Are you ever surprised by how quickly you forget what God has done for you or what he expects of you? I am not just referring to something you heard in a sermon you thought was interesting. It could be something that touched you so deeply that, at the time, you would never believe you would forget it or fail to act on it. But you did.
You are not alone.
I keep a journal because it helps me remember. When I am hurting it helps me remember God’s tender mercies in times past. When I seek God’s leading, journaling helps me see step by step the path he has guided me on to get to the place I am now. Or it shows me where I took a wrong turn. It helps me recognize all the providential care through the years so that I don’t doubt his providence in the present moment. When I am discouraged, it reminds me of God’s consistent instruction and grace. My complaining is stopped dead in its tracks by reminders of God’s goodness and faithfulness.
If only I was more consistent. Just this morning I opened my 2016 journal to discover that I hadn’t entered anything for nearly a month. It showed For the past week I have been discouraged, complaining, anxious, impatient, not wanting to follow through with God’s clear leading. I have been somewhat apathetic about listening to Jesus. Of course, the reason is not because I didn’t journal, but because I didn’t remember to obey. I didn’t remember what God had told me through reading the Bible, reading devotionals, listening to sermons or any of the other means he uses. But there they were in my recent journal entries, staring me in the face – rebukes and encouragements addressing each of these attitudes. I couldn’t help but be simultaneously ashamed of my forgetfulness and amazed and encouraged by God’s love, mercy and providence.
Characteristics of a Christian Journal
What makes Christians’ journals different? I believe that our journals should say more about God than they say about ourselves. A journal can stand as a witness to God’s faithfulness, his leading, his love, his presence, and his redemptive power in our life. And you and I need such a witness because we are prone to forget.
I keep a journal because, when God speaks to me, I really don’t want to forget what he says. I don’t want to forget what he has done. My journal helps me remember answers to prayer. It helps me remember with concrete examples that God does what he promises. It helps me remember God amid distraction or turmoil.
Seeing God in the Details of Our Lives
God never leaves us or forsakes us. But sometimes we don’t recognize his providential hand until we look back and see a sequence of events that can only be explained by divine intervention. The book of Esther shouts God’s name without mentioning it because the story could only be the result of God’s working. Your story and mine can only be explained by God’s providence. Nothing happens by chance.
That is where journaling comes in. Journaling is not a replacement for reading the Bible. It does not replace meditating on God’s Word, prayer, fasting, or memorizing Scripture. But it sure is a great way to recognize and remember God’s providence. Journaling helps us see God in the details of our lives.
I am not encouraging anyone to journal so they can make decisions based on their circumstances but, instead, to journal to help them recognize and follow God’s consistent leading. Opportunity is not synonymous with God’s will. I once had an opportunity to continue down a path of secure and comfortable prosperity but God clearly wanted me to trust him instead of money. Had my focus been on circumstances and opportunity instead of listening to God I would have made the wrong choice.
You may be surrounded by great winds of political upheaval, by economic earthquakes or by the fires of war yet God does not speak to you through them (see 1 Kings 19:11-13). But there may be a gentle whisper in a sermon here, a devotional there, the rebuke or encouragement of a friend or an answered prayer that all contain the same message for you from God. Write them down so you don’t forget. Write them down so you can see that these events cannot be explained by coincidence but only by God’s providence. Then act on God’s leading. Do what you know to do.
Journaling may not be for everyone. But, if you don’t journal and are prone to forget what you would otherwise remember had you written it down, maybe you should give it a go. As you journal, pay particular attention to answers to prayer. How often you write in your journal is a matter of personal preference. However, avoid writing just to be writing or failing to record something you know God wants you to remember. Having too much in your journal will make it hard to profitably review. Having too little defeats the journal’s purpose.
If you already journal, please share with a comment how it has influenced your walk with Jesus.