Why Journal?

In this blog, I try to focus on three basic aspects of prayer:

  • The purpose of prayer
  • The power of prayer and
  • The practical pursuit of prayer.

Today, I’d like to just put in a plug for journals as a very practical way to pursue a better prayer life.  For a more detailed list of ideas to get started, please see this page:  Prayer Journal

Journals are as individual as the people who create them, but the very practice of writing and keeping a journal has certain universal benefits.

  1. It develops discipline.  Prayer should be a daily practice, but having a journal can provide structure, accountability, and motivation.  Writing down requests, answers to prayer, questions I want to bring before God, even feelings or events of the day, can help establish a routine and a reason to come back to the same place (physically, emotionally, and spiritually) each day.
  2. It serves as a focus for each day’s prayers.  There are times when prayer is difficult–maybe the stresses of the day are distracting; maybe I just can’t think how to begin because there are so many thoughts running through my head or needs that I want to bring up.  If I begin with items in my journal, and add others to a list, it can be easier to bring order, focus, and steadiness.
  3. It serves as a witness and testimony.  One of the values of writing things down is that it gives me a chance to look back and review.  Sitting down every few weeks or months can reveal how many times God has answered prayers that I’ve already forgotten about.  It can also show how my ongoing prayers for certain situations may reveal changes God has made in my own heart and my own thinking, which sometimes helps me see why God didn’t “answer” my prayer when or how I imagined.

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  4. It serves as a reminder of God’s general faithfulness.  In times of doubt or pain, it can be encouraging to see and remember how God has helped or healed so many others around me.  Even if it brings up questions, like “Why did you heal that person, and not me”, in the end, there are mountains of examples of God’s care and faithfulness that allow me to see that He works “All things” together for good.  All of which can be written in and added to the journal as a further reminder!
  5. It serves as a reminder of God’s specific faithfulness.  If I look at the list of people and situations in the past and present, I am often overwhelmed at the amount of love that God has showered on me in the form of friends, family, opportunities to meet and be inspired, or share and give kindness.  In big ways and small ways, God has brought in and through my life miracles, amazement, and blessings– so very many.  It is tragic that I can so easily dismiss such blessings, or be distracted by the same worries and fears that God has brought me through in the past.  The journal sparks powerful memories of God’s enduring love for each one of us.
  6. It convicts.  As I mentioned above, it is tragic to think that I can so easily be dissuaded and discouraged by present troubles, when there is so much clear evidence of God’s faithfulness in the past.  But the journal can also show times when I have been unfaithful or lacking in faith.  This is important, not to beat myself up or become despondent, but to turn me back from such behavior and help me get back on track.

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  7. It inspires.  As mentioned above, each person’s journal is unique and personal.  God has given each of us passions and interests that can be brought into our prayer journal.  If I have a heart for missions, I can include prayer requests from missionaries of my acquaintance, or from web sites.  I can research cities and nations and people groups being reached by missions organizations.  If I have a passion for art, I can include drawings and sketches that flow out of my worship time.  My journal (and yours) can be filled with unique expressions of our heart for God– our deepest questions, hopes, worries, aspirations, and worship.

If you don’t already keep a prayer journal, I hope you will consider starting one.  It’s never too late or “the wrong time” to start one, and it can be as personalized as you wish– keep a notebook, a sketch pad, index cards, a electronic journal, a calendar– whatever works best for your resources, your personality, and your needs.

 

Prayer in the “Off-Season”

World Cup fever is at a high this week.  England was stunned by Croatia in the semi-finals–Croatia will face France in the finals on Sunday.  Teams have played hard all season to make it to the World Cup– most of them will go home disappointed (at least a little).  Fans will have to wait until next season to see their favorite team make another attempt at winning it all.

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In the meantime, the players will be in the “off-season.”  Some will take well-earned vacations, and spend more time with their families.  Some will spend time with doctors and physical therapists to work on injuries sustained during the regular season.  Some will be working with coaches and trainers to develop in areas where they feel they need extra help.  Others will cut back on their training schedule.  Still others will spend time with agents trying to get traded to another team (or avoid being traded to another team).

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People who study sports often say that what happens in the “off-season” can be as important to players and teams as what happens during the intense training of the regular season.  Habits form, attitudes develop, team chemistry alters– any or all of these factors can change for better or for worse.

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The same is true in our prayer lives.  When we are facing struggles or heartaches, we pray with intensity and passion.  But when things are going smoothly, sometimes we let our prayer lives “take a break.”  We pray with less frequency, less intensity, and less focus.  I’m guilty of this; even though I know it can happen, bad habits creep in, and suddenly, my prayer life is haphazard and lackluster.  Using a journal helps, in that I have a focus for each day already written in, and a place to write in new requests, and even answers.

However, a major part of staying on course is to commit to the discipline of prayer.  “Discipline” sounds boring and constrained–something I do out of obligation and not out of love.  But that’s not true of all discipline.  Athletes are disciplined– because they love their sport, and they want to develop and play at the best of their ability.  Musicians are disciplined– because they love music, and they want to develop their art.  Professional athletes and musicians often have a contractual commitment to stay in practice and develop their talents.  When athletes are part of a team, or musicians are part of a band, orchestra, or chamber group, they have an additional reason to be disciplined– to play more effectively with others.

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In my personal life, there are disciplines– hygiene, sleep habits, diet, and exercise, that I practice, not because I love saying, “NO” to that piece of chocolate cake or walking that extra mile, but because I want to stay healthy, clean, and active.  Prayer is no different– except that it is for my spiritual health– and it is part of my relationship with God.

Instead of slacking off during the “off-season”, many athletes and musicians will use this time to step back and look at what they have learned, what they would like to do better, and how they can develop their skills.  I think this offers a great opportunity in prayer, as well.  After a season of grief, struggle, doubt, or testing, it is good to take some time to make some assessments.  Sometimes we don’t know all the reasons for the times of testing or trial we have just faced.  But that doesn’t mean that we can’t look back and see whether we have grown, or if we need to make some adjustments, or if we have developed new habits or skills (good or bad).  It is a good time to “count our blessings”, “pray without ceasing”, “ask, seek, and knock”, and look at the ways God has been faithful (and hopefully ways that we have been faithful!) over the years.

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Some of us are in the struggle of a busy, harsh, or painful season.  Let’s not let that struggle go to waste.  Some of us will be facing trials next week, or next month–spending time training in the “off-season” will make us stronger for the fight!  And the best news– we already know the outcome!  Let’s pray harder– pray stronger–and go for the win!

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