I’ve journaled for decades.
Decades. I have a sundry collection of letter-to-God Word files (yes, I type them) that date back years. But journaling was never a particular part of my regular Bible study or prayer time. Rather, it was supplemental, something that I did as circumstances or feelings warranted: writing out my questions or realizations to God as a sort of prayer. I suspect I will always do that.
But with the intention to enrich and deepen my prayer life, I started a different kind of journaling recently. At the beginning of the day, after Bible study, I take a few minutes to hand-write a prayer for the day. It often touches on the day’s Scripture and how I hope to learn or grow in the Lord, with a focus on one or two intercessory requests. The goal is to learn to “pray deep,” and so I write the prayer in hopes that it will inform my day and set the tone. As the hours pass, I come back to that prayer and pray it over and over again, zeroing in on those few particular things I’ve written down.
Now, I find that the practice has been fruitful in ways that I expected. It reframes my day and often my attitude, leading me to look at things from a more godly perspective than I otherwise might. It keeps me disciplined. It has helped me to remember and pray for requests in a more meaningful and profound way. It has also helped me to cultivate an attitude of ongoing prayer, and to realize fully exactly how many of my requests and questions are fulfilled in a given day.
But one revelation was unexpected: the prayer journal has been showing me surprising patterns in my spiritual life.
I didn’t realize it until I was glancing back over a week’s worth of journals and pondering the contents, but I was surprised to see that there were a lot of things I could learn about myself and about God from the chronological occurrences of particular events. Here are a few:
1. Days that I felt particularly triumphant in God or particularly grateful to God were always followed by a “problem day”: a day where I was either anxious or uncertain or discontent about something, or frustrated or irritated. Spiritual attack? A weak point in my spiritual armor? The natural low after a high? I’m not sure, but now I’m on guard for it – and was actually able to head off one of those days recently when I saw it coming.
2. I am most excited with God and growing in God when I am doing. (Or, alternatively, I do a lot when I am most excited with God and growing in God.) The days that I did a lot of writing, or crafting, engaging in community stuff, or even running errands were days that I was really focused on the Lord and on prayer.
3. I start questioning the most and wondering the most and feeling the most discontent when I have loads of spare time.
4. I forget a lot of fulfilled prayer requests. I’ve always heard that God says “yes, no, or wait,” but I was surprised by the amount of yes – almost always when I was praying in faith on behalf of someone else, and praying particular Biblical promises.
5. God will answer my spiritual questions, or give me a challenge/experience with a certain aspect of spiritual growth, almost immediately after I have asked for it – if, that is, I am looking for the evidence of it.
And so on. These patterns won’t be the same for everyone, and if you engaged with this I imagine your patterns would be quite unique. Still, looking at everything from a holistic perspective has helped me to see the way that my life impacts my spiritual walk and vice versa: when I’m prone to weakness and selfishness, when I am striving to be my best self for God, and when God is working in my life so subtly that if I weren’t looking I might never notice.
I encourage you to try this, even if not with journaling. Just start paying attention to the following things over a series of weeks:
1. When/where/how are your spiritual highs and lows? What are you doing in those moments? What precedes and succeeds them?
2. When are you most prone to resentment, irritation, frustration, and anxiety? When are you most prone to worship?
3. When are you bored? When are you most fulfilled?
4. How do the daily, seemingly unrelated events of your life correspondence to what’s going on with you spiritually?
You might surprise yourself with what you realize; I know I have. As it turns out, picking out patterns in your spiritual life is a great way to figure out what needs work, what’s already working, and how God is shaping your life.