Developing Discipline

In my last post, Pursuing Discipline, I spoke of journaling and being consistent in prayer as part of learning discipline. Discipline is an important part of the Christian Walk; one that we don’t always talk about. Discipline is difficult. Discipline is developed over time. And I want to be clear that keeping a Prayer Journal, like other forms of discipline, will take time and effort.

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My current prayer journal is the result of years of effort, changes, failures, and baby steps. Several years ago, I found, in a Christian Bookstore, an item called a “Prayer Journal.” It was pre-printed with wonderful facts about different unreached people groups to pray for each week of the year. It was set up in a “planner” format, with each week spread out on a double page, and areas for each day to write in appointments, notes, personal prayer requests, etc. I loved it. But it was specific to that year. As the year was drawing to a close, I went back to the same bookstore, eager to get the next year’s edition. I could not find it.

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I thought, “How hard could it be to create my own?” HARD! I did not have the resources to update the information about various countries. I did not like many of the other “planners” I came across. I wasn’t satisfied with apps and on-line planners and calendars. And I wanted to add space for local and personal prayer requests, including all the birthdays and anniversaries of people I know. I wanted a format I could use from year to year, so I wouldn’t have to enter the information over and over again. And I wanted a format where I could see it all, spread out in front of me.

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More than twenty years later, I began using the system I currently use– four notebooks for each quarter of the year. Each page is a single day, with the names of people celebrating birthdays, anniversaries, or (in some cases) families mourning the loss of a loved one on that day. In the top corner, I have the name of a country, city, community, or geographical area. These are my daily focus points. In the front of the notebook, I have a reminder of the “Prayer Points”– those topical areas for each day of the week. The bottom half of the page is free for me to add in immediate prayer requests– hospitalizations, those who are traveling or moving, etc.. Each “new” request I add at the bottom gets “tagged” with the year of the request. This way, the journal can be used year after year, until I run out of space for requests, or it wears out! I leave the back of each page for answers. Some days, I go back and look at prayer requests from the previous week and write in the answers or progress. Sometimes, I am reminded to update the request. Sometimes, I see a request from a previous year, and I have not yet written the answer, or there has been an update. In this way, I can help focus my daily prayer time in the morning and/or evening. Of course, I can pray about anything, any time; this is just a way to pursue a more disciplined approach to prayer.

For anyone wanting to use or create a Prayer Journal– please take time to build it prayerfully and deliberately. But also be prepared to “fail.” I went through several notebooks, purchased planners and ready-to-use prayer journals before I found one that works well for me. And even now, there are days when I do not open my journal and use it as it was intended. It is not, after all, a ritual or a code to follow. Prayer is a pursuit– but it is just one part of the pursuit of a closer relationship with God. Disciplined prayer helps me focus on God, helps me understand more of His Character, and helps me build our relationship. Perfect prayer is not the goal, but building on prayer is the objective toward reaching the goal. Part of the building of character and discipline is the journey!

When Jesus’ disciples asked Him to teach them to pray, He did not give them a formula for a prayer journal. He did not give them a system for prayer. He gave them a very simple sample format. But Scripture gives us several other examples of prayers– long and anguished, poetic and joyful, even quick bursts of panic or exasperation. Prayer is far too complex to boil down to a single formula or system.

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I hope that what I write here helps you on a journey to discover the complexities of prayer. I hope that you, like me, will draw closer to God as you pursue ways to think about and to practice praying. Your journey, and your journal, will look and function far different from mine. But I hope you find one that helps you grow in discipline, in compassion, in knowledge, and in character. As for me, I will be turning my focus on East Timor, my nephew (who is celebrating his birthday today!), and business and financial issues. And then all the other things on my heart throughout the day! Because God is always listening, and God is always everywhere!

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