OnFire Encouragement Letter
OnFire #251 Journaling and the Word
There is something very powerful about words. Through them we communicate our thoughts, express our feelings, make our ideas come to life. Think about it for a moment. There was a time when the universe was nothing but a thought, an idea in God’s vast and creative imagination. We had no earth, no sun, moon or stars. No trees or birds, dogs or cats, elephants, ants, fish or whales, and we certainly did not have us. None of it existed. Just darkness and nothingness.
Then God spoke and suddenly idea became reality.
Words have power to create. Not in the way God creates, of course. But with them we have the power to be creative, to express emotion which was only a feeling, to bring into being something which was only a thought.
I don’t want to be too philosophical about this. I’ve never had much patience for people who seem to live in some other-world, dreamy, idealized kind of place. But at the same time I am amazed by the connection between us, God, and the power of expression through words. Put it all together and we have Jesus: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
This brings me to the spiritual discipline of journaling. In journaling we gather our thoughts, express our feelings, record our memories and speak to God through our fingers.
Writing helps me to focus my thoughts. In traditional prayer I sometimes feel scattered and my mind wanders. God sometimes uses that wandering to bring people and things to mind, but at other times it is frustrating because I can’t gather myself productively. Writing helps slow me down and finally express what is swirling inside me, whether bad or good.
Journaling helps me to remember deeply moving spiritual events. How soon we forget those high points of meeting with God or of answered prayer. I don’t often go back through my journals, but I know those moments are there. Interestingly enough, I have had a few moments when writing in my journal has become a high point with God and I have that record.
I have used a couple of approaches which you may find helpful. Always start with prayer. This may or may not be written, but prayer helps to separate this from other forms of writing. Commit this time to God.
In option #1, we simply start writing our thoughts: current life, prayer requests, praises, confessions, goals, fears, frustrations.
In option #2, we begin with a passage or verse. The verse may come from a retreat, a daily Bible reading or devotion, or even the pastor’s message. Write it out. Summarize it in your own words. Then record your responses to it _ your questions about what it means, good things you like about it, and even the bad things you react against. This is the crucial part, because growth does not always come in our good reactions, but in our questions and negative responses. Why do you think you react against this? Don’t get caught in analyzing it - be more concerned with what is going on in your heart and your spiritual condition than with trying to apply what you saw lately on an afternoon talk show.
In both approaches it is important to remember that, like prayer, journaling is a two-way communication process. Not only do we want to tell God what is going on through our fingertips, but we want to make sure that we allow time for God to respond in the conversation.
Finally, it is OK to write our only-half-formed thoughts. In contrast to speaking or teaching where we want to present a formed conclusion, journals can help us express, work through, and develop the thoughts we still can’t make sense of. Sometimes we get glimpses of something important, but we can’t put the pieces together. Sometimes we’re confused by conflicting parts. We’re working through something, but we don’t even know what it is. That’s actually OK, and where a journal can be particularly helpful. Its just us and God, we don’t have to put it together right now. We can give the pieces to God in writing.
There are some neat passages dealing with writing and the power of recording our experiences with God. For a sample of these, see the longer web-version of this at my website (here) or http://onfireletter.com/OnFire251JournalingandtheWord.htm
I hope this helps. Be on fire.
OnFire is a weekly letter on faith and character written by Troy Dennis. Troy is the Pastor of Family Ministries at Highfield Baptist Church, Moncton NB Canada. This letter published March 4, 2011. *Scripture taken from the New International Version. To subscribe or reply, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Archives are located at www.onfireletter.com. Blog located at www.onfireletter.blogspot.com.