We’ve been exploring some simple devotional practices that you can integrate into your daily life to enrich your time with God. A few months ago, we looked at how walking a labyrinth can help us slow down and connect to God. Next, I shared some silent meditation practices that you could implement alone or in a group. This month, we are focusing on journaling.
The Benefit of Perspective
One of the great benefits of keeping a journal is that it preserves your thoughts, experiences, and impressions on a given day at a particular point in time. Each day of your life has its share of joys, sorrows, challenges, successes, and failures. Every day, we have experiences that have potential for strengthening our walk with God. However, sometimes we are too close to the experiences and events to adequately process their impact on us. Capturing those experiences and reflections on paper creates a sort of snapshot. It allows us to return to and reflect upon previous experiences and to explore how God has been at work in our lives through those happenings.
Every now and then, I page back through my journal to see what I had written during a comparable time a year or five years ago. Problems and challenges that seemed insurmountable then have been resolved, dismissed, or survived. Small and large blessings that had slipped my mind, bring me joy as I read them again. I read and remember how God has spoken to me, guided me, nourished me, and walked with me in my journey. I’m reminded of a scripture that was particularly meaningful or of an insight that informed my growth. It becomes clearer to me how near God is to me. The continual—albeit intermittent—cycle of journaling and reflecting over the years is a powerful tool for God to use in our spiritual development.
How It's Done
As with all spiritual disciplines or practices, it is not the act of writing and reflecting itself that transforms us; transformation is the work of the Holy Spirit. The ultimate purpose of all spiritual disciplines and practices is to create a mindset, an openness, a pathway to a deeper relationship with God. The spiritual disciplines and practices are simply a means of putting ourselves in the pathway, open to the work of God.
So what tools are required for journaling? You should set up a journal in a way that gives you joy and satisfaction. No need to be a legalist. Current technology provides a myriad of options for journaling. One might choose an audio or video format while another prefers the ease of composing and editing on a computer or tablet. Some make their journey more public via a personal blog. For myself, I prefer pen and paper. My personal favorite is a soft leather binding of unlined pages. I enjoy the feel of holding it in my hands. Choose the mode that fits you best.
If you’ve never practiced journaling for spiritual reflection before, these prompts may help you get started.
The SOAP acronym stands for Scripture, Observation, Application, Prayer. Following these four steps leads you to reflect on a scripture and intentionally and immediately apply that scripture to your life in a practical way. UBA Consultant, Sally Hinzie, learned this method from church planter & pastor Wayne Cordeiro of New Hope Church in Oahu. Sally personally practices it often and teaches it to church planters and growing believers that she mentors.
First, read the scripture as many times as you like. You can evenwrite out the passage—or the most meaningful phrase or verse—by hand in your journal. Then, observe & apply. What thoughts or questions do you have? What is the Holy Spirit impressing on you with these verses? What direct applications can you make for your life today? Sally reminds us, “Look for an example to follow, a promise to be claimed, or a lesson to be learned. Look for Jesus to be revealed.” Engage the entire process in a mode of prayer.
If you want to order a fancy Life Journal to lead you in the SOAP practice, you can find options here.
Reflective journaling is one of my personal favorites. It is most meaningful for me when applied to a story or a Psalm—a passage that involves people, experiences and emotions. Read the passage of scripture once or twice. Set a timer for 5 to 20 minutes (however long is meaningful for you). Start writing continuously for this period of time as you reflect upon the scripture. Don’t stop writing even if you have to start repeating phrases.
The point is to let the Holy Spirit guide your thoughts and to follow that leading. Immerse yourself in the story, in the scripture. Imagine what people might look like, smell, feel, taste, touch. What are the people feeling? How do your emotions connect with theirs? To whom do you relate in the story? Let your mind dwell on the passage, and draw from it what it might be like to actually be in that experience. When the timer goes off, spend some time prayerfully reflecting on your thoughts and impressions. Write additional impressions from the Holy Spirit.
Jesus often used the natural, created world to express spiritual truths. He called himself the bread of life, the living water, the light of the world. He asked us to consider the lilies of the field and the birds of the air. He likened the kingdom of God to a mustard seed and a grape vine. His followers are sheep and vines. Clearly, we are meant to find meaningful truths about God in the world around us.
Choose any item of the world around you (a river, the ocean, a rose, a leaf, a grain of sand, a butterfly, a bee) and begin to reflect, to really slow down, stop, and reflect, on that thing. Write about it. Ask questions about it. Think of scriptures that might relate to it. Open your mind to the possibility that this item has something to teach you about the One who created it. I have more than once found myself led to surprising and meaningful conclusions as I reflected on a plague of lice and one of the fleas that had invaded our home.
You don’t have to be a talented artist to enrich your personal journaling time with artistic expressions. Be bold and creative. It’s your journal. No one is judging your work. Read a passage of scripture. Choose words or phrases that impact you and create a simple artistic expression of those words or phrases. It might be as simple as writing these expressions over and over in a circular, winding, or artistic pattern. You might illustrate a phrase with colored pencils.
If you are particularly artistic, this might become quite elaborate as the monks illustrated the gospels in the Book of Kells. It might be as simple as using your pencils to draw boxes around words that are meaningful to you. It’s a form of meditation on scripture but engages your hands instead of simply pondering the scripture in your mind. This is helpful for some who are more experiential learners. It speaks to a different area of the mind and heart.
These are only a few of many ideas to enrich your journaling experience.