the following SEVEN KEY POINTS on every journal entry:
1.) Day, Date, Time
4.) Bullet Point and Highlight instead of long descriptions (unless it’s necessary)
5.) Key people
6.) Words from God
7.) Scriptural References
8.) Keep it Mobile & Accessible
Keeping a journal handy at all times, wherever you are, allows you to easily CATCH that fleeting thought, that transient word from God, or that key person and event that would otherwise be missed, forgotten, or disregarded. Making a quick note may be all you need, and so your personal journal should be able to go with you wherever you are. Notebooks can be cumbersome, and they don’t last. I personally treasure a leather-bound journal that is either refillable or long-wearing. I prefer lined paper. And I like something that is comparable to the size of my bible (6×9). Being a woman who carries a large handbag, I can easily tuck this into my purse with no problem. I personally prefer to have my bible and journal on hand at all times. That’s just me, and it works. However, that will not work for everyone. So figuring out a journal that works for you is going to be key. The thought of paper may haunt you. In this case, I suggest a notepad app on your phone, iPad, or laptop that you can access, lock down and print later. Hey, if it works, then do it! You may even want to email yourself each day. Setting up an email account specifically for journal entries is extraordinarily convenient! Your journal will be SECURE. And it will go with you anywhere, at anytime. Your entries will be automatically dated, timed, and stored securely. As for paper, you can always print them later. Nice, right?
One Page Entries
Consider dedicating each page for each day, instead of ‘tag – along’ entries that run consecutively. Dedicating that specific page to any particular day is important, especially if you may make more than one entry per day. As each entry is timed, this creates a nice flow that makes it easy to reference. However, be aware that you’ll use your allotted pages much quicker.
Keep it Succinct
Don’t clutter your entries with meaningless jargon or overly embellish them. It becomes difficult to wade through and reference. I have journaled all my life. In the beginning journaling was a daily religious practice, and because I’m a writer I would spend at least an hour journaling each day – sometimes more. It began to dominate my time, outweighing my prayer time and time in the Word as well. As a result I filled a 200 pg journal within 4-6 months. It wasn’t long before my bookshelf was overwhelmed with them, and I found them difficult to reference. Over the years I’ve learned to whittle it down to the very basics, allowing my journal to serve its true purpose. Static entries are best. Keep it tight, sweet, and succinct – very similar to a resume. You should be able to glance at any given entry and know precisely what took place that given day. Full sentences and verbose embellishments are not necessary. Instead use CAPS, highlighters, bullet points and underlining to grab your attention.
A Daily Reference
I suggest that when you begin your day with the Word of God, prayer, etc. that you also begin it by reading your last entry. While the Word of God guides you, your journal will show you where you just left off with Him, as well as your daily progression. If you journal on a regular basis you will find that your journal is one of your most treasured possessions. It’s a key companion in your spiritual walk. It’s there to serve you – you don’t serve it.
I personally suggest journaling on an ‘as needed’ basis. However, if you feel the need to make a daily entry regardless of what transpires, I suggest sticking to the seven point rule. Journal entries do not need to be elaborate to be effective. The less said – the better. Learning to use key words and phrases is important.
Journals for Varying Purposes
If you love to journal, you may want to dedicate a journal to a specific purpose. For example, you may want a prayer journal set apart specifically for your children or spouse. You may want a journal of memories with your kids where you record things they said or did, experiences, and fist life events for them. Whatever the case may be, one journal does not have to encompass everything in your life. If it works for you, segregate them accordingly.
Whether your journal is a companion to your phone, wallet, purse, or bible, I strongly suggest you consider taking up the practice. Or, if you have already attempted journaling, but grew frustrated because writing just isn’t your thing – I encourage you to try again and do it a bit differently.
Journaling is not a literary art. It’s a practical discipline. Anyone can journal.
Make your journal work for you. And it will serve you well. It will function as a gold-mine of spiritual wealth for you as you go forward, enabling you to look back on powerful key moments in your spiritual walk that you just can’t afford to forget.
P.S. Remember your pen!
Cheers & Shalom,