Does journaling make you a better Christian?
If ever there was a “superhero” of the faith, George Whitefield (1714-1770) would certainly qualify. As a major figure in the Great Awakening, it’s estimated that the itinerant preacher delivered over 18,000 sermons to more than 10 million people.
Last fall, I read a large chunk of Whitefield’s journal. As I flipped the pages, I felt as though I had stepped into another world. But, as amazed as I was by the ways God showed up in the 18th century, I was equally captivated by the man I met in those pages.
Far from perfect, Whitefield was meek and lowly, humbled by his spiritual poverty and, because of that, utterly perplexed by how God chose to work through him. Still, there was a sweetness to his relationship with God—one I longed to see in my own life.
It would be a fantastic stretch to suggest that journaling was responsible for George Whitefield’s deep, intimate walk with the Lord.
But, I’m willing to bet it helped.
A Venerable Tradition of Christian Journalers
Whitefield stands in a long line of Christian journalers.
It’s likely that St. Augustine kept a journal, much of which ended up in his landmark Confessions. Jonathon Edwards—the American theologian—kept an extensive diary as well. Modern day examples would include John Piper and Bart Millard.
Piper, specifically, keeps a journal as “a kind of thought notebook for insight, clarification and insight preservation… not so much for recording what is going on in your life as what is going on in your head and your heart.” He counts journaling as “one of the most important habits in [his] life.”
Men and women of profound Christian insight have profited immensely from the practice of journaling.
These few names reflect the tiniest sample of a thread woven throughout the history of the Church. Men and women of profound Christian insight have profited immensely from the practice of journaling.
How About You?
In a post like this one, now is about the time when I break out a cleverly worded listicle and follow it with a slick call-to-action designed to guilt you into Christian journaling.
Well, I do have a listicle for you, along with something you might consider an action call. But, I can promise you we’re not going to play the guilt and shame game here.
I’ve read those articles and, out of a profound sense of inferiority, took up my pen and paper. You can guess how well that worked out for me.
The truth of the matter is there’s no biblical command to keep a journal. Your pen-pocked Moleskine won’t earn you a pass to the luxury suite in heaven.
So, let’s start there. Instead of putting journaling itself on a pedestal, let’s consider some of the vital spiritual practices Scripture does lay down for us.
How Can Journaling Help Us Do What God Has Called Us To Do?
In light of those, let’s take it a step further and ask the simple question: how can journaling help us do what God has called us to do?
Meditation On Scripture
“…but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law, he meditates day and night.” (Psalm 1:2, ESV)
God pronounces a blessing on those who delight in His Word by reading it, chewing on it, and hiding it in their hearts (Ps 119:11).There are plenty of ways to do that, but for those who tend to process verbally, journaling offers the perfect opportunity for dwelling at length on the Word of God.
Even for non-verbal types, a journal provides an excellent place to record what the Lord is showing you in Scripture. Without some written record, you can expect 95% of those insights to evaporate within a week’s time.
Introspection About Our Lives
“Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts!” (Psalm 139:23, ESV)
The Psalmist pleads to God for insight into the inner workings of his heart and mind. Similarly, Scripture calls us to “examine ourselves (2 Cor. 13:5)” and to keep a close watch on our behavior and the way it might influence others (cf. 1 Tim 4:16).
This is how Jonathon Edwards used his journal. Famously, Edwards composed 70 resolutions as a sort of personal manifesto. Every day, he’d use his journal to reflect on how he was (or wasn’t) living up to his commitment.
With a pen in hand, journaling offers a dedicated moment to think carefully about who we are, what God is doing in us, and where we’d like to see growth.
Head-Engaged, Heart-Soaked Prayer
“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” (Psalm 19:14, ESV)
There’s something uniquely powerful about a written prayer to God. Part of the unique power of his Augustine’s Confessions lies in the way he constructed his life story as one complete prayer to God.
Journaling not only facilitates that practice, but it provides a personal repository of those prayers. This leaves you with a beautiful record of your heart’s deepest longings, as well as a concrete way to reflect on how God has responded to your prayers over time.
Daily Recollection And Testimony
“I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart; I will recount all of your wonderful deeds. I will be glad and exult in you; I will sing praise to your name, O Most High.” (Psalm 9:1–2, ESV)
I think again about George Whitefield and how his journal serves as a testimony to the mind-blowing ways God worked in Britain and America during the 18th century.
We are finite creatures. Our memories are limited. We need a way to memorialize God’s activity in our lives—big and small. Again, journaling gives us a practical way in which to do that.
“Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion! When the Lord restores the fortunes of his people, let Jacob rejoice, let Israel be glad.” (Psalm 14:7, ESV)
Christians are a longing, people. Our lives are hidden with Christ today, yet we yearn for that glorious tomorrow when we join Him in glory (Col. 3:4).
With the Psalms, I believe we’re meant to give voice to that deep longing—to cry out in lament over the broken world in which we live as we wait for the perfect one to come.
We’re meant to give voice to that deep longing—to cry out in lament over the broken world in which we live as we wait for the perfect one to come.Click To Tweet
I struggle to find a better example of this than the one we see in Bart Millard’s childhood. Tyrannized by an abusive father, Bart would hole up in his room, listen to music, and journal incessantly.
Journaling was Bart’s cry to God for justice and restoration. The habit of putting pen to paper allowed him to voice that cry in a real and compelling way. Mercifully, God blessed that practice and used it sustain Bart through the darkest of times.
He even used it to birth a song that eventually touch the lives of millions.
So, Does Journaling Make You a Better Christian?
No… and yes, but only if it facilitates the spiritual disciplines and practices we’ve considered above.
With that in mind, this is my guilt-free invitation to Christian journaling.
Give it a try. There’s no right way or wrong way to journal. A sheet of paper, an empty word document, a voice recorder—the medium doesn’t matter. You’re not turning this in for a grade, and God’s probably not going to judge you for presentation.
The one piece of counsel I would offer is this:pick a method that inspires you.
A few years ago, my wife went on a mission trip to Honduras. There, she bought a hand-made leather journal from a local non-profit. For her, there was something utterly compelling about that journal. It represented the fruit of a few local boys’ commitment to a new trade and the promise of a better future for them and their families.
We’ve provided our leather journaling notebook—a piece designed to replicate the journal Bart Millard uses and crafted for us by the social enterprise. We hope it’ll similarly inspire its users and help make journaling a joyful daily habit.
If all you need as an empty sheet of loose-leaf paper and a mug of coffee, then more power to you. Wherever you draw your inspiration, you’ll soon count yourself blessed if you channel it into this long-standing practice of Christian spiritual formation.
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