Saturday, May 05, 2012

Spiritual Journaling

A spiritual journal is different from a diary. A diary is a recording of events, sometimes thoughts, feelings, impressions. With a diary we are talking to ourselves, or recording events so that someone after us can know what happened, like an autobiography.

I started to journal at age 17, as a senior in high school. Even then, before I committed my life to Christ, I dedicated my journal “to God, Who loves me even when I am wicked.” I kept a journal then to deal with the raging emotions and drama of my teen years. A journal can be that, a pathway to self-discovery, a method to nurture yourself.

Now I journal to nurture my relationship with God. If our goal with God is not religion but relationship, then we need to cultivate that relationship. Journaling is how I do that. I tell God my secrets of the heart, and I listen as He continues to love me even when I am confused and wicked! Typically women bond by conversation, the give and take that comes from sharing thoughts, feelings and intimate details of life. So that is what I do with God through my journal.

My spiritual journal is a conversation with God. It is said the Bible is God’s love letter to us. My journal is my love letter back to Him. I am talking to Him. He hears every word and wants to talk back to me. I have found as I talk to Him with my journal open, He will talk to me and I can record what He is saying.
I keep my journal and my Bible together so I can use it as part of my daily devotions.

My spiritual journal records my journey with God. I can look back on it and see patterns, habits, good and bad, cycles of behavior. I can also see what God has been doing in my life, how He answers prayer, how He is using the events and people in my life to help me grow.

Therefore, my journal entries include Bible passages, information from Christian books I am reading, sermons, conversions with friends as well as my own thoughts. God talks to me through the Bible, other books and often other people. I talk back to Him.

Journaling is a discipline, a pathway. It is not THE pathway, it is one of many. Journaling works for me but it does not work for everyone. Don’t beat yourself up if you start out using it only infrequently. However, like any discipline, the more we practice it, the better we get at it and the more meaningful it becomes. A journal can be a friend who is always glad to see you and welcomes you back, no matter how dusty your book gets between writing.

What do I write in a journal?

Remember, our journal is a conversation with God, and with any conversation, there is give and take. But someone always talks first.

Sometimes my soul will feel quiet and I can let God talk first. Sometimes I arrive at the conversation with something pressing on my heart and I will need to talk first, so I go right ahead. God is patient and kind, He knows our heart. He is perfectly content to listen to us first. So our conversation can start like this:
  • Bible study – God talks first
  • Rant – We need to talk first
  • Prayer – We need help from God
  • Questions – We want guidance from God
But it is not limited to these! Sometimes I add drawings, songs, quotes from a book I am reading, movie/TV show I saw, conversations with others, sermons I heard, a dream, an impression from something I experienced or have seen, anything that has been floating in my mind.

No matter what we write about, it is important to remember these important guidelines:
  • Be totally HONEST. Our mindset always must be – we are writing to a dear friend who loves us unconditionally, who is profoundly interested in everything that happens to us, every feeling, every thought, every hurt, and every hope.
  • Share not only what happened but feelings, impressions, questions.
  • Write fast, write everything. Allow thoughts to flow uninterrupted. Do NOT censor or evaluate while writing. It is not necessary to use correct spelling, grammar or punctuation. This paper will not be graded!
When God talks first – how do I study the Bible study with my journal? 

Sequentially studying one book of the Bible at a time is my favorite and most productive approach to Bible study. It doesn’t matter how much I read, a few verses, or a whole chapter. What matters is to take the time to absorb and reflect on it. Then apply it!

What to look for (and examples from Philippians 1):
  • Promises of God (verse 6)
  • Key Truths (verse 12)
  • Commands (verse 27)
  • Good (or bad) examples (verse 9)
  • Repeated words or phrases – signifies emphasis
Use our friends: What, Who, When, Where, How, and Why
  • Circle nouns
  • Underline verbs
  • Who is the author talking about? Talking to?
  • What is he telling them to do? Where is he telling them to go? Why?
  • How is he telling them to do it? What attitudes, timing?
After I read, I write:
  • I write down verses/phrases that impress me, seem most meaningful to situations in my life, things God and I have been talking about recently.
  • I then write what I think they mean in general, and what they mean to specifically to me.
  • I end with writing a prayer, what I need help with to change in my life from the application of today’s reading. Nothing ever changes without God’s help. And He never expects us to change quickly or without His help.
When I talk first – How do I dare complain to God?

Pastor Jeff once told me this gem that helped me greatly: Go ahead and tell God you are angry with Him. He can take it! Being honest means when our feelings are ugly, we share them too.
Sometimes when I am overwhelmed with pain, I rant first, then end with Bible reading. Ranting to God is a spiritual activity.

Giants of faith express laments as part of sacred scripture. See King David’s Psalm 55 or the prophet Jeremiah’s Lamentations 3. It is real, it is raw. We can be that way too.

I share how I feel and who I am angry with or who has hurt me and why. Then I turn to God and allow Him to speak into the situation with scripture. Sometimes I search the Bible topically using, an excellent tool. Mostly I just read the next sequential chapter/verse from my daily reading. I am always amazed how often the next chapter speaks directly into the issue I am facing.

Writing down how I feel has helped me reflect and identify the key issues in my life that need healing and/or repentance. While we do not need to rush ourselves through the process of pain, as God loves us and is not in any hurry to “fix us”, by looking back on our journaling, we can tell if we are stuck in this angry cycle and seek the help we need to get out.

My journal has been like a mirror, a place for personal discovery as well as discovery about God. Remember, unlike other friends, God already knows us better than we know ourselves and holds all our memories in His hand. When we talk to God, He not only reveals Himself but also ourselves. I find it is helpful to review my journal periodically and look back on answered prayer, emotional and spiritual growth, as well as unhealthy patterns in my life.

Now it’s your turn – Write your first entry.
No, I am not kidding. Take out a blank notebook and begin by writing your name on it. Make sure to put today’s date, then start, by writing about:
  • A Bible chapter. You can start with: Genesis, 1 Samuel, Psalm 1, Psalm 3 (need to rant), Mark, Philippians.
  • Something you heard or saw recently that greatly impacted how you looked at things or taught you something significant about yourself, life or God.
  • A dream, a night time or day dream/hope/desire you have. Tell Him all about it, what you think it means.
  • A praise of thankfulness for something you have received or an answer to prayer.
  • A sorrow and concern you want to share with God and ask for His help.
  • A deep hurt or fierce anger you want to express to God. Maybe you have questions in this regard: does He see? Does He care? Why hasn’t He helped already?
  • A choice or decision that is pressing on you. Explain in detail and then ask for God’s direction.
Explain the whole thing to Him, like He can’t see it for Himself. Tell Him exactly how you feel, all your rambling, circling thoughts about it. Draw Him a picture if that helps. If you start by sharing, don’t forget to end by getting in to the Bible and allow God to talk back to you.

  • We are all unique – there is no right or wrong way to journal. Please take all my thoughts and sift them through what you know about your own needs.
  • Don’t beat yourself up if it does not work for you.
  • But if you do journal, let me encourage you to be honest, do not censor or evaluate.
Allow God to love you as your write a love letter to Him.