Over several years now I had entertained the notion of keeping a spiritual journal, and whilst the idea had always appealed to me, I never really took it seriously enough to do anything about it. But now that I have finally taken the plunge, I can honestly say that my only regret is not having started earlier.
You see, like most active Christians, I attend the liturgy regularly, read my bible and pray (although not as often as I would like). I also attend insightful Bible studies and other church services, read Christian books and listen to online sermons. That is all well and good. And I am sure I have matured spiritually over the years as a result of all these activities.
There was only one slight problem, I couldn’t for the life of me tell you what last Sunday’s sermon was about, or what I had learnt in last week’s Bible study, or in any of my personal devotional readings for that matter! I would be red-faced if my priest asked me to recount the take home message from his last sermon…but am I the only one suffering from this spiritual amnesia? I bet (and secretly hope) not!!!
This got me thinking just how much spiritual growth I have been missing out on. I mean, imagine how transforming the Word of God is for those who are receptive to it, can retain it, and put it to work in their lives. Just thinking about the potential to grow in my spiritual life got me very excited. And now I needed to act.
So I finally went out and bought myself a journal, one that I would dedicate to my spiritual life. This journal is where I would write out anything and everything that will help my walk with the Lord, things such as:
- personal prayers
- Bible verses to reflect on
- personal struggles, weaknesses and tribulations
- take home messages from sermons, readings and other sources
To ensure that this journal would only be used for my spiritual journey, I created the following graphic and stuck it on the front page of the journal. Feel free to do the same.
Now this is the difficult part, in order to make the most of this journal, you need to actually use it! Sounds rather obvious I know, but that really is what I found to be most difficult aspect of journaling. Initially you will need to remind yourself to keep your journal close by. Take it with you to church services and write down the messages you feel God is communicating to you. Have it by your side when you are reading and studying your Bible, and ensure it becomes your spiritual hub. Your spiritual journal really needs to be the place where you collect, nurture and reflect on matters of faith. Keep it accessible and visit it regularly.
Having prepared your spiritual journal, and committed yourself to using it regularly, the next step is to prepare…well…yourself! By that I mean you need to ensure you are in the right frame of mind to actively seek, receive and apply God’s message in your life.
Having a receptive heart
I am a firm believer that God is continuously in communication with each of us. As a loving Father He is eager to help us grow and deepen our relationship with Him. God will continuously prompt us, challenge us, and teach us what it means to be more Christ-like, and it is up to us to hear His call amidst the noisy world in which we live. We must therefore be on the lookout, with an open heart and open mind, and tune our ears to hear the messages God is communicating with us.
For instance, rather than viewing the liturgy as a somewhat mundane and repetitive service, which is unfortunately how many parishioners feel, it should be seen as a place of opportunity, one where we commune as well as grow closer to Christ. The same applies for all other spiritual activities; all are means to strengthen our walk with our Lord Christ. To deepen your spiritual experience, whatever that may be, say this little prayer prior to commencing:
God, please enlighten my heart, mind and understanding in order to receive the message You are communicating to me. Speak, Lord, for Your servant hears.
And then… listen.
Listen out for God’s Message
We live in such a noisy world, one where distractions bombard us from all directions. And whilst we’ve learnt to adapt to the never-ending barrage of noise, it is becoming more and more difficult to hear the small still voice of God (1 Kings 19:12) speaking to us. That is why we must be intentional about hearing God’s message. In the liturgy for instance, we must cut out all distractions and hone in on the message of God, which could come through various means such as the worship hymns, the readings or the sermon. And again, all other spiritual activities demand the same attention. Listen out for the one small message that God whispers in the very stillness of your heart.
Pray about the message
Once the message is revealed to you, spend some time praying about it, asking God to help you achieve whatever it is He is asking of you. Pray for a renewal of mind so you can set about this change in yourself.
Pray for discernment,
Pray for strength,
Pray for courage.
In short, pray for whatever it is you need God to help you with in order to rise to the challenge and respond according to God’s words.
Write it out – reflect, commit & take action
Now it is time to jot down the message you’ve received in your journal in order to begin working on it. The very simple task of writing your message out has the benefits of providing you with clarity, focus and a sense of obligation to take this seriously. It is important at this stage to consider how you will respond to God’s message. The journal should be used to detail an action plan to help you take the necessary steps required for spiritual success. For example, if God’s asks that you go the extra mile with those around you, try and outline exactly what that requires of you. Perhaps it means that you’ll need to take on some additional chores in your household, or that you’ll help a colleague at work by lightening their work load, it could even be that you’ll buy an additional coffee every morning for the cold homeless man you pass by on your way to work. Whatever God’s message is, make sure you flesh it out and unravel it in order for the message to become a unique and personal opportunity for prayer and spiritual growth.
Revisit the message
Whilst writing out God’s message to you as well as your intentional response to the message is great. What is really transformational is revisiting the message as often as you can. If you take spiritual journaling seriously, and actively take notes in your sacramental worship, bible readings, personal prayers, etc., you will quickly notice the journal filling up with many of God’s messages, promises and encouragements. Imagine what a spiritual goldmine that journal will become for you. Reflecting on the journal pages during your personal prayer will inspire a deep and personal dialogue with God and will truly enrich your spiritual life.
Another great benefit of revisiting your journal entries over the long haul is that it will give you great insight into the person you were back then. You will be able to recall all your struggles, insecurities, failings, as well as all other experiences, and you will be able to see just how much you’ve grown. The journal will help you track your spiritual progress over the years, and if necessary, make any required changes to address lingering issues of faith or personal struggles.
I believe that God is very present in our lives, and that He constantly speaks to each of us through people, experiences, the Holy Scriptures and the Church. We just need to be receptive to hearing God’s words and intentional in applying them in our lives, and that is where the spiritual journal becomes an extremely powerful tool. Making a habit of spiritual journaling really has the potential to transform your spiritual life; your relationship with God and with those around you.
Not only that, but imagine just how much this simple habit can be a source of blessing to those around you. Your family members might be encouraged to adopt this practice too, especially when they see how profoundly it has impacted your spiritual life. Beyond that, your friends and fellow parishioners may also jump on board. Imagine the blessings that could be gained from having a community of believers become intentional about their spiritual growth through the simple act of journaling.
Now I need your help:
Pray hard about this and then take the pledge to start journaling and become more intentional about your walk with God.
Go out and buy yourself a journal, better yet buy a few for your family/friends or even for your church bookshop. Don’t forget to print out the graphic and stick it on the front of the journal.
Share this post with your family, friends, and fellow parishioners and get them to jump on board.
Let’s work together to transform our lives and the lives of others through spiritual journaling. Who’s with me??? (Feel free to leave a comment below)