My days look mostly the same. So, aside from important dates and reminders, I rarely use a calendar or take notes. This habit carried over to my Bible study. Unless I was preparing a sermon or writing a devotion, I never wrote anything down. I didn’t keep track of prayer requests or what I learned in my daily Bible reading. This remained the case until I encountered the spiritual discipline of journaling.
The concept of journaling wasn’t new. I had known many Christians over the years who kept journals. I even had a few notebooks full of sermon notes I had taken. That was a journal of sorts. But, I didn’t chronicle my spiritual journey. After finding the Doctrine & Devotion podcast and perusing their archive I was reintroduced to the concept of journaling. This happened to be around the same time I learned about Bullet Journaling.
Together, the two transformed my devotional time. Today, I want to introduce you to the fantastic spiritual discipline of journaling and show you how to make it a part of your Bible study.
What is Journaling?
In his book Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, Donald Whitney defines journaling in the following way:
A journal (a word usually synonymous with diary) is a place (tangible or digital) in which a person records information important to him or her personally for preservation or consideration. As a Christian, your journal is a place to document the works and ways of God in your life. Your journal also can include an account of daily events, a record of personal relationships, a notebook of insights into Scripture, and/or a list of prayer requests. Spontaneous devotional thoughts or lengthy theological musings can be preserved there. A journal is one of the best places for charting your progress in the other Spiritual Disciplines and for holding yourself accountable to your goals.[*]
For me, journaling is an ever evolving art that I’m learning. Right now it consists of maintaining a bullet journal where I keep my thoughts, tasks, gratitude logs, prayer requests, and the like. This year, I’ve even purchased a separate notebook for keeping track of my notes during the 2018 Bible Reading Challenge. I’m still working it all out, but I’m doing what works for me, however it morphs over time.As a Christian, your journal is a place to document the works and ways of God in your life. - @DonWhitney Click To Tweet
Not to be forgotten in this is the popular movement of turning journaling into an art. Not only can you take notes, but you can illustrate and color your thoughts to make them stand out. The possibilities are limitless.
What to Journal
What goes into a journal is as individual as the person writing it. The choice is yours. Don’t feel like you need to copy how I or someone else does it. Make it your own.
That said, when it comes to biblical journaling, there are some items you should consider tracking. You can have any, all, or none of these in your journal, but they are all worth considering.
Memorizing Scripture is a vital discipline for our spiritual growth. One of the ways we can keep track of the verses we’re learning is with a journal. Our journal can serve as a storehouse that lists all the verses we’ve learned and are currently working on. It can also serve as the place where we practice writing the verse from memory.
The longer we are Christians, the easier it is to forget where the Lord has brought us from. Consider the children of Israel in the wilderness and how quickly they forgot all the miraculous things God had done for them. If we don’t want to end up like that, we should make a habit of tracking our prayers. Keep a written record of what you’ve prayed for and when, the date the Lord answered it, and the manner in which he answered. Prayers & their answers are not forgotten when they’re written down.
Not only can you keep track of prayers, but you can write out prayers in your journal as well.
Application & Understanding
As you study the Bible each day, you should strive to understand what you’re reading and make appropriate application. Journaling is a good way to do this.
There have been times when I’ve looked at my old devotions and sermons, only to shake my head in shame at how I interpreted the passage. I wasn’t completely wrong in how I understood a passage, but I often missed the main point. Much like prayer, writing out your thoughts on a passage helps you see how you’ve spiritually matured over the years. It also reminds us how much more we can learn.
One way to stay focused during the sermon is to take notes. Taking notes and reviewing them mimics the behavior of the Bereans in Acts 17:11. These individuals listened to Paul’s preaching & then went back to Scripture to verify if it was true. Sermon notes also are beneficial if your church has small groups. Your notes help you recall what was taught so you can be more active in the discussion.
If you’re going through a Bible study or preparing your own, a journal is a great place to track this information. Often I found my application notes turning into full Bible studies or lessons that I used in teaching others. This wouldn’t have been possible if I wasn’t writing them down in my journal. If you ever get called on to teach at church, you’ll always have material to pull from.
We do not journal for the sake of journaling. That would be meaningless. No, we journal as a means of spiritual growth. As such, it plays an important role in several areas of our spiritual life. Donald Whitney lists several benefits to journaling in his book:
- Aide in self-understanding and evaluation
- Help in meditation
- Expressing thoughts and feelings to the Lord
- Remembering of the Lord’s works
- Creating and preserving a spiritual heritage
- Clarifying and articulating insights
- Monitoring goals and priorities
- Maintaining other spiritual disciplines [*]
Tips for Journaling
When it comes to tools for journaling, there is no right or wrong way to do it. The mantra is to do what works for you. If you’re the kind of person, like me, who wants to write in a physical notebook using pen or pencil, then go for it. Do you prefer to keep your journal digitally? That’s fine too. Even if you want to use fancy typography and colorful illustrations, then do that.
There are no rules to keeping a journal other than the rules you create for yourself. To quote Donald Whitney again, “the method you find most edifying and useful in your pursuit of godliness is the way you should keep a journal. This goes for content, format, length, and frequency.”[*]The method you find most edifying and useful in your pursuit of godliness is the way you should keep a journal. This goes for content, format, length, and frequency. - @DonWhitney Click To Tweet
The key to journaling is simply getting started. Don’t let anyone tell you you’re doing it wrong. Be free. Experiment. Try different things. Keep what works for you.
Likewise, don’t give up. Stick with it. Before you can experience any value from journaling you have to spend time doing it. It can be a struggle and you will inevitably fall off the wagon, but hop back on and persist. When you keep at it, you will reap the rewards, I promise.
Start Journaling Today
My challenge to you is simple: if you’re not already journaling, incorporate the habit into your Bible study. Try it for a few weeks and see if it doesn’t improve your retention and Bible study time.
If you’re already journaling, keep at it and continue to experiment. Incorporate new things into your journal. If it doesn’t stick, go back to what works.
Finally, let me leave you with this quote from Donald Whitney’s book:
The Discipline of journaling is not a burden from God to document your entire life; rather it is meant to bless you and be a means to joy and godliness.
Weekly Study Prompts
This week meditate and journal on the following passages:
- Monday – Exodus 8-9
- Tuesday – Exodus 10-11
- Wednesday – Exodus 12
- Thursday – Exodus 13:17-14
- Friday – Exodus 16-17
- Memory Verses: John 1:29; Hebrews 9:22
* All quotes from: Donald S. Whitney. “Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life.” iBooks.