As a young teen, I read The Diary of Anne Frank, the well-known compilation of journal entries of a young girl who lived in hiding during the Holocaust. Captivated and inspired by Anne, I began journaling almost as soon as I put down the iconic book.
Today, as a mama in her mid-forties, I’ve been journaling for about thirty years. While my initial entries revolved around my boy crushes and other teenage interests (Who am I kidding? They were mostly about my crushes!), I’ve found myself journaling exclusively from the Bible for the last decade or so. While I don’t believe anyone can be an “expert” on journaling, I would love to share some pointers that might help you in your journaling journey.
Before we get started, though, what is Bible journaling? Very simply put, it’s writing down what God speaks to you from His Word during your daily meditation in Scripture.
And now for a quick disclaimer: Journaling is an intensely personal experience, so take these suggestions for what they are — mere ideas and not a step-by-step tutorial.
Here are some ways to get into the discipline of Bible journaling:
- Invest in a journal. I know this seems like a no-brainer. But in a “there’s an app for that” world, I would strongly recommend buying an actual paper notebook that you can write in. Apps are awesome and I’m a self-confessed “appaholic” when it comes to grocery shopping and clothes purchases, but journaling in a lovely notebook with good quality paper simply elevates what might otherwise seem like a routine activity.
- Grab your Bible. Again, I am going old-school on you but if you’d like to journal, a paper (hardcopy) Bible would be the way to go. There are many Bibles out there specifically created for journaling, but you don’t need to invest in a new one. Just find one that won’t beep and buzz you into distraction. Access to a hardcopy Bible and an actual notebook means that you can leave your phone in another room. Goodbye, pings (hopefully), and hello, focussed time in the Word.
- Begin with prayer. Here’s the thing: yes, you’re going to be looking for meaning in the text and writing it down in your journal, but this isn’t an English literature essay. If we are to truly understand the text with our minds and our hearts, then we need God. We need the Holy Spirit to bring those words to life. So, start with prayer. Invite the Author to speak to you. Ask Him to help you listen with an expectant heart. And He will. God delights in communing with you.
- Get systematic. Journaling may conjure up images of free-flowing writing under a tree with a babbling brook for inspiration. But I would suggest relegating stream-of-consciousness writing to personal journaling or poetry rather than Bible journaling. To begin Bible journaling, first, choose a book of the Bible that you would like to go through. Understand the context of the book, the author's intent and the audience for whom it was written. (Here’s where I finally enter the 21st century and suggest that you do some online research about that particular book of the Bible before you dive into it). And then simply read the book chapter by chapter.
- Go slow. Read the chapter (or chapters) you’ve chosen slowly. Re-read it. I have the luxury of reading the Word after my kids have left for school, so I can actually read the words out loud (without anyone thinking I’m nuts). I then underline words or phrases that speak to me. I write in the margins of my Bible (I know that seems sacrilegious to some, but hey, it keeps me focussed). Mull over the words. Meditate on them. Let them sink in.
- Ask questions. Here are three simple questions to ask while you read the Word: What does this passage reveal about God? What does it reveal about me/ mankind? How can I apply this in my life?
I would suggest sticking to that order of asking questions. When we first behold the character of our perfect, holy, powerful God, we then begin to understand our fallenness and our desperate need for Him more clearly.
When it comes to application, it’s not always as simple and neatly packaged as “What can I do this week to implement the lesson I’ve learned?” Applying the Word means wrestling with God over questions and heartaches. It means lifting up our hands in praise. It means sitting in silence. It means crying out to Him in brokenness and contriteness. It means committing to change. It means actually changing.
- And, finally, write. As I read and meditate over the words, there’s always a stirring in my spirit — not because I’m some super-spiritual person (I can unequivocally say I’m not) but because God is faithful to speak. Please note that when I say ‘stirring,’ I’m not talking about a ‘hallelujah’ moment when the starry host plays the trumpet in the background. It is far more “normal” — but, at the same time, it is also divine because when you catch a glimpse of God there’s nothing quite like it. My journal entries begin with the date and the passage I’m reading. I write a few sentences about those “stirrings” (observations from the passage, attributes of God, or even words or phrases that resonate with me) and then I respond in written prayer. It’s simply a time of reading, reflecting, and then responding, of pausing, pondering, and then praying
There’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to Bible journaling. You will have to find your own rhythms and routines and seek out what resonates with you the most.
But I would encourage you, friend, to invest time in the Word because there’s no other way to grow in intimacy with God. We can’t follow after God if we don’t know His voice. And we can’t know His voice if we don’t hear it in Scripture. He speaks to you and me. The question is, are we listening?
Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash
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When she's not smuggling chocolate past her kids or drinking gallons of coffee, Susan Narjala can be found writing, baking and (thinking about) working out. She grew up in Chennai, lived in Portland, Oregon, for the last ten years and is now back in India with her family. She finds nuggets of humour in the everyday, and writes about it on on her blog, www.susannarjala.com