“You don’t know what you think until you write it.”

Mia Nyman, my 11th-grade humanities teacher, taught me this over 35 years ago. It always proves true for me. I think best with a pen or keyboard. The act of writing, just like speaking and singing, is both expressive and formative. It helps to guide my heart in worship. When it comes to my growth as a Christian, journaling has proved a sure and helpful avenue to meditation, communion with God, and undistracted focus.

An Avenue for Meditation

You don’t have to journal. It's not a biblical command. But, you do need to develop a way to prayerfully meditate on Scripture and sermons. If you do not, you will hear, forget, and fail to bear fruit from the life-changing power of the Word of God.  Meditation on Scripture is fundamental to fruitfulness in our life with God. The first Psalm in the Psalter opens with a promise about meditation on Scripture.

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 wither;

And in whatever he does, he prospers.

— Psalm 1:1-3

The Psalmist links delight in the law of the Lord with meditation on it. Meditation is carefully thinking about God’s Word over and over. The promise is incredible enduring fruitfulness.

A Guard against Distraction

Journaling is also one of the most effective tools in battling a distractable mind. Although this does not eliminate the distractions, it allows me to know where I left off. Additionally, once the truth or idea is written, it forces me to deal with it. It helps me evaluate if I am thinking and feeling rightly, and prevents me from moving on without adequately considering the weight of the matter.

Taking sermon notes is also a great way to fight distraction while listening to sermons. It is also the surest way for me to go back and think through what I learned.  God expects us to hear and obey His Word (Deuteronomy 29:29). But, if I hear it, and don’t do the work to remember it, I will be disobedient by default.  Even worse, if I don’t develop a discipline to meditate on sermons, I will develop a habit of disobedience.

It's a chronic problem in Bible preaching and Bible-believing churches to feel conviction without experiencing the freedom of transformation. It breeds hypocrisy. Jesus warned, "Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, ' This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me" (Mark 7:6). Writing keeps our hearts focused in the midst of distraction and enables us to reflect and put God’s Word into practice.

An Opportunity for Communion with God

Ultimately, journaling benefits our relationship with God. This involves hearing from Him in His Word and responding in prayer. Jesus used the framework of ‘abiding’ to refer to communion with God. He described it as remaining in His will and presence. This is possible only when we let His Word abide in us. Jesus said, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this, my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples" (John 15:7-8). This is a promise that when we meditate on Scripture we can pray in line with it which results in fruitfulness.

Helpful Journaling Practices

Ask Questions

In my devotional reading or sermon preparation, I often ask, "What does this mean?" If it is a story of someone’s failure, I ask, “How am I guilty of this kind of thinking?” If it is an example of faithfulness, I ask, “How am I pursuing this virtue?”

Write Prayers

The number one way I use my journal is in prayer. I write prayers of praises, confession, thanksgiving, and requests. In particular, I write prayers regarding the deep issues of my heart. When I put my anxieties, worries, frustrations, ingratitude, and wants on paper, it becomes instant accountability. It sparks instant pleas for change.

Write Verses

Any time we use more senses we remember more. If you want to remember more of God’s Word, write it with pen on paper. Combine reading, touch, and sight.

Write poems, hymns, pictures, and diagrams

This is my favorite part of my journaling. It's a time to use God-given creativity to express ideas that give glory to God. When we compose poems and hymns we follow in the footsteps of Moses, David and the sons of Korah. When we draw, we give shape to ideas that communicate beautifully and effectively.

The Means to "Write Yourself Clear"

I still remember early lessons from John MacArthur about sermon preparation: read, study, and then "write yourself clear.” I can still see those pages of yellow sheets he used for notes.  Dr. MacArthur is still the clearest preacher I know.  I often struggle to think and communicate clearly. I have found that journaling helps me organize my thoughts. It has proven to be valuable as I prepare for lectures, talks, sermons, meetings with elders and even important conversations with my wife. Theological precision often takes multiple re-writes. If I do that on a computer, I often erase a well-crafted idea, and can’t go back to it. A written journal is helpful here.

Writing out what you think and pray takes more time, but it reaps the most benefit. When you go back to what you wrote, you'll have the opportunity to track your progress in the faith. You'll see what Christ has been doing. You'll be able to glorify Him for it. So, buy yourself a sleek Moleskine or a rugged leather-bound journal and put your mind and soul on paper before God.