6 Ways to Make Journaling Work

Journaling is usually used as a way to chart your spiritual growth. But there's a lot more to it than that.

About the same time our daughter came into the world, my husband and I also moved. Having a baby was a delight, but these two events together threw us into many new changes. I had no friends in our new home. My husband’s job was stressing us all, and we were preparing to move again. After we moved a second time, the stress eased, but the months without a strong church connection or local support network dried me out spiritually. I felt weary and alone.

In the midst of this time I realized that I'd stopped looking for places where God was at work. I started looking for signs of God’s work in my life and writing about my observations. Though I’m still recovering from our two most recent moves, I am beginning to see the fruit of several months of this kind of journaling. I have recorded many signs of God’s work in and around me. And I believe if I had not put my pen to the page, I would have not discovered that I am not, in fact, alone.

Journaling is often recommended as a therapeutic activity or a record of your spiritual journey, but I have discovered it’s so much more. When practiced regularly with a particular focus, journaling becomes a spiritual discipline—a tool that actually helps you grow. The benefits you gain will depend on your method.

Journaling is often recommended as a therapeutic activity or a record of your spiritual journey, but I have discovered it’s so much more.

Here are some techniques I have tried at various times of my life. You may also find that different methods serve you better at different times of your life.

Grateful Heart

List several unique things each day for which you thank God. You can go into detail by writing a paragraph describing each item, or you can make a short numbered list. This exercise is challenging but especially rich if you thank God for people or situations which trouble you.

Cooperation with the Spirit

Follow a daily Bible reading schedule. After you read each day, write a page about how your chosen reading applies to your life. Explain (1) How the teaching connects to your life right now; (2) Where you fall short; (3) How you can correct the problem and (4) How you will take specific action. Check off your action steps as you complete them. Writing down your application keeps you more accountable to do something about it.

Awareness of God’s Work

Observe signs so you can write about God’s work in your life. Some of the signs of God’s work which the Bible discusses are exercising spiritual gifts, obeying Christ’s teachings, displaying the fruit of the Spirit and receiving answers to prayer.

Writing down your application keeps you more accountable to do something about it.

Direction for Prayer

Write down the foremost things on your mind for the day (people you’re concerned about, tasks on your to-do list, ongoing problems, scheduled events, dreams for your future). Limit this list to ten or less. For each item on your list, write out a prayer from a sentence to a paragraph in length.

Record of God’s Guidance

This is particularly important if you are facing big decisions or a transition period. After you’ve made a decision and your life gets tough because of it, it’s easy to doubt what you were once sure God showed you. In this method, take notes on everything surrounding your decision, such as lists of pros and cons, notes on books you’re reading, God’s messages to you through the Bible, conversations with others, recounts of key events, copies of important e-mails/letters or transcripts of texts/chats/voicemails, questions you have, and so on. Depending on the particular decision and your deadline, you may not write a journal entry every day, but try to do it as often as you think of something important or an event occurs which impacts your decision.

Digestion of your Day

When looking back on the day, you may more easily identify what you did right or wrong, how God was working, or what was the spiritually significant part of the day. Digesting your day leads to other activities. If you journal in the evening, begin your entry with the word “today.” If you journal in the morning, begin your entry with the word “yesterday.” Recount the first or biggest thing that comes to mind. If the situation you write about requires follow-up of some kind, jot down the steps you need to take. Or you may want to end with prayer.

More than venting, remembering or reflecting, journaling can be used as a powerful spiritual discipline. With pen in hand, it can transform your thinking in the present moment and encourage you in the future when you reread your entries about God’s work in you and your world.