by Dr Gavin Williams

Precious spiritual lessons should never be lost. The inner ministry of the Holy Spirit to our lives is a treasure too sacred to forget. Yet too often the passing of time renders the memory dim and those precious details of the Lord's grace slip into the grey mist of experience. Frustrating, isn't it! "What was that passage of Scripture the Lord so powerfully used in my life on that occasion? I want to share it with someone else but it has gone." Most Christians have been through that experience.

I want to share with you a spiritual discipline, which I have found to be of incredible benefit in the development of my spiritual life. It is the discipline of Spiritual journaling. Journaling provides a simple and effective way of keeping a record of my journey through life with the Lord Jesus. It has become for me an integral part of my daily walk.

Keeping a spiritual journal is not a new idea. Many men and women of God in the past have kept journals. Some of these are today regarded as devotional classics. "The Imitation of Christ" by Thomas a Kempis and "My Utmost for His Highest" by Oswald Chambers are but a couple of examples.

Some of the books of the Bible are in effect journals of the interchange between God and men. The books of Daniel, Habakkuk and even Revelation are journals of men's encounter with God. Many of the Psalms also fit into this category. In more recent times, men such as Charles Haddon Spurgeon and W.E.Sangster found spiritual journaling a precious discipline.

WHAT IS A SPIRITUAL JOURNAL?

A spiritual journal is essentially a personal diary of my day-by-day walk with my Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. It is a place to record many of the deeply personal insights and encounters that are a part of my relationship with Him. It is a forum to help me to hear His voice and to examine the ebb and flow of my spiritual journey. It is a place where I dare to place down on paper my deepest longings, failures and victories and there to open them to God for His scrutiny. Over the years my journal has become a priceless chronicle of my walk with God.

In one journal I have recorded the development of my call from the pastorate into itinerant evangelism (in 1987). Another records the call back into pastoral ministry almost six years later. Those journals record the happenings, encounters, Scripture insights, highs and lows of the journey in affirming the will of God. How precious I have found it to look back over those pages and see in overview the joy and pain of those events. If ever I came to doubt my calling, I had only to read my journal to ease those doubts.

As the years have passed, my journals have recorded almost every high and low of my life:
· Personal struggles and delights.
· Times of spiritual high and times of deep distress.
· Precious insights from the Word of God.
· Times when my anger and frustration show in exclamation marks that penetrate several pages.
This leads us to ask, what sort of things ought to be recorded in a spiritual journal? Listed below are just some of the things that I have found helpful to record. But remember - your journal is your own private territory with God. You are free in Him to write whatever you want and need to write:
· Insights, promises and revelations from your devotional life.
· Specific prayers you have prayed.
· God's answers to your prayers.
· Personal behavioural struggles (e.g. with your sexuality.)
· Needs you have in personal, spiritual and practical areas.
· Confession of sin.
· Recognition of God's conviction and rebuke.
· Personal identity struggles. (e.g. Just who am I?)
· Lessons you have learned in the school of life.
· Daily events of personal or spiritual significance.
· The leading of the Lord in specific areas of your life.
· Disappointment, hurt, pain and suffering.
· Victories, failures, joys and sorrows.
· Precious insights from preaching ministry.
· Praise and thanksgiving for God's gracious ministry.
My own philosophy is simply this: There is nothing I can tell God that will shock Him. He already knows me better than I know myself. He is bigger than my greatest failure, able to meet my deepest need, wanting to share my highest joy and deepest sorrow. My journal is my daily dairy of that very personal and precious walk with God. He says to me, "Cast all your care on me because I care for you." (1 Peter 5:7) I do just that. How precious it is to look back and review the chronicle of His faithfulness to me.

THE PRACTICALITIES of SPIRITUAL JOURNALING.

There are many simple yet practical questions that immediately spring into the mind of the newcomer to this precious discipline. I want to pre-empt those questions and give some practical answers. Naturally, these answers are touched by my own practice and experience. I stress once more that this is only my way. If you find another that suits you better, then follow that way.

1. What do you use for a journal? Personally I find that spiral bound A4 size notebook suits my needs very well. On average I would use two of these per year. I find them to be a convenient size to carry when I am travelling and the page size is generally sufficient for one day's entry. Should one of these journals ever be lost, I have only misplaced about 6 months records. Whilst such a loss would be tragic enough in itself, I am saved a more serious dispossession.

2. How often do you write and how much? Once again there are no rules here. It is purely a personal matter. On average, I would write in my journal 5-6 days each week. I do not become disturbed if I miss a day or two. The journal is intended to be a helpful tool, not a master. As to "how much", the answer is the same. You will develop a personal pattern that fits your own style. Don't write for the sake of writing. Similarly, don't neglect to record some significant insight merely because it will go over on to a new page. You are writing a personal chronicle, not a work of art for public display.

3. What do you write? I find it helpful to begin by briefly reviewing any significant issue from the previous day. (e.g. lesson learned, significant personal encounter, etc.) Then I look ahead to this day and note down any circumstance or anticipated situation with which I need God's specific help in that day. I often record here how I am feeling about my world and me. Is there some struggle with which I am wrestling? I note it down.

Then I turn to God's Word. I am amazed how often the message from the Word specifically addresses issues I have just noted. Is there some promise, insight or blessing? If so, I record it. What is God saying personally to me for today? Is there some point of guidance, conviction or instruction? And what is my response to that which God has said to me? I record that too. Sometimes I find it helpful to cross-reference my Bible and journal by noting a date in the margin of my Bible. It is my usual habit to close by writing a brief prayer.

4. What if someone else should read my journal? When you are dealing with God at this level, not all your entries will be personally complimentary. There maybe times when you will record things that you would never want another person to read. If such is the case, you may want to keep your journals under lock and key. That is up to you. Whilst I do not write my journals for others, I am not afraid for others to see me as I really am.

I have found honesty to be an important key. I can't fool God and I know it. Honesty helps me to walk humbly with my God.

THE BENEFITS OF JOURNALING.

The benefits of keeping a journal are many. You will quickly discover more than I have recorded below. However, it is my prayer that those benefits listed will encourage you to "give it a go!"

1. Journaling helps you to hear God's voice. When you sit in the presence of God with pen and paper, it is as though fresh channels of communication are opened. Gordon McDonald writes:

"I became aware, little by little, that God's Holy Spirit was directing my thoughts and insights as I wrote. On paper, the Lord and I were carrying on a personal communion. He was helping me, in the words of David, to 'search my heart'. He was prodding me to put words to my fears, shapes to my doubts. And when I was candid about it, then there would often come from Scripture or from the meditations of my own heart, the reassurances, the rebukes and admonitions that I so badly needed. But this began to happen only when journaling was employed." [Ordering your Private World.]

Like McDonald, I too have found journaling to be a fresh and wonderful means of hearing God's voice speak specifically to me. And what is more, I have those precious encounters recorded for all time.

2. Journaling provides a chronicle of Spiritual growth. Just how do we measure spiritual growth? Surely growth means that we are constantly moving on to new frontiers with God. Sadly too many Christians have to learn the same lesson over and over again. When we keep a journal regularly, we are able to grasp an overview of our progress in God. "Am I further down the road than this time last year or have I slipped back? Your journal will help you answer these questions realistically.

3. Precious lessons are never lost. Our loving Heavenly Father is a gracious teacher. Day by day through His Word and the presence of His Holy Spirit there flows a ceaseless stream of precious instructions. But can I ever hope to remember them all? The answer is in your spiritual journal. Each lesson and adventure with God is recorded for future blessing. You will be surprised at how God will draw you to look back to this or that lesson and refresh you all over again through past experiences.

4. You will discover more about the real you. It is incredible how writing down what we feel, that for which we long and desire and many other inner reactions, begin to reveal to us some incredible truths about ourselves. I quote again from McDonald.

"Into the journal went words describing my feelings, my fears, my sense of weakness, my hopes and my discoveries about where Christ was leading me. When I felt empty or defeated, I talked about that too in the journal. Slowly I began to realize that the journal was helping me to come to grips with an enormous part of my inner person that I had never fully been honest about. No longer could fears and struggles remain inside without definition. They were surfaced and confronted."

5. Journaling will assist you to know God's will. Discovering God's will is one of the most complex issues faced by young and older Christians alike. At this point your journal becomes a marvelous aid. Through the journal we are able to follow the step-by-step sense of God's leading. We are able to look back over our responses to each step and evaluate the decisions we are about to make. We also have a clear record of the developing events that can be set before our spiritual mentors when we feel the need for the affirmation or advice of others more mature than ourselves.

6. Journaling helps us to keep a balance between heart and head. Too easily our Christianity suffers from imbalance. Too much reliance upon either emotional or intellectual emphases causes all sorts of problems. A right balance between the two is critical. Your journal provides a screen upon which you are able to monitor that balance. When you read the Word of God, in prayer or in times of crisis, your journal will assist you to see that you are preserving a right sense of balance. That source of stability will flow through your whole life.

I trust that these thoughts have opened for you something of the potential blessing that keeping a spiritual journal can be for the child of God. It is not always an easy discipline to maintain. But one thing is for sure; your journal will become a rich record of the grace of God to you. I encourage you to give it a try. Follow some of the guidelines given here. As you become more confident, develop your own style and ideas. God does speak personally to people like you and me today. Your journal is one place where you may train the ears of your heart to hear and recognize His very personal communications to you
Written July 1998
Revised 2002

© Copyright LttN Ministries Inc. 2002.
This article has been revised and reprinted in Appointment with Jesus by Dr Gavin Williams