by Mike McDonough, Pastor of Spiritual Development

Last year I set a goal to keep a journal. If you know me, you know that I am not the journaling type. This goal was going to be a stretch for me, but I decided to go on the adventure anyway.

Here were some of my reasons for starting a journal last year:

Journaling has been a habit found in many great theological and spiritual leaders. Following in their footsteps seemed like a good idea to me.

Journaling through a Bible reading plan helps Bible readers process what they are reading. I did not want to simply intake God’s Word but also process it. I decided writing was going to be the best tool to help me process what I was reading.

Journaling helps people process and communicate their feelings.  I would not describe myself as a "feeler." I may be intense at times, but how I feel about something is not usually a category for contemplation in my brain. Yet God made us all feelers, and this was an area I needed to improve. I was going to use my journal to help me communicate my feelings to myself because I am not sure I was aware of my own feelings at times! At least I am owning up to my crazy.

Journaling helps establish daily priorities. I want to stay focused on the most important things. Therefore, I wanted a mechanism in my life that helped me sit down and think through my priorities. My journal was going to be used as that mechanism.

I wanted some prompts to help me. Writing from a blank page is pretty daunting! Therefore, I developed a journal template to accomplish this goal. I combined two templates with which I was already familiar:

The first section of my journal focused specifically on Scripture reading and prayer. I used the SOAP method: Scripture, Observation, Application, and Prayer. 

I would write a Scripture that I wanted to think through from my scheduled reading. Sometimes I would write out a whole verse. Sometimes I would simply write the reference to a range of verses. Then I would make an observation about the text. An observation can be a key word, phrase, action, command, etc. Next, I would think of how I could apply the principle of the Scripture. I would try and make this as personal as possible. Finally, I would make a quick list of some specific prayer requests for the day.

The next section of my journal consisted of four questions:*
1) What am I thankful for right now?
2) How am I feeling right now?
3) What are my plans for today?
4) What one thing must I accomplish today?

So, how did I do? 

The SOAP method was natural for me to process due to my background and training. Therefore, I did well with this section, but I struggled with the second section of my template. I did not think deeply when it came to what I was thankful for. My entries mostly consisted of family, friends, and co-workers. These were all good things, but it did not require deep thinking on my part. That question really became a rote process without much thought. 

Surprisingly, I actually grew to enjoy writing down how I was feeling. My answer was usually one word and was somewhat relieving as I expressed my feelings, even when what I was feeling was obviously wrong. Confession is Biblical!

I began to skip the “plans for the day” question as it was already answered in my task management system. 

The “one thing” question brought focus and a feeling of accomplishment to my day. Accomplishing that goal allowed me to say, “At least I got the most important thing done today.”

I have decided to make some changes for 2016. The SOAP method will stay the same; I do not want to make any changes there. I am going to drop the "thankful" and “plans for the day” questions, but add an additional “feelings ”question. I am going to ask myself, “How should I be feeling right now?”

I hope my adventure in journaling helps you as you think about the discipline of journaling. I am constantly growing in this area and desire for you to grow as well. Let me know some of your thoughts and how your journal has helped you grow as a disciple. I always enjoy learning something new.

*These questions were adapted from Michael Hyatt’s journal template.