Prayer is one of the most fundamental aspects of Christian life. It is our direct line of communication with God and our primary way of building a spiritual relationship with Him.
It can also be a lot harder than people think!
Prayer should always be intentional and focused. It should be a meditative and reflective process where you examine your heart and ask God for guidance and forgiveness. Where you express appreciation for what He has given you and give thanks for His blessings. But all too often, it becomes a mindless routine. A jumble of words you mumble to yourself before falling asleep, or a rote list of requests like you were reciting a grocery list. Not exactly the reflective and meditative ideal.
One way to avoid this and add more intentionality, reflection, and spiritual investment to your prayer life is to create a prayer journal.
What is a prayer journal?
Very simply, a prayer journal is exactly what it sounds like, a small notebook where you write out your prayers. More broadly however it’s a way to focus your conversations with God and be able to see how He moves in your life. It’s a way to add structure and perspective to your inner-thoughts and a way to see your walk with God take shape and grow over time.
Ironically, you’ll find by writing down your prayers, you’ll prevent them from slipping into that "laundry list” routine so many find themselves in!
Why should you keep one?
Keeping a prayer journal is helpful for a number of reasons. First and foremost, it helps you concentrate. When you are writing you need to be thoughtful and present – two qualities that go out the window if you’re just going through the motions with a very routine pre-dinner or before bed prayer.
More long-term though, a prayer journal also helps you see how God is answering your prayers. Even the most faithful among us can be get frustrated. When life is hard and things seem dead set against us, it can be frustrating to pray to God and feel like He is not listening. But He is, I guarantee it. He is always moving in your life in ways great and small, ways you may not understand or even notice in the moment. But by keeping a prayer journal where you record what you are praying for, what you are grateful for, and what is going on in your life, it is easier to see those patterns. Over time you will be able to look back and see how He has answered your prayers (even if they were not specifically the answers you were looking for in the moment).
Lastly, it will make you more attentive in your prayers. When you can read over what you’ve prayed for in black and white, certain trends and behaviors stand out. Are you praying for other people or just yourself? Do you regularly ask God to help you with some personal struggle or failing but never have any details on how you’re trying to make that change in your life? These things will jump out after you’ve been journaling for a few months. It’s a way to help make yourself a more thoughtful and responsible Christian.
What do you need to get started?
A notepad, a pen, and 10 minutes to yourself. That’s it.
Seriously, a prayer journal is an intensely personal thing and there is no right or wrong way to go about it. All you need is a blank page to pour out your heart to God onto. Whatever the specifics of that are, or however that looks and works, is up to you and you alone.
Sure, there are plenty of different prayer journal templates
and designs out there. There are some you can buy and some you can print off for free. Some prayer journals are broken up by prayer topic (prayers for family, prayers for illness, prayers for financial struggles, and so on). Some have prompts on every page, questions like "What am I grateful for today?” Or "what am I struggling with?” that can help guide your thoughts and entries. Other types of journals use a standard format like examining a bible verse every day. I know some artists who draw in theirs!
Any of these ideas or templates can be wonderful tools. If you respond to that kind of structure or if any of those ideas seem fun, then I encourage you to seek those kinds of templates out. But if that kind of thing sounds overwhelming or difficult to keep up with, there is no need to make it complicated if you don’t want to.
Personally, I like to keep things loose. Sometimes I’ll write directly to God as if I am praying to Him through the page. Other times I’ll write about something I saw or read that moved me and examine why it had the impact on me it did. Sometimes I’ll reflect on my flaws or the disappointments of the day, the worries that keep me up at night. Whatever is moving me at the time. The only bit of standardization I stick to is to always make sure I include the date of every entry. I find being able to look back day after day, and track where I was mentally and spiritually, very comforting.
How does it work?
The process couldn’t be simpler, just find a few minutes a day where you can focus and write about your prayers, your concerns, and what you are grateful for. The two most important things are consistency and reflection.
First, a prayer journal needs to become habit. You should try and make sure you write an entry every day, especially when you are just starting to really cement it as a daily activity. It’s not the end of the world if you miss a day or two every now and then. But being able to see the patterns in your prayers, thoughts, and how you are hearing God’s answers throughout your life is where a prayer journal really earns its value.
Which brings us to reflection. You need to occasionally re-read what you’ve written. You don’t need to have a set schedule for this, just make sure it’s something you occasionally check in on. When you have a moment some lazy evening a few months down the line, read over what you wrote in the first few pages of your journal. Reflect on those prayers, what you were asking for, how you were asking, and think about what has happened since then.
By keeping up with your prayer journal and occasionally re-reading it, you’ll have a much more dynamic, open, and honest conversation with God.