Full disclosure– I’m not any type of expert on either prayer or journal writing. But I do keep a prayer log of sorts, and I want to share how that works for me, and why I think it is helpful.
My prayer “journal” is actually a set of four standard spiral-bound notebooks I picked up on sale about two and a half years ago at an office supply store. Each notebook has 100 pages. I have labeled each page with a day (February 17, for example) at the top– three months to each notebook. Below the date, I list people I know who are celebrating birthdays or anniversaries that day. Below that, I save space for urgent prayer requests as I become aware of them. To the side, I list a place (a country, city, or community) to pray for that day. In the front cover or each notebook, I have a list of focus areas to pray for each day of the week, as well– things like family, leaders and authority figures, cultural issues, missions, etc. The back side of each page is left to record answers, results, and updates.
The journal/notebook approach is not meant to lock my prayer life into these areas; it is not a checklist of what I should pray for each day (and nothing else, or added to everything else). I don’t take the notebook with me everywhere– instead, I have a small notepad in my purse to jot down thoughts or requests. Sometimes, I record these in the larger notebook later, but not always. I review the journal once a day, but I pray throughout the day– sometimes raising the names and places in the journal, other times people or situations as they come to my heart or mind. The point is not to make an unnecessary burden of prayer. The point is to remind me that prayer is a pursuit–an ongoing discipline as well as an intimate pouring out of my heart to God.
I’ve come to delight in turning the pages to see:
- who is having a birthday/anniversary today– who might be encouraged with a FB post, a call or card or e-mail message
- where in the world can I lift up people I may or may not know? There are enough days in the year to pray for every country in the world, every U.S. state, and several major world cities or local communities–and while my list is in alphabetical order, I could have organized by geographic location, or simply listed random places for each day. Some days, the places are familiar; other days I am inspired to look up information on places like Burkina Faso or find out more about West Virginia…
- what was I praying about a year ago– often I will find reminders of needs met (and even exceeded)– other times I find old wounds and losses that cause me to lift up grieving friends
- how has my prayer life changed in the past year? What have I learned about God? What have I learned from or about others as I’ve prayed for them? What have I learned bout my own expectations and limitations?
Does the journal make me a better person or a better pray-er? Well, prayer isn’t a competition, so while I would hope that it helps me develop perseverance, compassion, faithfulness, hope, trust, and wisdom in the practice and pursuit of prayer, it doesn’t make me or my prayer life “better” than someone else’s. It is, however, a tool that is helping me chart the progress in this pursuit, and so I recommend it based on that experience.
If you feel (like I did for so many years) that your prayer life is haphazard and you want to grow in prayer, I would encourage you to start with a simple journal– you don’t have to write out every thought or every request. You don’t have to have a plan for every day. But keep a remembrance of your prayer life –even a single item each day for a week, or a month–to look back on, and to move you forward.