Monday, July 04, 2016

How to Keep a Spiritual Journal

Chicago, from our hotel window

I've been keeping a spiritual journal for forty years. I have read and responded to over 2000 spiritual journals that pastors and Christian leaders have sent me as part of seminary classes, retreats, and conferences I have taught. Here are my thoughts on keeping a spiritual journal.
A spiritual journal is a record of the voice and activity of God to you. When God speaks to you, write it down. To do that is to keep a spiritual journal.

People write differently. Some include lots of detail, such as the place where they are praying, prayer concerns, and biblical exegesis. But the core of the journal is: God's words, spoken to you. When I read the journals of others that's what I am looking for. What is God saying to you? What is God doing with you?

When your mind wanders I suggest writing where it wanders to. The mind does not wander arbitrarily, but always to something like a burden. The wandering mind is a barometer of your current spiritual condition. Then, following 1 Peter 5:7, "cast your burdens on God, for he cares for you." I find it helpful to get the burdens on paper. To see them on paper makes it feel like its not inside me any longer. Now it's at a distance from me. De-burdening is an important part of entering into God's presence more fully. We have a greater focus on God because we are not so distracted by our burdens.

If keeping a spiritual journal is writing down what God says to me, how can I know it's really the voice of God? I have found that one better hears God's voice when they:

1) Saturate themselves with Scripture.
2) Spend MUCH time alone in God's presence.
3) Interact with other Jesus-followers who spend much time in God's presence.

There are some good books about this, such as Dallas Willard's 
Hearing God: Developing a Conversational Relationship With God.

Because the spiritual journal is a record of God's voice to you, it is fruitful to occasionally re-read and re-meditate on your journal. A number of the things God tells you will become thematic in your life. It is important to remember them. "Remembering" is huge in a person's spiritual life. When we have a written record of God's words for us it can be easier to recall them as we re-ponder them anew. The maxim here is: "I will not forget God's words to me."

A spiritual journal, because it is a record of God's voice to you, is about you. Not others. Yes, I sometimes write about others in my journal. For example, I pray for others. Or If I'm upset with someone I use letters such as 'X' to refer to those persons. I don't want my journal to be found or read by someone with whom I'm angry with. When I write down such things before God I'm primarily asking God to help, not 'X,' but me, and with anger inside me.

What can you expect God to say to you? My experience tells me that God will say things like: his love for you, things he wants to heal inside you, things you need to repent of in your life, that he forgives you, things about his essence (the glory of who he is), giving you deeper insights on Scripture, and so on. And, God impart things to you. When this happens to me I write down things like grace, mercy, peace, joy, love, hope, and power.

I don't believe journaling is for everybody. But remembering is. So is entering deeply into God's presence and hearing his voice.

My new book is Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God.