Prayer journaling. What is it? What does it look like? Is there a right way to do it? A formula to follow?
Two things to note right from the start. First, there is no “correct” way to prayer journal. Everyone does it in their own unique way, as they should. Second, I use the phrase prayer journaling in a broad sense, encompassing many different types of writing used to enhance time with Jesus.
Back in high school and even college, I called myself a “compulsive journaler,” which is a phrase I used to describe my obsession to record every single life event in detail. It was exhausting and not always enjoyable. I usually meshed together life journaling with praying journaling, writing out Scriptures and prayers and worship. For the first decade of my journaling journey, it was a helpful practice for me, but also guilt-inducing if I missed a life event or didn’t keep up like I thought I was “supposed” to.
I finally decided: that’s enough! For the last decade, I made adjustments to allow freedom into my devotional journaling. I let my writing be “messy” and free; no perfectionism allowed. I started writing in pen and stopped correcting mistakes. I let go of the compulsion to record all of my life happenings. I tried to let prayer journaling be a blessing, a place of healing and help–a gift to my devotion time that serves me uniquely in different seasons.
Over the past twenty years, I learned a thing or two about prayer journaling, and thankfully I am in a place of more freedom. Journaling can definitely be a helpful tool when you meet with Jesus!
Here are three tips from a recovering perfectionist journaler:
My journals aren’t neat or necessarily pretty-looking–inside or out. I buy cute, cheap, college-ruled notebooks because I go through them so quickly. I jot down notes, make bullet point lists, scribble ideas in the margins, and write down feelings and frustrations. Essentially, prayer journaling for me is just a written conversation with Jesus that often looks similar to the thoughts spinning around in my brain: random rants and ideas and prayers and lists.
Copy & outline.
Probably about 70% of my journals are simply copied Scripture. I usually do my Bible reading for the day and then copy verses or chapters that challenge, surprise, or encourage me. I often read different Bible versions for the same passage (NIV, CSB, and AMPC are my favorite) and then write down verses to compare and to dig deeper. I also outline passages in order to help me understand better, to recognize patterns, and to notice flow of thought and structure. We often learn best when we physically write down information, so I think years of copying Scripture has helped with memorization and internalization.
“Prayer journaling” is also helpful for prayer! Sometimes I write out complete prayers for people or situations heavy on my heart. But more often I make lists of things I am praying for as I pray verbally. I’ve found it helpful to make a prayer list at the beginning of each journal and then refer to that list as I pray during my time with Jesus. I also try to remember to record answers to prayer, along with prayers of gratitude and worship. I’m not very good at writing poetry, but sometimes I try to write my own psalms of praise or thanksgiving. More often I just copy Psalms from the Bible as my prayers, using their beautiful words as my own heart cry.
Prayer journaling is not the gateway to a magical quiet time. Neither is it a practice reserved only for the super-spiritual. If you enjoy any sort of writing or jotting down notes or perhaps you’re a tactile learner, then adding a bit of time to journal during your devotions could be a useful tool. Give it a try!
Writing down thoughts and Scriptures and prayers has been such a gift to me over the years. Journaling increases my capacity to learn & to dig deep, provides a record of answer prayers, and helps me draw closer to Jesus.