We continue our reading of Spiritual Disciplines of the Christian Life together this week by turning our time and attention to the topic of Journaling.
If you’d like to know more about what we’re doing, you can read about it here. Last week, we discussed Fasting. In that post, we discovered that meditating on Scripture is unlocks yet another door to experiencing more of God. As we dwell on His Word our affections are stirred towards worship.
Each week I issue something similar to the following reminder: Simply walking through the motions won’t help you grow in godliness. Engage in the Spiritual Disciplines because they get you more of Jesus helps you become more like Him. Keep this in mind each week as you study and read.
Whitney’s reference to the bends and hazards of life’s great adventure towards the Celestial City is a welcomed introduction to a topic we’ve each heard and read far too much about. This quick tip of the hat to John Bunyan’s classic work, Pilgrim’s Progress, sets the stage for the most useful and encouraging writing on journaling I’ve read.
What could have been boring and lifeless, is quickly livened by drawing our attention to the immediate good this discipline provides the Christian—namely, a written record of their adventures. “Specifically, your journal,” said, “is a place to reflect upon God’s Word and the riches of God’s grace to us in the gospel of Jesus Christ, and how we move forward in enjoying those riches.”
While not expressly mentioned in Scripture, keeping a written record of life’s happenings, your heart’s response to them and reflecting upon your growth in Christlikeness—or lack thereof as is often revealed—is a special gift for us to enjoy. Not all followers of God throughout history have had the means or ability to chronicle their days in such a fashion, but some did.
“A journal can be,” Whitney said, “the means by which the Holy Spirit shows us areas of sin or weakness, the emptiness of a path we have chosen, insight into our motives, or other things that can transform the journal page into an altar of seeking God.” What are the Psalms then, but a record of regular meditations on Scripture, prayers and thoughts expressed in poetry and writing? When we read them we are in a sense reading David’s journal. Our words may not be inspired as it is by the Holy Spirit, but they most certainly may be prompted by His work in our hearts.
We’ve seen throughout our reading that Whitney believes meditation upon Scripture to be of special importance to our spiritual progress. In chapter after chapter, we see him weaving a case that it is the interconnecting practice of all the disciplines. I’ve often thought the title should have included a subtitle to this effect; perhaps something like, How the Discipline of Meditation upon Scripture Transforms the Christian life.
Either way the principle stands as firmly fixed as anything I’ve observed in reading this or any other book. “Meditation on Scripture,” Whitney said, “is the single greatest devotional need of most Christians...Perhaps the most valuable contribution the Discipline of journaling makes to the pursuit of godliness is how it facilitates meditation on Scripture.” Cast in this light, journaling can be a method for reflecting upon God’s Word and allowing it to marinate in our hearts. Like all the Disciplines we’ve studied, purpose matters. Just as skipping a meal isn’t fasting, so writing about your day isn’t journaling for the purpose of godliness. No, we must be intentional and allow the words we scribble out to overflow from our time in Scripture and for what God is doing in our hearts to be worked out on the page.
“We tend to feel most deeply,” Whitney said, “about what we think most deeply about.” As we dwell upon God’s Word it will come pouring out of us like tea from a kettle. But first we must let it steep, which is exactly what Scripture memory and journaling allow it to do.
“Writing in a journal provides an opportunity,” Whitney said, “for the intangible grays of mind-work and heart-work to distill clearly into black and white.” Writer upon writer conveys this simple truth; writing is refined thinking. The process of putting words on the page aides the writer in moving from vague notions to concrete thoughts about a thing or event. What could be more beneficial to the heart and mind of the Christian pursuing Christlikeness?
A journal can be a place of reminder for things we want to emphasise, as well as a place to track our progress in areas such as the Spiritual Disciplines. The discipline of writing down the things swimming around in our heads and hearts, and asking ourselves questions about it, can propel us onward in our journey towards being more like Jesus. This style of introspection can be good and healthy as one questions and analyzes their motives, thoughts and actions through a biblical lense.
“Specifically, your journal,” Whitney said, “is a place to reflect upon God’s Word and the riches of God’s grace to us in the gospel of Jesus Christ, and how we move forward in enjoying those riches.” That’s the crux of the matter with this, and other, Spiritual Disciplines—to what end do we pursue these them? Is it to check a box, be seen in a certain light or is it to get more of Jesus? The latter is means of turning the works of our hands and hearts into worshipful pursuits of godliness.
Whitney doesn’t go into methods or means of journaling in this chapter, and for good reason. “The method you find most edifying and useful in your pursuit of godliness,” Whitney said, “is the way you should keep a journal….Use the method that works best for you.” Getting started tends to be the largest problem, so find a manner of journaling that works and stick to it.
I’ve had an on again off again relationship with journaling for years. I’ll do well for a season, only to fall off the wagon, so to speak, at some point down the road. I take great comfort in not being alone on that point. Quick glimpses at the journals and diaries of men such as David Brainerd, Jonathan Edwards and the like show great gaps in their record keeping as well; however these men continued to show up and put pen to paper; and that’s exactly what I’m going to do for as long as I can.
The how, when and what of my journaling is as ever changing as the tide—one month it may be free form, while the next it could be answering a list of questions and the one after that might only be a listing of events and activities. Those things don’t ultimately matter, showing up to put thoughts, memories and insights down for future me or future Hagamans does.
My wife Hannah is great about remaining consistent in this discipline. She journals every morning without fail. As the sun rises, there she sits her coffee in hand, pouring her heart out to the Lord on the page. Every now and then she’ll look back at what she’s written from days and years past, to find a fun memory or prayer we shared once upon a time. It is so fun to see this record of the Lord’s faithfulness through life’s ups and downs. Her journals will most likely be the ones our kids run to after we’re gone. Within their pages they’ll find an honest pursuit of Christ throughout a lifetime.
We will continue with the next chapter (chapter eleven) of the book next Sunday. We may be in the midst of reading Spiritual Disciplines of the Christian Life together, but it’s not too late for you to jump in. In fact, I’d love nothing more than for you to grab a copy and join in. Click here to see what ground we’ve covered so far.
I’d like to hear what stood out to you this week. Please feel free to post your reflections, and thoughts in the comment section below. If you have shared your thoughts on your own blog, please link to it as well. Do not feel the need to be profound or to share something new. Simply share what caught your eye, or stirred your heart as you read.