Does the mere thought of journaling tire you out? Or does it conjure up spending time you don't have detailing overly "serious" thoughts and spiritual insights?
Perhaps you've tried to keep journals in the past—prayer lists, irregular accounts of your spiritual failures and victories, letters to God about your deepest dreams. But let's face it: while journaling can be an amazing tool to help you record God's transforming work in your heart, it's easy to feel overwhelmed by the process. However, I've discovered some creative journaling techniques that have blown me away with their ability to renew joy and intimacy in my relationship with God.
So whether you're tired of your own humdrum attempts to journal, or if you've never given it a try because you don't think of yourself as a "writer," think again. Have I got some fresh ideas for you!
Collecting quotes and thought-provoking observations from my favorite Christian writers is a powerful journaling technique that boosts my spiritual morale.
I started this type of journal by accident. When I became a small-group leader, I began looking for quotes to illustrate the subjects we discussed. After a few sessions of fumbling through books for just the right passage, or forgetting to bring the book I wanted to share to small group, I began copying important quotes from readings into a reference journal. For example, when I read a chapter from Philip Ryken's Discovering God in Stories from the Bible, I underlined the passages that stood out to me about a particular attribute of God. On the left-hand side of my journal, I copied the most meaningful passages. On the right-hand page, I listed the times in my life this same attribute was revealed to me.
If you're more of a reader than a writer, a quotes journal is a wonderful way for you to meditate on some of the amazing things you're learning in your spiritual walk. Whether you love Christian poetry, fiction, or theology, your journal can become a special repository for your favorite quotes and thoughts.
It's also been helpful for me to illustrate each quote in a memorable way. For example, for a sermon on Jesus' teaching that it's more difficult for a rich man to enter heaven than it is to squeeze a camel through the eye of a needle (Matthew 19:24), I glued a thin silver needle to the page to drive the point home.
After a few weeks of journaling this way, you'll find yourself at unexpected times of the day dwelling on the ideas and Scriptures you've copied into your journal. A quotes journal allows you to reinforce spiritual concepts and record inspirational ideas from the great minds of our faith.
Impossible prayers journal
My friend Cindy was the person who encouraged me to start an Impossible Prayers Journal. Cindy had just finished reading Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire by Jim Cymbala, and she was struck by his contention that a lot of churches in America aren't praying God-sized prayers. Cindy began challenging me to examine my prayer life and to ask God to do things that were more in scale with his glory and power than my human thinking.
So a few years ago, I decided to jot down some "impossible" requests in my journal about everything from the speedy growth of my small group, to godly husbands for some of my single friends, to my desire to lead someone to Christ that year. God has answered each prayer in an amazing way. For example, one Sunday, one of my church pastors needed to get to a counseling session with a family in crisis and asked me to lead a 14-year-old girl to Christ in his stead! Six of my girlfriends are now married to men who love God, another's engaged, and the rest are confident that whether God leads them to marriage or single living, his perfect will prevails. (But I'm still praying!)
These exciting answers to specific prayers have stretched me to continue praying as 1 John 5:14-15 says, "This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him" (NIV).
It's incredibly energizing to pray according to God's will and ask him to do what he plans and promises. This has become one of my favorite journaling techniques to pass on to friends. I now know people who are praying for the salvation of politicians and movie stars, others who are petitioning for the downfall of the voodoo religion in Nigeria, and still others who are praying that a massive Christian witness sweep through the Muslim world!
You can begin even without a pen or paper by checking out some journaling websites such as www.myonlineprayerjournal.com, www.prayer-journal.com, and www.prayerity.com. My friend Sherry credits an online journal with helping her draw closer to God during a time when she was unemployed. "I enjoyed peace during a very stressful time," she said of her daily online prayer journaling. "It put my focus on eternity rather than the here and now."
If you enjoy the beauty of God's creation, one way to enjoy his handiwork even further is through a creator's journal. Find pictures that express all kinds of natural elements, press leaves and flowers, or snap photos of different seasons and types of weather. Whether you gravitate to photographer Ansel Adam's black-and-white portraits or to colorful faces from every nation and tribe, a journal of awe-inspiring sights can drive your thoughts to the grandeur and glory of their Creator. Under each illustration, write down reasons why these scenes inspire you. You also can incorporate Scripture that speaks about God's workmanship.
My friend Brian is always on the lookout for another outline he can trace into his creator's journal. After tracing a rock or a plume of pampas grass or the shadow of a tree onto his page, he ruminates about all God has created.
"It's a daily exercise in humility," he says. "It does me good to spend some time every day thinking about how big God is—and how small I am."
Family of faith photo journal
When four of my friends became Creative Memories consultants, I began attending quite a few scrapbooking parties. In their party pitches, my friends frequently mentioned that photos are one of the most powerful ways to remember.
I had to agree. I had boxes filled with snapshots of my friends from every concert, play, picnic, or party we'd attended. But what became apparent to me after I bought bundles of colorful pens and cute papers was that our nights of fun were a part of our friendships, but not the best part. What I wanted to remember was the way my friend Tracy trusted God fearlessly to provide for her when she lost her job. I needed a place to record the time Christy and I prayed in her car in the church parking lot for an hour after a late night of ministry. I wanted to record what God was doing in each of our lives. Wasn't that the most exciting aspect, anyway?
So I began to chronicle our spiritual highs and lows alongside our beaming pictures. I included the verses we'd memorized or the prayers we'd said for each other, the encouraging cards I'd received, or short stories that demonstrated the characteristics I most admired in each friend.
These photo journals became a record of how God has grown both my loved ones and me. Just flipping through the pages, I can see and read so many tangible reminders of God's goodness. In the face of such living proof, I'm always lifted up!
A family of faith photo journal can be a great way to teach your kids to remember God's work in their lives as well. This can be as simple as taking a picture at the start of each school semester and using a blank page to record the triumphs and challenges God brings your kids through. Or, you could build your album around important spiritual events in your family's life, such as each member's spiritual birthday.
If you don't have a ton of free time, this is one of the easiest journals to keep. All you have to do each day is list three to five things for which you're thankful.
You may have seen this journaling concept on The Oprah Winfrey Show, but no one has more to be thankful for than a Christian! There's a huge difference between feeling "lucky" for your good fortune and realizing that "every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights" (James 1:17).
I like to put a spin on gratitude journals by creating them for other people, too. There's nothing more meaningful for a leader or mentor than a journal from a person they serve, outlining some of the ways they've seen Christ's love in their service. Many Christian workers long to see fruit in the lives of those for whom they labor. Let your pastor or Sunday school teacher know how God has used their teaching and prayers to help you grow.
Whether you want to expand your prayer life, express your admiration of creation, give thanks, boost your faith, or trace God's work in the lives of your loved ones, there's a journaling style for you. So forget any daunting notions of what a journal is supposed to be. And once you find a way to journal that feeds your relationship with God, stick with it and share your ideas with others!
Jody Veenker is a freelance writer who lives in California.
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