“Can you suggest ways of keeping a prayer journal?”
First of all, I have to say I think keeping a prayer journal is a great way to spend time with God. I personally keep a daily prayer journal and journal most of my prayers during my morning quiet times. I’m not a morning person and used to have trouble keeping my mind from wandering before I started journaling my prayers. I find that it helps keep me concentrate and also helps me see more clearly what I’m learning from God as I read back over what I’ve been talking to Him about.
Let me give you my simple method for prayer journaling and then I’ll talk about other ideas you might try. After reading my Bible I get out my black composition notebook (the ones they make you use in English class) and journal out my prayers to God for about a half hour. Sometimes I’ll take notes on the Scripture I’ve read. Often, I’ll spend time thanking and talking to God about the things that he has shown me through that days reading. I spend time in confession of sin and asking for his help to change. I then try to spend a lot of time praying for others. In the past I’ve picked a day of the week that I will pray for different people. (For example: Monday’s for accountability partners, Tuesday’s for my family, Wednesday’s for friends that don’t know God, and so on.) I also keep an index at the front of the notebook and number each pages. That way, since I use my journal for more than just prayers, I can index the types of things I’m writing about, whether it’s notes about my projects, story ideas, or prayers. Then in my index, I add the page numbers for each prayer entry. For really significant entries, I might also put those on another page and reference them with a title.
That’s just my method. I would suggest just exploring different things until you find something that you are comfortable with, something that you will actually do. If you can’t get yourself to stay with it, try something else. One of the biggest things about prayer and time with God is consistency. Find the method that will help you be the most consistent. Here are some other ideas:
If you like to write by hand, then a notebook may be great for you. Use what you like to hold and carry around. If you love cheap spiral bound notebooks, use those. If you can’t stand them, then you probably won’t write in them either. If you don’t like lines, try hardback art sketchbooks. If you like working with loose pages, try a half-inch three ring binder. Or there’s always the trusty old composition notebook.
If you’d rather type, try keeping a journal in Microsoft Word or just a text editor like Notepad. There are lots of other programs out there. Google “free text editor” or “journaling software.” Two big advantages to typing your prayer journal are that it’s searchable and that you can cut, copy and move text around all you want. (Those are the things I hate the most about my current setup.)
If you want to go a step further, you could also try keeping your prayer journal online. Most journal or blogs let you choose whether to make your posts public or private. You can keep an entire online journal private so only you can read it. (Here on deeperdevotion.com, we have our own journals section where you can give this a shot.) Or if you’re more into email, sign up for a free account with Gmail, Hotmail, or some such web-based mail, and then email your prayers to yourself. You could create a special folder to store them all in. Emailing would also let you add to your prayer journal from anywhere you have email access, even if you didn’t have web access.
When you are praying for specific people, try getting a photo of each and putting them in your journal. You could take a section at the beginning and paste the photos in one per page, and then add prayer requests beneath each with a date. As you pray, you can flip back to these pages to see what things you are praying about for these people. As God shows you things to pray for, add them to the list with the date. As God answers those prayers, add the date answered.
Prayer is intended to be a conversation. If God speaks to you about something as you are praying or through a specific passage, write it down in your prayer journal and then spend time thanking him for showing you that truth. Continue to ask for him to speak to you through his word and through the Holy Spirit.
I find that God often teaches me through a “theme of the day” or “theme of the month.” If you find that to be true, you might note down what this week or month’s theme is, pray and journal about it, and then go back through the coming weeks to see how you are growing and to consider the ways he is changing your thoughts and behaviors in a certain area. This can help you to see God’s hand moving in your life and can help you to pray with focus about what he’s trying to teach you right now.
If you find that you are seeing signs of a sin buildup in your life that hasn’t been confessed, spend time just dumping out all those things. Just list out the sins you haven’t confessed and then go through them and pray for forgiveness and that God would change your heart in these things. (If you’re afraid of people reading your journal, use abbreviations for things or your own code words or nicknames.) If you see patterns in the sins you list, pray that God would show you how to change those patterns and then make a note to continue to watch for those things in your life.
Prayer journals can be a great way for you to watch how God grows you through the years. I am excited to one day have a huge stack of composition notebooks full of prayers to God. As I go back through them, I know that I will see how God has changed me over time and made me more like him. I hope the same for you, too!