Using a Prayer Journal to Listen to God
I have been using a prayer journal since 9th grade. I was never formally introduced to the idea of a prayer journal, it was more like I was encouraged to take notes during morning and evening prayer at the school I attended. I don’t know exactly how it evolved into what it is now, but my prayer journal has become something I literally cannot live without. Like, the answer to the “what is the one thing you would save if your house was on fire?” kind of important. I used to use whatever old notebooks I could get my hands on, but pretty soon everyone knew that for birthdays and Christmas, a new journal was all I wanted.
Now that I am married, my husband has taken to getting me the super huge leather bound ones from Barnes and Noble that come in the plastic case. I love them because it is the place where I keep all the things closest to my heart – a mother’s day card with an extra special drawing from my kids, a letter from my mom, any particularly helpful advice I have received, spiritual quotes, bible passages, inspirations, motivations, etc, but most of all, and most importantly, all my conversations with Jesus.
Yep, I said conversations.
No long-winded, poetic, fancy “prayers”. No one-sided monologues (well, ok, sometimes – but very few). No prayer cards or prayer request lists (maybe only a very select few that are especially meaningful). No handwritten, color-coded copies of the Bible.
Prayer is supposed to be organic, genuine, heartfelt, real, and TWO-SIDED!
Prayer is a “cry of the heart” (Therese of Lesieux) to a God who cares about our heart. A God who listens. A God who RESPONDS!
We all to often fall into the habit of believing there are only three answers to prayer – Yes, No, and Wait. But, God isn’t limited to a list of predefined responses, like an “8 ball” or one of those grade-school folded paper “fortune-tellers”. He is a REAL person. He has real ideas, real words, real plans, and a real desire for relationship with you. We are the ones who limit God to those three responses when all we do is come to Him asking for favors. There is so much more to Him than that.
What does listening to God look like?
First things first – God is a being outside of yourself. His voice might be commonly described as a “voice in your head” but it should be easily distinguishable (usually) from your own voice. He uses words you wouldn’t expect. He is usually short and to the point (often packing the answer to your twenty minute rant into approximately three words). He says things you usually never thought of before. He says things you don’t necessarily always think you want to hear. His responses are very much outside of your control. **Note: If you are trying to “control God’s voice” by wishing or hoping He would say something or pretending He said something so that you can “feel better” you are not truly listening to God, or, most likely, even open to it.
Secondly – God may speak in a variety of ways: ie. suddenly calling to your mind a pertinent or helpful bible verse, reminding you of something you heard once that is particularly applicable to your situation. He may speak through other people (who don’t have ulterior motives), through a good book, through silence, or through words (as described in the previous paragraph). He can speak to you through music, nature or even through the words you yourself write. Do not limit the means and methods God can use to speak to you. (Read also: Listening to God in a World full of Noise)
Thirdly – God can also use non-verbal communication to make His presence known. He will sometimes simply flood you with peace, energy, hope, joy, comfort, or any number of incredible, yet indescribable, solutions to your problems. He may flood you with cleansing tears or sorrow. He may simply unbind your heart so that you are finally able to forgive a wrong that has been eating you up inside. He might make you smile one of those quiet smiles that you just can’t wipe off your face. He might make you laugh out loud or literally lull you to sleep. Never limit God’s capacity for action in your life by thinking He is only interested in the supremely spiritual.
Last but not least
Lastly – If you are too busy or surrounded by too much noise, literal or figurative, you may struggle to hear His voice. For true listening, we need quiet. Spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical peace – physical being the least critical of the four, if you can believe it. (Read also: Called to quiet – How to cultivate meaningful interior and exterior silence)
Why a prayer journal?
Mostly because it helps you achieve interior quiet – thus, helping you truly listen to God.
But, this is only if you use it in the right ways…
If you are reading this, you are interested in the idea of a meaningful prayer journal. Maybe you love your current prayer journal, but if you are looking up posts on prayer journaling, it is likely that you are struggling with one or more of the common guidelines, or perhaps you are feeling that your prayer journaling time and effort leaves you somewhat empty.
Do you ever wonder why?
Maybe it is because in your prayer journal you are doing all the talking!
Common Prayer Journal “Mistakes”
- Recording lists of “cool verses” you love and want to memorize. Memorizing bible verses is a wonderful thing, but it is not prayer! Prayer is conversation. Memorization is study. There is a time and place for both, but try not to mistake one for the other.
- Trying to make your journal “Pinterest worthy” – this includes: doodling religious pictures, having intricate highlighting systems, worrying too much about your handwriting, spelling or grammar. Your journal is supposed to be a VERY private affair. You should never write as if someone else would see it. Only utilize these techniques if YOU personally find them helpful, otherwise, they are probably just distracting you from true prayer.
- Relying exclusively on prayer journal “prompts”. Do you need prompts to talk to your best friend? No, you talk about what matters to you at that moment. Life is your prayer prompt. The occasional use of prompts can be fun or potentially enlightening but reliance on them means that your prayer isn’t really yours.
- Thinking of it exclusively as a “love letter to God”. Face it, every time we talk to our spouse or friends we aren’t necessarily professing our undying affection. A prayer journal can sometimes be a sad or angry mess. Your pages might be tear stained at times and your ink smeared. Prayer at its core is “no holds barred”, deep, impactful conversation with a relatable person who cares about our worries, our, joys, our needs, our love, and our pain.
- Overcomplicating it – Stop worrying about saying the “right” words or talking about the “right” thing. Just be real. Just be you.
So, what should your Prayer Journal look like
Introducing the prayer journal “freewrite”… 🙂
A prayer journal should be raw. Real. It should be private, painful, and cathartic. A prayer journal should be more like a “freewrite” to God, than a constant love letter (although it might contain some pretty passionate love eventually). If you are not familiar with the concept of a “freewrite” (English professor’s terminology), it is basically a stream of consciousness. Some even call it the “vomiting stage”. You just start writing and don’t stop til you literally have NOTHING else to say. Feel free to even include fillers, “um”, “uh”, “like”, etc. This is uncensored, unlimited, and undefined.
If you are a beginner you could start with “God? Are you there? I’m not sure about this. I don’t know what to say, but I guess I should start somewhere. I don’t really want to do this and I still think it is weird but I need you right now so I am willing to give it a shot. I am struggling with this one thing a lot lately and it has me extremely frustrated because (x,y, and z) … and I’m worried because … and I’m so busy with ____… and, I just don’t think I can do it … and I’m so worried about and this, and that, and, oh my gosh, on top of it all ______ …”
How does prayer journaling like this help you listen to God?
- Helps you de-stress and detoxify. Healthy “vent” – We all have problems and feel the weight of them. We all know the value of “venting”. How many times have we heard (especially on Fb) “Sorry, just needed to vent”? When you talk to God about things that worry or bother you, it isn’t gossip. It doesn’t change or influence people’s opinions of anyone and doesn’t put unnecessary pressure on anyone to help you solve your problems. Nor is it an excuse to have a public pity party. Instead it takes the deepest parts of your heart to the one who knows you best and who is most capable of helping you out in the way that is best for you.
- Gets your thoughts out of your head – You may wonder what is the difference between this point and the last one. It gives you some distance and perspective. Once your thoughts are out of your head, you can be more rational about them. Rereading your thoughts can make you realize which ones are genuinely problematic and which ones you can say, “I can’t believe I was actually worried about that!” about. It can also help you put things into perspective about which worries are most important or pressing at this time and which ones are more petty.
- Helps you to let go of the thoughts that distract you- The dad in one of the Indiana Jones movies (can’t remember which right now) wanted to make Indy go back into the danger zone to get the dad’s notebook (important for their quest). Indy looked at him like he was crazy and said, “Don’t you remember?!” The dad’s response was perfect! “I write things down so I don’t HAVE to remember!” Sometimes we can be possessed by our own thoughts. We can be so preoccupied with them that we replay them over and over again in our heads, often trying to come up with a solution on our own or for fear of forgetting. But, writing it down, enables us to literally let go of what is bothering us. For example, even if your grocery list or your to do list is keeping you from praying, don’t ignore that and expect it to go away – write it down so you don’t have to keep thinking about it. That way you can actually move on.
- Writing slows down your thoughts – We all write slower than we can think. This forces us to be very intentional with the words we put on paper. It weeds out unnecessary repetition and allows God to “get a word in” should He chose to. It may not happen very much at first when you are still learning to “still your soul”, but eventually He can start interrupting so much that you wonder why you keep journaling sometimes. 🙂
- Writing helps you to organize and prioritize your thoughts – It helps you to see patterns and to judge more objectively what issues are really the most important at that particular moment. It helps you explore the deepest, most hidden parts of your heart in a safe place. If you keep asking yourself the question “Why?”, it helps you truly get to the bottom of what is bothering you so that you can actually find a solution to your problem.
- Always end your freewrite with a question put to God Himself that you want Him to answer – Usually the question can be asking the solution to the problem you have just identified through all the steps of your freewrite as being the real question you need the answer to. Your freewrite can last for days or weeks, if necessary. As you practice and get braver to venture into deeper parts of yourself with Him, you will get better and quicker at it. Once you have truly identified the question you need help with, there is no reason that He won’t give you the answer right then and there, or when you are truly open to hearing it. If you get to the end and still find yourself angry or unwilling to accept a solution you might not think you like, then maybe what you need to be journaling about is your anger or lack of openness.
Quick recap – How prayer journaling helps us listen to God
You will find that writing releases your thoughts much like speaking them does, only in an even more tangible and less vulnerable way (remember your journal is completely private). It helps you to discover if they are reasonable or not or whether or not they really matter to you as much as you thought they did in your head. It takes away distractions by encouraging focus and utilizing more of your senses (Studies show this too!). It slows down your thought process and encourages you to be more logical and reasonable.
When you have gotten every possible thing in your mind that has to do with that topic out on paper you will find that you really don’t feel the need to keep thinking about them. It makes it possible to then write a question “What should I do?” “What should I say?” “How should I act?” “How is this fair?” “Why!?!” And really listen for an answer… At this point, stop trying to figure things out for yourself. Just be quiet. Let Him speak. Give Him time. Give Him permission to say anything He wants.
Then trust Him. Try it out. How do you know if it is a good idea or not unless you give it a try?
The beginnings of your writings will often be rants, but they will end in the most genuine, most uninhibited, most freeing, most impactful, best possible prayer.
How has your prayer journal impacted your prayer life? or Do you need any support, help, or advice? Share below!!
Til next week! Blessings!
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