In 1656, English Puritan John Beadle published a book on keeping a journal as a spiritual discipline: The Journal or Diary of a Thankful Christian. To his knowledge and mine, his book was the first on the topic.
Ever since, I suppose, Christians have fallen into two camps: Those who like to write in journals and those who don’t. When I teach on prayer this is always a pretty clear division — with the non-journalers often seeming to feel a tad guilty about not liking the practice.
As I write in my chapter in Kneeling with Giants on ways the Puritans used writing for meditation and prayer, Beadle’s title points to one thing that can make learning to pray with a journal worthwhile: it can fill you up with thankfulness.
I don’t know what you like to do with your journal, or if you write in one regularly or even occasionally, but Beadle has some great suggestions. I’ll post on a few in the future, but today just a quick note on how he thought Scripture supported him in teaching the process.
His subtitle was that the book was “Presented in some Meditations on Numb. 33.2”
That text is
“Moses wrote down their starting points, stage by stage, by command of the Lord; and these are their stages according to their starting places.”
The whole chapter is just a list of place names recording the wilderness wanderings of the Israelites after the Exodus. It seems a random itinerary. But God commanded Moses to write them all down, recording them for future generations — even making them part of God’s Word to us.
For a whole lot of Israelites, those were some pretty miserable years in that desert. But in fact, God was with them. They needed to remember each and every place and take note that they were under God’s good care, provided for and guided with a loving hand.
Have you ever thought about recording your own comings and goings — year in, year out — as a record of where God was with you? Make that change of perspective and you might find yourself giving thanks.
Then after his title page, Beadle includes a picture of a kind of standing stone inscribed “1 Sam. 7.12” Here’s that text:
“Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Jeshanah, and named it Ebenezer; for he said, ‘Thus far the Lord has helped us.’”
Now you know what that old hymn “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” means when it says
Here I raise my Ebenezer;
Here by Thy great help I’ve come
That is what a journal is for: we mark where we’ve come in the journey of faith and discipleship. If we got to where we are today, we got here by God’s power, with his grace and guidance.
Do that for a day, or a month, or a year, and you will realize you have a whole lot to be grateful for. Then you can turn to the next page and write out a prayer of thankfulness.
What do you use your journal for?
Or what holds you back from trying out the spiritual discipline of journal keeping?
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