Sadly, few people write reflectively these days. It seems like work. Besides, who has time, in our frenetic lives, for reflecting and writing?
Not many people think of writing as an important spiritual discipline — yet indeed, it is. It’s an important aid to spiritual orientation and transformation. Here are a few examples.
1. Kings wrote out important parts of the Bible. The passage below encourages kings to write out the Law of Moses. Why? Writing intensifies attention to the text so that the Word of God can have its intended impact. Note the purpose: to keep the king humble before God and his fellow countrymen, and keep him and his country on a healthy trajectory. (Modern leaders, take note!)
When (a king) sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself in a book a copy of this law (of Moses)… And it shall be with him, and he shall read in it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the LORD his God by keeping all the words of this law and these statutes, and doing them, that his heart may not be lifted up above his brothers, and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, either to the right hand or to the left, so that he may continue long in his kingdom, he and his children, in Israel. Deut 17:18-20.
2. David wrote most of the psalms. David, described as a man after God’s heart (Acts 13:22), was an extraordinarily prolific writer. The psalms are a striking monument to God’s faithfulness, recording the works and ways of God, as well as David’s devotion to God. In the psalms, David pours out his passion for God, examines himself in the light of God’s Word, and repents, confesses and prays through what he wrote. David’s example reminds us of the spiritual benefits of writing.
3. The entire Bible was written by the Holy Spirit. Peter reminds us that no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit (2 Pet 1:21). And, as Paul wrote to Timothy, All Scripture is God-breathed (2 Tim 3:16).
Listed below are some additional benefits to writing, or journaling.
A. For deep spiritual formation. Writing, said Francis Bacon, makes an exact man. Journaling is an excellent way to develop self-awareness in a way that is both deep and accurate. Scripture is like a mirror in which we see more clearly our thoughts, words, actions and motives. We do this with so much more precision and wisdom when we write. As we do so, the Holy Spirit helps us see more clearly the progress or decline of our inner self, helps us see previously undetected patterns in our lives, or makes us more aware of sin and the need for sanctification. Marked growth towards spiritual holiness is deeply intentional. Men and women go deep only as they labor to cultivate the soul. Journaling is an invaluable aid in this process.
B. To amplify other spiritual disciplines and better serve God and others. Journaling amplifies Bible study, prayer, worship, meditation, confession, repentance, solitude and service. Journaling is a great way to pray and seek silence and solitude before God — and also to keep oneself accountable for accomplishing spiritual goals. Some of the great men of God wrote down their spiritual goals so they could later verify that they had indeed achieved them. Insights from prayer and meditation, fixed in the mind through journaling, can be used later in service, such as in counseling, encouraging, discipling, mentoring, teaching and witnessing (See 1 Pet 3.15).
C. As a testimony to future generations. Your journal can be a spiritual time capsule which can be recorded for a generation to come, so that a people yet to be created may praise the LORD (Ps. 102:18). Just as as David’s writing powerfully passed on his faith in God to future generations, so our journaling can be effective in transmitting our faith to our children and grandchildren. What trace of your life will remain 100 years from now? Your photographs, certainly, but the most significant spiritual impact on future generations could well be your journal – a record of your spiritual conversion, dramatic answers to prayer, significant spiritual turning points in your life, and stories of God’s grace. Your family history can be a witness and a testimony that could bring future generations to Christ long after your death. This is an important part of the Great Commission that should not be overlooked.
Legalistic? For some, the word ‘discipline’ sounds like hard work, and others think the word sounds legalistic. However the word discipline comes from the same root word as ‘disciple’. A disciple is a spiritually disciplined follower of Jesus. A disciple cannot be spiritually undisciplined. Think of a great artist. A great artist must have mastered specific disciplines to produce great art. This is not legalism. Motive is everything. We pursue the spiritual disciplines because we love God and desire to have a closer relationship with Him.
Too ‘academic’? Over the millennia, many great Christian leaders were men who kept journals. One thinks of Augustine of Hippo, Puritans like Jonathan Edwards and Cotton Mather, and Anglican cleric George Whitfield, to name just a few. Undoubtedly, journaling was an important part of their spiritual formation. The example of these great men of God reminds us of the purpose of journaling: to draw closer to God and to develop Biblical Christ-likeness. Far from being a meaningless academic exercise, writing or journaling is practical: for spiritual growth, character development and life transformation!
How to get started. At Village Schools of the Bible, we strongly encourage writing or journaling as an important way of deeply internalizing God’s Word. Just make a start. Simply list one verse from your Bible reading that impressed you the most. Meditate on it for a few moments, then record your thoughts and insights. Add recent events in your life and your responses to them, including prayers, joys, successes, failures. Write at least one sentence per day. Journaling is a discipline, so plan for persistence. Over time, you’ll discover the benefits it brings to spiritual growth, and you’ll experience the joy of taking your relationship with God so much deeper!
This post draws extensively from a chapter on Journaling for the purpose of Godliness in the book by Whitney, D.S. Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life. NavPress, 2014. If you’re interested in the spiritual disciplines, this book is an excellent resource.
(This blog post was written by Warwick Alcock, Director of Strategic Operations, Village Schools of the Bible.)