Prayer and Journaling | Spiritually Fit
Almost exactly nine years ago, I was sitting in an undergraduate classroom when I was first introduced to spiritual disciplines. I attended a Christian liberal arts university and was participating in a required Intro to Theology class at the time. I had heard of most of the practices that the professor mentioned, but had never thought of them as being disciplines and had certainly never been told that they were like muscles that could be worked and developed through repetition and diligence. Little did I know at the time that Professor Ed Smyth would become one of the most influential people in my life and it started at this moment, with a conversation on spiritual disciplines and a recommendation to start with prayer and journaling. As Professor Smyth finished giving us an overview of all the different disciplines to pursue, he casually mentioned that he had been journaling for decades and it had been an extremely formative part of his life. He described the chronicles of life experiences and tomes of praise that he had written down over time. He described revisiting his writings and seeing the multitudes of ways that God had been faithful and had used him intentionally in the lives of others. It was all there, written down, a permanent testament to God’s goodness. That was a good enough pitch for me. I had never spent much time journaling, but I have always enjoyed writing and I yearned to experience God in the same way that Dr. Smyth had.
Last week we kicked off our discussion of spiritual disciplines with Reading and Meditating on Scripture and today we are diving into two practices that are near and dear to my heart. Prayer and journaling have become a constant anchor point to God in my life. The header image is a bit less crisp this week because it is a cell phone picture of a few of my journals. I took some time to browse through them and I was humbled by the ways that God has moved in my life in the last nine years. For me, these two practices are intricately tied together. Yet, on their own, prayer and journaling have much to offer the Christian life. Today we are exploring these two spiritual disciplines and will see the ways that they create space for reflection and invite us into communication with God as we travel along our discipleship journey.
Prayer is potentially one of the most straight-forward spiritual disciplines because it focuses on talking to God. Talking is pretty easy, right? Yet, it can be one of the most intimidating and perplexing disciplines because it focuses on talking to God. So, it can be hard to know where to begin. Not to mention, for those of us who have thrown up a prayer of desperation in a time of need only for a situation to not turn out the way we thought it should or hoped it would, prayer might be something that feels impotent and may even have incited some doubt. So if you are feeling any hesitancy, I want you to know that you are in good company and in the right place.
To begin, there are many different ways to pray. You may have heard some fancy descriptors like intercessory or contemplative prayer. You may wonder about timing, posture, and/or length. You also may have heard that there are many different types of prayer offered up for different reasons throughout the Bible, which sorting through those can definitely be overwhelming. So, for our purposes today, we are going to keep it simple and go back to the basics; the Lord’s Prayer. Much like us, the disciples watched as Jesus retreated often to talk with God and wanted to know the “right” things to say. In Matthew 6:9-13, Jesus gave the disciples a prayer that is both whole and conclusive in and of itself, but also can be used as an outline of the things for which we should be praying.
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And do not bring us to the time of trial.
but rescue us from the evil one.
This prayer covers all of the basics and helps us to think through the fundamentals of prayer: honoring and praising God, ushering in the kingdom of God, asking that we would communally receive the bread of life (Jesus), that we would be people focused on and known for our forgiveness, and finally, that when we face the hardships of this world that God would be with us and deliver us through them. If we create space to talk with God about these things, we are on the right track.
In the next couple of months, we will be taking a deeper look at prayer as the main subject of a blog post. But, if you are looking to learn more about the Lord’s Prayer, I’d recommend checking out N.T. Wright’s small but powerful book on the subject The Lord and His Prayer.
Many people keep journals and they serve as many different purposes as the people who keep them. Some use them as a places to jot down fleeting thoughts, record to-do lists, or confess things they don’t want anyone else to see, while others see them as a place to chronicle life and the many twists and turns it takes. When it comes to journaling as a spiritual discipline, there really isn’t a wrong way to go about it. I’ll share my practice in a moment, but first let’s briefly talk about why I am such a huge proponent for journaling. I love journaling because it is tangible. I love the fact that my prayers, reflections, and questions are written down in black and white (or whatever pen color I happen to be drawn to in the season). I have some amazing thing recorded like whether or not I should pursue a relationship with the woman who has now been my wife for five years. I have record of things I prayed for that in retrospect I am so thankful that they didn’t come true because what God actually had for me has turned out so much better. My journals are filled with moments of doubt, questions about life, priceless experiences, and a lasting account of God’s goodness in my life.
All of that said, journaling takes time both in the sense that it can be one of the longer spiritual disciplines to practice in a single sitting and in the fact that some of the richest benefits of journaling can take months to manifest. The truth is the more you write down the more you will see God work. However, if you are tight on time or you want to record a lot of different things, try this practice that I started implementing into my devotional life in October of 2017. It’s a mash-up of bullet journaling and prayer. If you are a bullet journalist already, you can think of it as a prayer add-on for your journal.
Basically, I throw the date for the first day of the week at the top of the page and start a bulleted prayer list. Sometimes they are long sentences and others times they are just one word. Then the next day I start at the beginning, reread the prayers of the previous days, and then add a few. Prayer requests can be for others or yourself, they can be questions for God, or a simple word of praise for something that God has done in your life. I do this every day and then at the beginning of the next week, I start on a new page. It’s quick, simple, and clean, but also, when taken seriously, is an extremely powerful way to communicate with God and watch as God works in your life.
Spiritual Fitness Challenge
This week the challenge is simple. During the time that you have set aside to pursue your spiritual rhythm, write out, pray, and reflect on the Lord’s Prayer. If you don’t already have a journal, it’s time to try it out. Pick one up and try to write, pray, and reflect on the Lord’s Prayer three times this week. It might feel a bit repetitive, but let the words of Jesus’s prayer seek in over the course of the next week as you try something new or restart an old practice with a new purpose.
Thanks for joining us today as we unpacked prayer and journaling. If you are excited about spiritual fitness, help us get the word out by sharing this post to your favorite social media channel. It’s as simple as selecting an icon at the bottom of the page.