A Guide to Journaling and Prayer
- Journal & Pray
From Making All Things New: An Invitation to the Spiritual Life by Henri Nouwen
This spiritual life is not a life before, after, or beyond our everyday existence. No, the spiritual life can only be real when it is lived in the midst of the pains and joys of the here and now. Therefore we need to begin with a careful look at the way we think, speak, feel, and act from hour to hour, day to day, week to week, and year to year, in order to become more fully aware of our hunger for the Spirit. As long as we have only a vague inner feeling of discontent with our present way of living, and only an indefinite desire for “things spiritual,” our lives will continue to stagnate in a generalized melancholy. We often say, “I am not very happy. I am not content with the way my life is going. I am not really joyful or peaceful, but I just don’t know how things can be different, and I guess I have to be realistic and accept my life as it is.” It is this mood of resignation that prevents us from actively searching for the life of the Spirit.
Our first task is to dispel this vague, murky feeling of discontent and to look critically at how we are living our lives. This requires honesty, courage, and trust. We must honestly unmask and courageously confront our many self-deceptive games. We must trust that our honest and courage will lead us not to despair, but to a new heaven and a new earth. 
Without solitude it is virtually impossible to live a spiritual life. Solitude begins with a time and place for God, and him alone. If we really believe not only that God exists but also that he is actively present in our lives – healing, teaching, and guiding – we need to set aside a time and space to give him our undivided attention. Jesus says, “Go to your private room and, when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in that secret place” (Matthew 6:6). 
From Too Busy Not to Pray: Slowing Down to Be With God by Bill Hybels
I want to offer you a practical, tested, guaranteed RPM-reduction approach that will help you slow down your life so that you can stop playing games and begin leading an authentic Christian life.
To start, I’m going to describe a vehicle that may seem out of place in a book about prayer but in reality is a very important first step. If your life is rushing in many directions at once, you are incapable of the kind of deep, unhurried prayer that is vital to the Christian walk. By using this vehicle, you can begin to learn to be still and know that God is God, as Psalm 46:10 exhorts.
This vehicle is keeping a journal—in this case, a spiritual journal. It involves writing down your experiences, observations and reflections; looking behind the events of the day for their hidden meanings; and recording ideas as they come to you.
When I first learned about journaling, I had visions of people spending hours and hours in the middle of the day letting their stream of consciousness flow all over endless reams of paper. I wondered who on earth had this kind of discretionary time, but fortunately I kept my thoughts to myself.
Over the years I found myself drawn to the writings of a wide variety of people—mystics, Puritans, contemporary authors rich in their devotional handling of Scripture—who seemed to have one thing in common: most of them journaled.
In addition I began to discover something about certain people in my church and around the country whose ministries and character I deeply respect. Most of them journal too. And yet I knew these people did not climb into ivory towers for the better part of the day.
It was around this time that I read Gordon MacDonald’s book Ordering Your Private World. In it MacDonald suggested journaling, but with a twist.
Go to a drugstore, he said, and buy a spiral notebook. Plan to write in this notebook every day, but restrict yourself to one page. Every day, when you open to the next blank sheet of paper, write the same first word: Yesterday. Follow this with a paragraph or two recounting yesterday’s events, sort of a postgame analysis.
Write whatever you want—perhaps a little description of the people you interacted with, your appointments, decisions, thoughts, feelings, high points, low points, frustrations, what you read in your Bible, what you were going to do and didn’t. According to MacDonald, this exercise causes a tremendous step forward in spiritual development.
On one hand, his approach didn’t turn me completely off, as my visions of midday mystics had done. But on the other hand, I was still skeptical. Come on, I thought, what could that exercise possibly do?
Most of us, the author said, live unexamined lives. We repeat the same errors day after day. We don’t learn much from the decisions we make, whether they are good or bad. We don’t know why we’re here or where we’re going. One benefit of journaling is to force us to examine our lives.
But an even greater benefit, he said, is this: the very act of journaling—sitting down, reaching for the spiral notebook, focusing our thoughts on our life, writing for five or ten minutes—will reduce our RPMs from ten thousand to five thousand.
I knew it was just what I needed.
I have a high energy level in the morning. As I’ve already noted, I can’t wait to get to the office to start the day’s work, and once the adrenaline starts flowing, the phone starts ringing and people start arriving, I can easily stay at ten thousand RPMs until I crash at night. So I decided to start journaling. What did I have to lose?
My first journal entry began, “Yesterday I said I hated the concept of journals and I had strong suspicions about anyone who has the time to journal. I still do, but if this is what it’s going to take to slow me down so I can learn to talk and walk with Christ the way I should, then I guess I’ll journal.”
And I do. Every day! I don’t think I’ve ever written anything profound in my journal, but then that’s not the point. The amazing thing is what happens to my RPMs when I write. By the time I’ve finished a long paragraph recapping yesterday, my mind is off my responsibilities, I’m tuned in to what I’m doing and thinking, and my motor is slowed halfway down.
A PAGE OF PRAYER
Journaling, then, is the important first step in slowing down to pray. It gives the body a brief rest. It focuses the mind. It frees the Spirit to operate, if only for a few minutes. But even though journaling may improve your life enormously, it will not in and of itself turn you into an authentic Christian. It’s only a first step in the right direction.
After you have bought a spiral notebook, filled the first page and reduced your RPMs by half, what’s the next step? Your engine is still racing at speeds that would prove disastrous in an ordinary car.
Step two in the RPM-reduction program is one you already know about and perhaps have even started practicing. I described it in chapter four: Write out your prayers.
Some people tell me they don’t need to schedule regular time for prayer because they get by just fine by praying on the run. These people are kidding themselves. Just try building a marriage on the run. You can’t build a relationship that way, with God or with another person. To get to know someone, you have to slow down and spend time together.
So, after journaling has reduced my RPMs from ten thousand to five thousand, I flip all the way to the back of my spiral notebook and write a prayer. As with my “yesterday” entries, I limit my prayers to one page. This keeps the exercise from overwhelming me and ensures that I do it every day. It also takes a realistic amount of time, given the other responsibilities I face daily.
Once I write out the prayer, I put the notebook on my credenza and kneel down. Not everyone is like me in this respect, but I find I pray much more effectively on my knees. I read the prayer aloud, adding other comments or concerns as I go through it.
QUIET ENOUGH TO LISTEN
By this time my RPMs are down to five hundred and I’m feeling really mellow. My heart is soft and I invite the Lord to speak to me by his Spirit. I’m quiet enough to hear if he chooses to speak, even if in a “gentle whisper,” as 1 Kings 19:12 says.
It’s the third step to fully reducing your RPMs, this idea of listening to God. These moments in God’s presence are the ones that really matter because it is from here that authentic Christianity emanates, the unhurried, silent communing of God’s Spirit with ours.
You can’t become an authentic Christian on a diet of constant activity, even if the activity is all church related. Ministry, Christian rock concerts, weekend conferences, church committee meetings—these all may be valuable, but they won’t serve you well as your primary source of strength. Strength is born of solitude. And in my experience decisions that change the course of your life usually come out of these holy-of-holies encounters.
 Nouwen, Henri J.M. Making All Things New: An Invitation to the Spiritual Life. New York, NY: HarperCollins, 1981. 21-22.
 Nouwen, Henri J.M. Making All Things New: An Invitation to the Spiritual Life. New York, NY: HarperCollins, 1981. 69.
 Hybels, Bill. Too Busy Not to Pray: Slowing Down to Be With God. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press. 1988. 121-125.
- Journal & Pray