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. Continue reading “Journaling About the Bible More Than Our Spiritual Condition”
The turn of the new year is, for many, a time of reflection and life evaluation. Often, our self-appraisals result in the making of personal resolutions. A few years ago, shortly after I first discovered Jonathan Edwards’ resolutions, I was prompted to write some resolutions of my own. The result was a collection of verbose, lofty, practically impossible, yet well-intentioned commitments. O how I needed to hear the admonition, “Mountains were meant to be admired, not imitated!” The point of the analogy: humans cannot, no matter how hard we try, imitate mountains; we should just stand in awe of their grandeur and beauty.
After I finalized my resolutions, I set out to keep them. It was not long before I became frustrated, spiritually dry, and left with the sickening feeling that I was attempting to be someone I was never meant to be—Jonathan Edwards. So, I am fully aware of the temptation, out of a sincere desire to pursue hard after Christ, to take on too much discipline and to make admirable—yet highly impractical—resolutions. I know how easily zeal can shed the bridle of knowledge.
It is with this in mind that I would like to encourage you to keep two simple resolutions this year: daily Bible reading and prayer. Granted, the whole of the Christian life is not found in only keeping these two disciplines, but when I consider this new year, my past failures in maintaining resolutions, and my personal desire to grow spiritually in 2012, no other disciplines appear more foundational than these. These two practices seem to be the spring from which all other disciplines are nourished. In his excellent book, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, Donald Whitney quotes Carl Lundquist as he explains the importance of these two disciplines:
John Wesley emphasized five works of piety by adding fasting. The medieval mystics wrote about nine disciplines….Today Richard Foster’s book, Celebration of Discipline, lists twelve disciplines—all of them relevant to the contemporary Christian. But whatever varying religious exercises we may practice, without the two basic ones of Emmaus—prayer and Bible reading—the others are empty and powerless (66)
I concur. Psalm 19 reminds us of the spiritual value of God’s Word. It is perfect, so it revives the soul (v.7a); it is sure, so it makes wise those who are simple (v.7b); it is good, so it rejoices the heart (v.8); it is pure so it enlightens the eyes. In the Scripture we find wisdom to guide us, commands to instruct us, warnings to advise us, stories to encourage us, and truth to sustain us. It is in the Word that we behold the glories of Christ (II Corinthians 3:18). It is by this Word that we will be made more like Him (John 17:17).
Prayer is how we request wisdom (James 1:5), how we search after the illumination of the Holy Spirit to aid us in understanding God’s Word (Psalm 119:33-34) and how we intercede for others (I Timothy2:1-3). It is how we confess our sins (I John 1:10), how we seek help in times of trouble (Psalm 50:15), how we ask for God’s will to be done in the world (Matthew 6:10) and how we, along with Moses, plead with God to show us His glory (Exodus 33:18).
This is certainly not to dissuade you from establishing other goals this year; it is only to encourage you to stop, consider, and perhaps, reevaluate your approach. Have you made list of well-intentioned, yet unreasonable resolutions that you probably will not keep? Have you forgotten what is most important? If so, slow down for a moment and ponder these two simple resolutions.
Photo: Brandon Redfern
I thought I would use this post to follow up what I said yesterday about journaling by answering a few important questions that are often asked about this discipline.
What Kind of Journal Should I Use?
One that works best for you. I have friends who use anything from a simple notebook to a nice, leather bound journal. Some use only their computer because they are able to type faster than they write. Still others like to keep a diary to record their day-to-day life, and use separate notebooks for their other writing. I have found that a combination between the first two has been the best way for me to keep a journal; using a complex journal keeping system (like having many different notebooks for different subjects) actually keeps me from journaling. In my judgment, simplicity and ease of access is king. Therefore, I use a Mead Five-Star notebook (I like this notebook because it is contains college ruled paper, 200 pages, a reinforced cover, and it lays flat) for everything that I listed in the first post. Sometimes, however, I find that I am in the mood to fire off some thoughts from the laptop. Whenever I do this, I simply date it and keep it in a “journal” folder on my computer. Every few weeks I print it off and put it in a three-hole binder. This way, all my journals are kept in one place on my shelf and everything is in chronological order.
How Often Should I Journal?
As often as you like. Several times a day; once a day; once every three days. I would recommend that you try to be consistent while at the same time making sure you do not beat yourself up for having missed a few days. We are not declared righteous by keeping a journal. Having said that, I think you will find it helpful to write regularly, even if it means writing very little each time. Sometimes I may write only a few sentences. Other times, I may write several pages. Trying to write a small amount on a regular basis will keep the gears oiled for the days when you really churn out some thoughts. Also, having one simple notebook allows me to carry my journal wherever I go, whether it is school, work, or on vacation; this allows me to scribble out my thoughts wherever I am at. There are times, however, when you will not be able to bring your journal with you; when this is the case, I try to write myself “prompts” on little sheets of paper so that I can remind myself of what I was thinking and make my entry for that particular prompt in my journal when I get home.
What If I Do Not Want Anyone to See My Journal?
This is an important question because it may reveal that you are writing things in your journal that perhaps you should not be writing. A journal is not an outlet for sinful secrecy; a collection angry vents toward those with whom you have a problem. If you would not say something to someone’s face, then I suggest that you probably should not put it in your journal—there is always the possibility that someone could find your journal, and you should be dealing with the issues you have with others in a forthright, face-to-face way; not burying them in a journal so they can smolder and ignite fresh bitterness. Although there are intimate things in my journal, and although I try not to write to impress others (“Wow, isn’t he spiritual”), I am not afraid of someone finding and reading my journals, especially if I were to die without disposing of them. Granted, I may be embarrassed by some of my flawed theological reasoning, or my misinterpretations of Scripture, or the description of some of the inner-workings of my heart, but at the end of the day, I can have a clean conscience that there is nothing in my journal that I would be afraid to have others see.
On the other hand, if you find that you are only able to write with sincerity if you are certain that no one will ever see your journal, then I suggest that you either entrust your journal with a trusted friend who will know how to rightly handle your journal if you were to die, or write your journal on a computer and keep that document password protected. If you are afraid that someone may crack the password, perhaps you have too high an opinion of your thoughts—you’re not that spiritual.
Again, I am sure there are many more questions we could consider. But I hope that answering these three questions has been helpful to you as you think about the discipline of journaling.
Photo: Alejandro Escamilla
I find myself regularly reflecting the discipline of journaling. Although I love pens, college-ruled paper, and Mead Five-Star composition notebooks (I usually stock up several at a time), I can say without hesitation the primary reason I practice keeping a journal is the spiritual benefit I derive from such a discipline. Here are a few:
I love to journal. I love to sit down at the end of the day, open my notebook, and record specific thoughts that have been suggested to my mind that day, situations that I have learned from, insight from books I am reading, meditations on Scripture, or simply write about an enjoyable event and thank God for His goodness to me.
Out of all the spiritual disciplines, I would say that I am drawn to this one most easily. There are days when I feel like I could write for hours-and this inclination usually comes after having already written for near an hour! But I sense real spiritual benefit from writing, too. Thoughts are clarified, truth is solidified in my mind (which usually promotes real rejoicing in my heart), God’s faithfulness is preserved for future encouragement, and helpful quotes from godly men and women are stored up for later use.
Even if you never intend to write for publication, I would encourage you to write for your own edification. Don Whitney writes,
Keeping a journal can be one of the most profitable and fruitful disciplines we ever practice. Among other things, it helps in self-understanding and evaluation, in meditating on the Lord and His Word, in expressing our deepest feelings to the Lord and in remembering His works in our lives. Journaling assists in creating and preserving a spiritual heritage, in clarifying and articulating insights and impressions, in monitoring goals and priorities, and in maintaining other spiritual disciplines (Simplify Your Spiritual Life, 95.)
Whitney continues to encourage us,
…some people imagine journaling to be more complicated than it is. In fact, it’s quite simple. Just write. Unlike some of the other spiritual disciplines, there’s no right or wrong way to keep a journal (95).
John Piper, in a Q & A after his biography on Jonathan Edwards, said, “I owe all the [doctrinal, spiritual] clarity that I ever had to 30 volumes of journals began when I was a sophomore in college.” That was 19 years ago. In a recent interview, he says that number is up to 60 volumes. Imagine that! 60 volumes of writing, never intended for publication but only for the good of his soul.
So pick up a pen, a notebook, and start to write. Whether you write several paragraphs, or just a couple of lines; twice a day, or a couple times a week, the practice of journaling will benefit your soul.
You can read my other entry on journaling here.
Photo: Calum MacAulay
I just completed Don Whitney’s Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life. I certainly recommend it to you as a helpful guide in developing the spiritual disciplines in your own life. One thought I want to pass along comes toward the latter half of the last chapter where Whitney answers a common objection to disciplining oneself spiritually:
There are no shortcuts to Godliness. But the flesh broods for an easier way than through the Spiritual Disciplines [Bible Intake, Prayer, Evangelism, Serving, Stewardship, Fasting, Silence and Solitude, Journaling, Learning and Perseverance]. It protests, “Why can’t the Christian life be more extemporaneous and unstudied? All this talk of disciplining myself sounds legalistic and regimented and harder than I thought being like Christ should be. I just want to be spontaneous!”…
Certainly we want spontaneity, but spontaneity without discipline is superficial. I have several friends who can improvise beautiful melodies on the keyboard or the guitar. But the only reason they can play so “spontaneously” is because they have spent years in the disciplines of playing musical scales and other fundamental exercises. Jesus could live so spiritually “spontaneous” because He was in reality the most spiritually disciplined man who ever lived. Do nothing and you will live spontaneously. But if you desire effective spontaneity in the Christian life, it must be the fruit of a spiritually disciplined faith (246-247).
I am starting to realize that the Holy Spirit is primarily about empowering discipline rather than causing constant spiritual “spontaneity.” In fact, I wonder if my desire for spontaneity is merely a guise for laziness, cloaked in spiritual terms, so that I might convince myself and others of my spirituality, while going through life bouncing from thing to thing according to my own whims and desires. I think I now agree with John Guest, who is quoted on page 247 in the book, “The fact of the matter is that discipline is the only way to freedom; it is the necessary context for spontaneity.” May this year be a year of growth in the Spiritual Disciplines.
A few months ago I wrote an article entitled, Meditate on a single verse for the good of your soul. I would like to add to that subject some helpful quotes from Don Whitney’s book, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, to help us see the vital importance of Biblical meditation and the detriment of hurried disciplines.
- “Puritan Pastor Thomas Watson has the answer, ‘The reason we come away so cold from reading the word is because we do not warm ourselves at the fire of meditation'” (49).
- “The result of such meditation is stability, fruitfulness, perseverance, and prosperity. One writer said it crisply: ‘They usually thrive best who meditate most'” (49).
- “It is possible to encounter a torrential amount of God’s truth, but without absorption you will be little better for the experience. Meditation is absorption” (50).
- “Maurice Roberts wrote these words from Scotland in 1990: ‘Our age has been sadly deficient in what may be termed spiritual greatness. At the root of this is the modern disease of shallowness. We are all too impatient to meditate on the faith we profess…It is not the busy skimming over religious books or the careless hastening through religious duties which makes for a strong Christian faith. Rather, it is unhurried mediation on gospel truths and the exposing of our minds to these truths that yields the fruit of sanctified character'” (55).
- “Among the best of the practical Puritan writings came from the pen of William Bridge. On meditation he asserted the following…’Reading without meditation is unfruitful; meditation without reading is hurtful; to meditate and to read without prayer, is without blessing'” (73).
By and large, I think many of us need to slow down. We need to recapture the health giving practice of slow, patient, Biblical meditation so that our roots might grow deep and the trees of our life, strong.
How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers! But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and in his law he meditates day and night. He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not whither, and in whatever he does, he prospers.–Psalm 1:1-3.