For many many years I have never read my Bible without having a scribbling-pad either on my table or in my pocket; and the moment anything strikes me or arrests me I immediately pull out my pad. A preacher has to be like a squirrel and has to learn how to collect and store matter for the future days of winter. So you not only work out your skeleton, you put it down on paper, because otherwise you will not remember it. You think you will, but you will soon discover that it is not so.
The above words by Martyn Lloyd Jones were spoken to preachers specifically on the topic of sermon preparation and content, but I think one can glean from it the benefit of note-taking, or more specifically journaling, in the life of the Christian, especially for spiritual development and growth.
God Speaks Through His Word
There are times in reading God’s word where a certain passage or verse has had an immediate and direct impact on you. It speaks to you in such a way, at that very moment, that it hasn’t before and in a more personal, powerful and practical manner. It may be comforting, assuring, grieving, life-giving, etc.
This is not the work of the ink in the page or some well researched font size. It is the living and active, authoritative Word of God (Hebrews 4:12). God speaks to us today, presently, through his Word…about Himself and about ourselves.
So You Write
This is the best time to have a journal at hand to record what the Holy Spirit has roused within you, and it is important to do it right when the even occurs. Because, rest assured, if you do not record the impact of that moment, this rousing and leading of the Holy Spirit, then as Lloyd-Jones stated above, it will indeed be forgotten.
Secondly, make a habit of periodically reading these journals. Whether the Holy Spirit has led you to record the above mentioned, or to pen a prayer for someone or something specifically, it is a great time to record it and find encouragement by reading them at a later date and time……seeing answered prayers, seeing those hard times in your lives, bad habits broken, or certain truths that helped you mature as a believer.
Former Christians Kept Journals
There is a very helpful and concise essay that I came across titled, “Journaling as a Spiritual Discipline,” by Jim Martin. He mentions the importance of journaling in the lives of the Puritans, that:
“…the Puritans argued that just as the captain of a ship keeps a log, or the doctors record their case studies, or a business person audits the business, so a believer should keep daily short accounts with God.
He goes on to say that:
“[they] developed a form of self-examination by keeping spiritual journals. Their discipline was rigorous as they wrote about the events in both their interior and exterior worlds. They also recorded those moments when God’s presence and power seemed more vivid and real.”
You, of course, don’t have to aim to write as extensively as these men did. Just keep a pen and paper close at hand and seize the moment when it presents itself.
Let journaling and note-taking become a habit of yours as well and one that accompanies you during your time in God’s Word. It will prove fruitful down the road whether in re-reading them, preparing a sermon, or just simply telling a good story.
Here, I want to say something that I regard as in many ways the most important discovery I have made in my life as a preacher. I had to discover it for myself, and all to whom I have introduced it have always been most grateful for it. When you are reading your Scriptures in this way – it matters not whether you have read little or much – if a verse stands out and hits you and arrests you, do not go on reading. Stop immediately, and listen to it. It is speaking to you, so listen to it and speak to it. Stop reading at once, and work on this statement that has struck you in this way.
Do you keep a journal? What is your method for doing so? What is your focus and how has it helped you? Tell us about it in the comments below.