The Benefits of Keeping a Prayer Journal
Have you ever felt, after an experience of prayer or particularly powerful “God moment”, that you’ve just got to tell someone about it? What if you could tell your future self in detail about that experience? Keeping a prayer journal allows you to forever remember the beautiful ways God speaks to you in prayer and daily living, and even to pass down to future generations those stories of God’s particular faithfulness to you and your family. Your prayer journal serves as a reminder of God’s activity in your life and a record of God’s love when it feels as though God has become silent, and the process of keeping it can be an avenue of prayer in itself.
Journaling AS Prayer
In my own experience, there are two basic ways to keep a prayer journal. The first is to turn the act of journaling into your prayer. Try writing a letter to God, expressing in all honesty your fears, hopes, desires, worries, and longings of your heart. If you struggle with perfectionism like me, it can be difficult not to “judge” your written prayer as you go. Try not to worry about how the words sound or agonize over your sentences, re-reading as you write. Instead, remember that this letter is for you and God alone – and God is not judging your writing!
This method of prayer journaling is excellent for people who love to write or who find themselves easily distracted in prayer. It can make clear what you need most from God and most want Him to know. Seeing your prayer on paper can help illuminate your desires in a clearer way than mentally conversing with God. You can even try writing a letter back to yourself from God. You may be surprised at what God says to you in this form of prayer journaling.
Journaling ABOUT Prayer
The second method of prayer journaling I have found helpful is making a record of sorts after you’ve ended a prayer session. Rather than actively writing during your time of prayer, end by recording major movements of the prayer. This does not mean that you must write down every thought that crossed your mind in prayer and every perceived insight from God. Rather, you can write some general thoughts or words that capture what the prayer time was like.
Some helpful questions to guide your journaling after prayer include: What emotions were present within you? If you read during your time of prayer, what words or phrases jumped out from the Scripture or spiritual passage? What did God reveal to you about them? If you had to ascribe an image to the time of prayer or to how your heart feels after prayer, what would it be? You could even draw this image in your prayer journal. Do not worry here about filling the page. Sometimes, a few words are all it takes to jog your memory about what transpired between you and God in that time of prayer.
Why Bother Keeping A Prayer Journal?
Keeping a prayer journal allows you to look back at the history of your personal faith journey. As you take time to flip back through the pages a year, two years, five years from now, you may notice patterns in your spiritual life. Are there questions you continually struggle to answer, areas of doubt that keep coming back? Are there times in which your faith and trust in God appear to have been stronger than they felt – times when you were tempted to give up but kept going? You may find that God has directly answered prayers that you forgot you even uttered. Allow God to surprise you in the re-reading of your prayer journals. The natural response to reading your prayer journal is often gratitude. I often find myself saying, “Wow, that was pretty amazing. I forgot that happened! Thank You, God!” as I read through my old prayer journals.
I believe that every life is touched by God in miraculous ways. Sometimes it takes time to realize the miracle that has occurred. Journaled prayer serves as a record of God’s movement in your life. The most helpful times to re-read your prayer journal are when you feel that God is silent in prayer. You can look back and see how God has spoken to you in the past, perhaps prompting realizations of ways He is currently speaking to you that may have otherwise gone unnoticed. God tends to use similar ways of communicating with us because He knows what we will best understand.
There is a danger of forgetting the many ways God spectacularly loves us. We feel awe and gratitude and wonder in the moment in the face of such love, but promptly forget the experience as a new worry or fear or need arises. We are cautioned against this in Scripture: “Take care and be earnestly on your guard not to forget the things which your own eyes have seen.” (Deuteronomy 4:9) Your prayer journal can be a safeguard against such forgetting, the reading of it a turning back toward God in trust and hope. In the face of despair, nothing is more powerful than a record of God’s fulfilled promises in your own life.
After all, the Bible itself is a record of God’s fulfilled promises and extravagant love, a sort of “prayer journal” of the Jewish people and then the early Christian community as they witnessed the power of God’s love alive among them. In reading it, we are moved to “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control…” (Galatians 5:22-23) In short, the Holy Spirit is there whenever we recount God’s goodness and recall His faithfulness. Keeping a prayer journal is an excellent way to do just that.