I’ve kept a journal since the earliest days of my Christian life. Over the years the content has ranged from personal devotional thoughts and meditations on Scripture, to doctrinal reflections and philosophical musings. But as I read back over several of these entries, I notice a heavy emphasis on my own spiritual condition. Entries that express my struggles with sin and assurance, concern over my motives, and groaning over my lack of affection for Christ appear to dominate much of my personal writing.
But this is where the discipline of keeping a journal can go awry. Instead of helping us draw out of our spiritual troubles with fresh confidence in Christ and the gospel, we use our journal to venture further down the path of introspection, hoping for light but finding little. The problem is not with journaling itself, but with our method for journaling.
Journaling and Bible Study
In his helpful little book, From the Mouth of God: Trusting, Reading, and Applying the Bible, Sinclair Ferguson touches on this issue of journaling and its relation to personal Bible study. He describes a conversation with a friend who claimed he was enjoying a season of fruitful devotional study in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. Ferguson suspected that his friend might not be getting all he could from his daily devotional time in the Scripture, so he inquired a bit further.
Having a suspicion that Christians often short-changed themselves in their daily Bible reading, I asked: ‘If I had give you a blank note-book at the beginning of the month, in which you had recorded your thoughts as you studied Ephesians each day, and you had returned it to me at the end of the month, what would I find in it? (a) An interesting narrative about your daily spiritual condition; or (b) A fairly clear outline of what Paul was actually saying to the Ephesians coupled with ways in which this teaching could be applied to your own life (69)?
His friend’s answer (as Ferguson expected) was “Oh, definitely (a)!” In response, Ferguson suggested that his friend pursue (b) for a while. His friend obliged.
The result, he later told me, transformed the value of his Bible study. Now–at the very least–he knew what Paul had written to the Ephesians. Beforehand all he could tell me was what he thought about his own spiritual condition! Now he had fuel for long-term meditation and application (69).
How Spiritual Growth Happens
Now, I don’t think we should write only on Scripture and never write about our subjective feelings and troubles, but I do think Ferguson makes a good point. If we stay focused only on our subjective feelings, we may never move beyond them to actual spiritual growth. Ferguson concludes:
We do not grow as Christians merely by taking our spiritual temperature. Scripture teaches us that maturity comes from the life transforming renewal of our minds. That in turn comes from actually understanding an learning to apply God’s word to our lives (69).
Keeping a journal can be a profitable means of our growth in Christ, but only if it is more than a private forum to unload our personal feelings and problems. Disciplining ourselves not only to write, but to write about the content of Scripture will serve to draw us off of our own wisdom and set us upon the rock of God’s Word.