The Power of a Personal Journal
Remember, Record, and Trust Your Great Moments
As a seminarian, I listened intently one day while a Nazarene evangelist named Chuck Milhuff spoke to a room of future leaders. One classmate asked Milhuff, “What is the key to knowing God’s will?” His answer was a bit unusual but insightful. Milhuff responded, “Learn to trust your great moments.”
His point was that God is always at work in our lives with a specific plan. During those profound intersections when He is teaching us vital lessons, we should clarify the salient truths in order to remember. This allows us to move forward in obedience and confidence.
Memorial and Journals
However, it is hard to trust the lessons that we cannot remember. In biblical history, the Lord commanded His people to remember His exploits and never forget His lessons. To reinforce their memory and obedience, God instituted “memorials” such as the Passover, the 12 stones at the Jordan River, and even the feasts. Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper so that we would remember and trust the great truths of our salvation.
What about today? How do we record and trust our great moments? I have learned that a spiritual journal is a powerful tool for remembering our great (and not so great) moments. Francis Bacon noted, “If a man writes little, he had need of a great memory.” Journaling is for those who want to track and extract the work of God and lessons of life for personal application. God has used the discipline of journaling in my life since the late 1970s and I am so grateful for this simple tool for spiritual growth.
What is a Journal?
Most people consider a journal a more spiritually-oriented diary. It is a place to record various aspects of your Christian journey. This could include events, relationships, feelings, and key lessons. Scriptural insights from one’s Bible reading are core to a good journal. Reflections on prayer lessons, requests, and answers are also helpful. As you journal you are able to keep track of spiritual progress, regress, or repeated themes in your daily experience.
The Psalms serve as a model of spiritual journaling. The writers expressed a broad range of emotions, insights, aspirations, struggles, and praises. Jeremiah’s “Lamentations” also reflect the heart of the journaling experience with expressions that are raw, real, and resolute.
Why Keep a Journal?
I see seven reasons to engage in the spiritual discipline of journaling. (Four are in today’s devotion; three more will be featured next week.)
I have found that journaling is a practical tool for applying God’s Word in my life. In a sense, it is a way to pray and respond to the Scriptures in writing. This helps us to be “doers” and not just “hearers” or “readers” of the Word (James 1:22-25). As a result of this careful application of truth, faith is strengthened. We are empowered to live a life pleasing to God as truth bears fruit in our lives.
Many of us struggle to handle the deep and sometimes troubling emotions we experience. Some will “bottle” or “stuff” their emotions. Others “explode” at inappropriate times and in hurtful ways. Journaling provides a safe, consistent, and objective outlet for the expression of our deepest emotions to God. Psalm 62:8 admonishes us, “Trust in Him at all times, you people; Pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us.” Even a cursory reading of the Psalms reveals the broad range of emotions – from unrestrained joy to painful bitterness – expressed to God in written form.
Just like a growing child trying to quantify his height without a ruler, it is hard for us to objectively track our spiritual progress. By writing consistently and honestly over an extended period of time, we are able to see how we have grown in handling the challenges and decisions of life. Conversely, we can see those areas that continue to trip us up as besetting issues in our faith. Romans 12:3 reminds us not to think more highly of ourselves than we should. Journaling helps us think accurately about where we are in our pursuit of becoming a disciple of Christ.
Psalm 77:11-12 says, “I will remember the works of the LORD; Surely I will remember Your wonders of old. I will also meditate on all Your work, and talk of Your deeds.” Similarly, Psalm 105:5 states, “Remember His marvelous works which He has done, His wonders, and the judgments of His mouth.” It is a serious and counterproductive thing to forget the faithful works of God. Psalm 78:11 attributes the spiritual decline of God’s people to the fact that they “forgot His works and His wonders that He had shown them. ” A good journal allows you to recall the Lord’s work in your life as you go back and read of the “great moments” and themes of prayer that have developed over the years.
The Positive Power of Remembering
In the book of Deuteronomy, God inspires Moses to give instruction to the Israelites prior to their entry into the Promised Land. These truths would help God’s people live obedient lives as they possessed the land. It contains promises of blessings but also warnings of judgment for their disobedience.
It is interesting to note that 14 times, they are commanded to “remember” (Deuteronomy 5:15, 7:18, 8:2, 8:18, 9:7, 9:27, 15:15, 16:3, 16:12, 24:9, 24:18, 24:22, 25:17, 32,7). God calls them to remember His words and His previous works. He tells them to remember the positive and negative examples of other people. He knew their tendency to forget and stray into apathy and disobedience.
He knows our tendency as well. Jesus spoke to the Church of Ephesus that was orthodox but apathetic. He commanded them to “remember” their previous spiritual fervor, then to repent and return to their first love.
In keeping a vibrant, thoughtful, and consistent walk with Christ our cry should be, “Never forget!” The Lord is good, true, and faithful. Let us write about Him and His works as we live intentional lives for His glory.
(Next week we will consider three additional benefits of keeping a journal, then explain the “how to” of journaling.)
Copyright © 2012 Daniel Henderson. All rights reserved.