Do you pray? Do you pray as much as you should? According to the Pew Research Center’s ‘Religious Landscape Study’, over fifty per cent of Americans adults pray every day and less than twenty five per cent rarely pray. Human beings have a need to pray, just like we have a need for food and water; even the most ungodly person will turn to prayer in times of crisis. The Bible is full of encouragement to pray:
‘Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.’ Thessalonians 5: 16-18
In Matthew 6: 5-8 Jesus gives us very clear guidance about how to pray. Praying collectively is fine, but people who perform their prayers to be admired by others, he calls hypocrites. He instructs us to pray in private:
‘But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut the door, pray to the Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.’ Matthew 6: 6
‘Shut the door’, says Jesus, this is a sacred conversation between you and your God. Jesus also cautions us about getting swept up in our own rhetoric, uttering fine sounding words and phrases, which carry no meaning. Prayer is not oratory; prayer is plain, simple and honest. As Christians we know the importance of prayer, we know the comfort that it brings and we know that it leads us step by step along the path to God.
‘Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Jesus Christ.’ Philippians 4:6-7
Jesus said nothing about keeping a prayer journal, so why do you need one? The answer is of course that you don’t need one, but millions of Christians have found the practice a useful tool. The Bible itself contains many examples of prayer journaling. The Book of Lamentations is filled with prayers of mourning after Jerusalem had fallen to the Babylonians and the Book of Psalms is a collection of personal prayers, which concludes by saying ‘The prayers of David the son of Jesse are ended’ Psalm 72:20. So, let’s take a closer look at how a prayer journal could help you focus your prayer and bring you closer to God.
I don’t like writing, God knows what I’m thinking, why do I have to write it?
Some of us do a lot of writing, we do it everyday as part of our work, perhaps we even take pride in how good we are at writing. For others writing doesn’t come easy: high school has left many feeling that anything we write is going to be full of mistakes. The thing is, God is not going to be grading your writing, God is not going to look more favorably on those who ‘write well’. In fact fancy language and complex sentences are not at all what’s needed, they are far more of an obstacle than weak literacy. God knows what is in your heart, but do you? Writing your thoughts down, simply and honestly is a way to see clearly the working of your heart. Fancy language or spelling mistakes count for nothing, it’s honesty that you need to put on the page.
I do everything on my phone, why bother writing in a book?
Keeping a prayer journal is about creating a sacred space where you can have a regular private conversation with God. So, think about that. Is your phone or any other electronic device, a private space where you won’t be interrupted? There’s a beautiful simplicity to a sheet of paper, and a pen and a notebook won’t interrupt your thoughts with pop ups.
Do I need to buy a special prayer journal or will any notebook do?
Your prayer journal will become very important to you. You will look back over what you’ve written and you’ll reflect on your spiritual journey. Of course you can use any sort of notebook, but you’ll probably regret it if you buy something cheap and flimsy and all the pages fall out. Your prayer journal is the most important journal you’ll ever keep so you’re probably going to want to invest in a journal with a sturdy cover and good quality paper. Our prayer journal also includes prompts to help get you started and it gives you a structure to help you get the journaling habit.
How will a prayer journal help me to get closer to God?
Let’s be clear about this, a prayer journal is just a tool; a hammer won’t build your house for you, but using it will make construction much easier. Writing down what you want to say to God will help you get your thoughts straight. Once you start to record your prayers you can look back over them, you can reflect on your preoccupations and requests; you can see your spiritual progress and you can see when you have become distracted.
What should I write in my prayer journal?
What do you want to say to God? Life can be overwhelming and sometimes prayer doesn’t come easy. Using a prayer journal can help you focus your thoughts. Keep your Bible open and let scripture guide you. Perhaps you are following a Bible study course, or perhaps you are searching the scripture for guidance with a specific problem. Oftentimes the Lord leads us to the scripture we need. Reflect upon the word of the Lord and write down your thoughts and anything that puzzles you; these reflections may form the basis of your prayer. Consider your thoughts and actions and confess your sins to God; your confession may take the form of a prayer. Count your blessings and give thanks. We always focus on our problems, it is so uplifting, so invigorating, to open your eyes to God’s goodness and give praise for it. Then of course there are specific prayer requests, but remember, you are not a child asking for toys at Christmas. Does your prayer request contribute to your spiritual growth as a Christian or is it selfishness and greed, which is speaking? Pray for others and feel the warm glow of Christian compassion. Look back, regularly, over what you have written and reflect upon your spiritual struggle; in this way you will learn how to draw closer to God.
When should I write in my prayer journal?
Talking to God is the most important thing that you will do in any day, so why would you not do it every day? For most of us, life is very busy, so busy it can feel that we scarcely have time to think. Creating a sacred space in each day is the best thing you can do to enhance your life as a Christian. Perhaps you could get up earlier: there’s no better way to start the day than with scripture and your prayer journal, but maybe you have small children and that’s not going to work. Finding time during the day may suit you better, but be sure that you can make the time and place absolutely inviolable, nothing and no one should disturb you. The close of day gives you the opportunity to reflect on your day and find peace with the Lord, which is the very best recipe for a good night’s sleep, but maybe you need to turn off that T.V. a little earlier; you need to be wide awake if you’re talking to God.