Martin Luther’s barber was having trouble praying. So he asked the Dr. for advice to strengthen his prayer life. Luther in response wrote a short book entitled, A Simple Way to Pray. In it, he tells the barber to use three “prayer prompts:” The Lord’s Prayer, the Ten Commandments, and the Apostle’s Creed.
Luther says to take a line from the Lord’s Prayer such as “Our Father, who is in Heaven, hallowed be your name” and use that as a springboard for a related prayer. For example, you could pray, “Lord help me to hallow your name in my life, and forgive me when I take your name in vain.” Stealing from Luther’s playbook, we can apply the same method to journaling and use journaling prompts.
A short word should be said of why one should journal in the first place. Is it required? No, but there are immense benefits to doing so. The first is to see God’s work in your life over time. As you record events and circumstances during your walk with Christ, you will be able to look back upon the faithfulness of God in your times of happiness and despair. It’s easier to see God’s work through recorded accounts (hence the Bible) instead of fuzzy memories. So journaling is a benefit for yourself.
It is also a benefit to others. Think of how your children or other family members in the future may read your journal. They too will be able to see God’s faithfulness in your life, and see your own struggles and dependence upon Him. It can assist them in their own walk with Christ.
A journal could also be read amongst a wider audience, if it’s published or put online in a blog. The Life of David Brainerd is the journal of a missionary to Indians in colonial America, edited and collected by Jonathan Edwards. Brainerd died early in life, but his recorded accounts of his zeal for God, his lack of holiness, and desire to see the Indians converted, has inspired many throughout history to be missionaries. A spiritual journal can have a lasting impact centuries on.
Just as Luther used prayers and the Ten Commandments from the Bible as prayer prompts, they can also be used for journaling prompts in the same way. Using the Ten Commandments for example, you could write about how you are struggling to obey one of them and write out why you are disobeying, circumstances that may be arising aiding in your disobedience, and your prayers to God asking for his help. In one sense, you are basically writing down your prayers. Or, as you study the Bible or partake in daily devotions, you can write down what you have learned or some things to apply to your life. You can record notes or difficulties you are experiencing with certain passages.
Prayers and Praises
Write down your prayers to God and record those answers to prayer. Perhaps you will notice how your prayers change as you age. You’ll also be amazed to see over time what prayers have been answered. It is said that George Mueller (1805-1898) had over 50,000 recorded answers to prayer in his journals. God sure is good!
Creeds and Confessions
Reading through historic creeds and confessions and writing whatever comes to mind about them is a great writing prompt. Creeds and Confessions are basically short systematic theologies and interacting with them through writing is a great way to help you understand them, remember them, and use them as aids in your Christian life. The Heidelberg Catechism begins with:
Q1. “What is our only comfort in life and death?”
Answer: “That I with body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own, but belong unto my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ….”
And you could respond with…
“I am anxiously waiting to hear back about my medical report. I do not know what it will say, and I’m worried. I know that Jesus is my ONLY comfort, but it is so hard to trust that. Oh God help my unbelief! Help me to trust these true words of the catechism!…”
Reading biographies or events in the life of the church can help you gain an outside perspective on your own time in church history and can be used as aids to work through issues you may be having. As you read through a biography of Athanasius for example, you can write down the ways in which he fought against Arianism (the belief that Christ was a created being and is not God) and work through how to apply that in dealing with Jehovah’s Witnesses today (whom are Arians).
Then you can record any actions you have with them. If someone reads your journal in the future, they then may have an aid on how to talk to Jehovah’s witnesses since you have recorded your own church history by reading a record of another event in church history!
George Whitfield’s Journal Questions
Finally, if none of the above prompts help, the following questions were used by George Whitefield himself to help analyze his spiritual condition. Answer them as honestly as you can, and since they are simple questions (but not so simple to answer!) you will always have something to write about.
- Been fervent in prayer?
- After or before every deliberate conversation or action, considered how it might tend to God’s glory?
- After any pleasure, immediately given thanks
- Planned business for the day?
- Been simple and recollected in everything
- Been meek, cheerful, affable in everything I said or did?
- Been proud, vain, unchaste, or enviable of others?
- Recollected in eating and drinking? Thankful? Temperate in sleep?
- Thought or spoken unkindly of anyone
- Confessed all sins?