“Journaling” can mean different things to different people. For some, journaling is written prayer. For others, journaling is keeping a record of prayer requests and answers. Some keep a journal of especially poignant spiritual truths, perhaps insights from a sermon or quotes from spiritual books or a collection of Scripture. Some may write accounts of particularly meaningful encounters with God. For some a journal is a form of diary, a place to record the events of their day and a few thoughts or insights about it; these entries may be as brief as one or two phrases or a long narrative. Some might keep a “gratitude” or “joy” journal that lists one or more things each day—small or large—for which they are thankful. Still others journal in the sense that they write out their thoughts or respond to a particular prompt; it is not so much a prayer or specifically God-directed as it is a written exploration on a topic. Journals can come in a variety of forms—written in a notebook, typed on the computer, in an online forum, shared with friends or private, including art work or pictures or solely visual art without words, etc. The Bible does not mention journaling, so is there value in any of these activities?
Writing or creating art of any kind causes us to slow down enough to attend to our inner being. Words may flow effortlessly, or they may take time to formulate. Either way, writing is a method to help us reflect, contemplate, and more fully digest the things of life. Proverbs 4 talks about gaining wisdom at all costs. Its words imply intentionality and alertness: “My son, pay attention to what I say; turn your ear to my words. Do not let them out of your sight, keep them within your heart; for they are life to those who find them and health to one’s whole body. Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. . . . Let your eyes look straight ahead; fix your gaze directly before you. Give careful thought to the paths for your feet and be steadfast in all your ways. Do not turn to the right or the left; keep your foot from evil” (Proverbs 4:20–23, 25–26). Journaling can help us pay attention and keep wisdom at the forefront of our thoughts. It can also be a way to guard our hearts as we search our inner being, paying attention to what is going on in our hearts and submitting it to God.
Although the biblical psalms are not true examples of “journaling,” they do illustrate how the truth of our experiences can be expressed alongside the truth of who God is. The varied themes in the Psalms and their unabashed candidness demonstrate how we can be perfectly honest with ourselves and with God about our feelings and thoughts. In journals, we can express ourselves to God and remind ourselves of His greatness. Luke 2:19 tells us about Mary treasuring the events around Jesus’ birth and pondering them in her heart. Psalm 111:2 says, “Great are the works of the LORD; they are pondered by all who delight in them.” Journaling can help us ponder the good things of God and give Him praise.
Another benefit of journaling is having a written record to which to later refer. In times of spiritual dryness or discouragement, one can look back at a journal and find encouragement in God’s past faithfulness or reminders of truth. God often instructed the Israelites to set up forms of remembrance. The Passover, for example, was to serve as a reminder of God’s faithfulness in rescuing the Israelites from Egypt (Exodus 12). After the Israelites crossed the Jordan River on dry land, God gave Joshua instructions about setting up memorial stones, which were “to serve as a sign among you. In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever” (Joshua 4:6–8). Psalms 77 and 143 talk specifically about remembering God’s works in times of hardship. Journals can be one way to remind us of what God has done in our personal histories.
For those who are “natural” writers, journaling can be a way to intentionally use their gifting to grow in Christ. They can explore through journaling the truth presented in Scripture or the things God may be teaching them through life circumstances. Journaling can be used to look back at the past, asking God to reveal truth we may have missed along the way or to bring about healing. We can also use journals to express hopes for the future and submit our desires to God. Journals can be used as a method of personal Bible study. Journals filled with scriptural and spiritual truths can be a quick reference tool.
Journaling is exciting for some and sounds laborious to others. There is no right or wrong way to journal. And, depending on the person, it may be highly valuable or not add much. Journaling is certainly not a requirement for Christian growth, but it can be a great tool.