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Appendix 2: Journaling 101

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What does it mean to journal?

It’s NOT drawing and coloring. (I call that drawing and coloring.) Journaling is recording your thoughts. That’s it. Nothing special or difficult. When we journal, we simply write down how we interacted with God’s Word. We pen our thoughts and impressions as we read and ask God for insights. (For a sample journal entry, see the section entitled “What kind of things should I write?”)

I learned late to journal. I began because I had a hard time concentrating during what was supposed to be my time with God. Do you relate? Instead of focusing on the verses that I was reading or the prayers that I needed to say, my mind was wandering to my to-do list, my conversation with a friend, a problem I had to handle, or any number of other things. Once I lost focus, it was difficult to get it back.

My goals were worthy, but I was struggling with how to get there.

So I began writing out my prayers. I wrote out word for word what I wanted to pray, as well as the thoughts that came to me while I wrote, believing that it was highly possible that God was guiding those. I began my time with God by reading some scriptures and usually a short devotional, and then I began to write.

Easy journaling.

Why journal?

The term Bible study can be scary. We often think that God’s Word is hard to understand, requiring a great deal of intelligence and/or education to navigate, so we stay away from anything other than a favorite verse or two scattered throughout its pages.

We forget that God wants us to know him. We do that through the pages of his Word, his revelation of himself to ordinary people like you and me. Remember this is his story, not the story of people. God is the main character. People are in the story as they interact with him and his work on earth in reconciling them to himself and restoring creation to its perfection. If we replace time listening and seeking God with a “study” that tells us what to think and believe (true of some but not all studies), we bypass the relationship and knowledge that God gives us directly when we go to his Word instead of to other people to be spiritually nourished.

Imagine sitting down with the author of a book you love rather than going to a book review of it. That’s the opportunity you have with God. He has made himself available to those who seek him through the Scriptures. But there’s a caution here—he doesn’t tell us everything because he is so beyond us—incomprehensible. But he does unfold truth, insight, encouragement, challenge, and conviction into our hearts when we seek him. In the end there is a certain amount of mystery that we must learn to live with when we approach God. We are mere humans after all.

Throughout this study, I have kept my thoughts, insights, and guidance to a minimum so that you can talk about the scriptures with the true Teacher.

Journaling with only general questions to guide you allows your study to be what you make it. This is your study. Your time. Your relationship with God. Your journal is your own. Use it in your own way that works for you.

How much time do I need to spend journaling?

Is your time scattered and often absent? Read the story once in the morning, maybe to your kids, with your roommate or husband during breakfast, or alone as you enjoy an early cup of coffee before work. Think about it as you drive carpool, eat lunch at work, or make your commute. Write in your journal at lunch or before you head to bed in the evening, noting the insights that occurred to you during the day.

Do you want a deep study? Spend time every day reading and rereading the stories of the week. Ask God for insights and applications. Since each week’s study has three sections, spend two days on each section. Read the verses again the second day, and ask God for new insights. Read some of the cross references in the margins of your Bible. With your journal beside you, note all of your thoughts as they come. You may be very surprised at how often your mind goes in a new direction.

Make the schedule your own. Spend little or much time on it. It is your record of how you and God interact as you read his Word.

Do I have to use the questions in the lesson?

Absolutely not. They are merely there to launch your thinking, not to determine the path of your thoughts. The questions are to help, not hinder. If something else is on your mind when you begin journaling, skip them entirely. Listen to God’s Spirit as he gives you insight into the scriptures you read.

What if I am stuck and can’t think of anything to write?

Here are some general questions that you can use with any passage as you begin to journal:

  • What do I like about this passage? Why?
  • What do I not like about this story? Why?
  • What do I learn about God and his purposes in this section of Scripture?
  • What do I learn about people in general from the prophet’s message? In other words, what lessons about people do I learn?
  • What is God telling me to do from what he revealed? How and when will I do it?

If you are a seasoned student of the Bible, you may want to look for other stories or verses that relate to what you read and journal about how they connect to each other and to you. Use the cross-references in your Bible to help you.

What kinds of things should I write?

What follows is a journal entry that I wrote from a Bible story that is not part of this study. Just so you don’t think this is too hard, you need to know that I added paragraphs so it would be easier for you to read. I don’t write in my journal that way. Because I write only for me, not an audience, I normally abbreviate a number of words and phrases that are common in my journal, but I have written them out for you so they make sense.

I also deleted the names of people that I am praying for, but I left the prayer itself so you could see how the story became the basis of my prayer, which included confession and intercession. I don’t normally pray through a format like PRAY (praise, repent, ask, and yield), but over a few days of journaling as I read the Word, God leads me to all kinds of prayers. You can journal with that kind of format for your prayers if you prefer.

June 17

Mark 4:35-41

Although I’ve heard, read, and taught this story many times, it still overwhelms me. God, you are so great and powerful! Why do I doubt that you can handle my small problems when Jesus speaks and immediately the wind and the waves obey? Why do I make you too small to handle problems faced by people I love? Why do I wonder deep in my heart if you care when I’m struggling? I’m just like the disciples, ridiculously asking, “Don’t you care?”

I am amazed that as the boat was filling with water and winds were whipping around, Jesus was lying in the boat asleep with his head on a cushion, perfectly at peace. They had to wake him up! That’s a deep and restful sleep! You know how storms wake me up pretty quickly.

Jesus pointed to the disciples’ fear, suggesting it was caused by lack of faith. Father God, forgive me for making you too small in my imagination, so small that you lack the power to keep me despite the storms that swirl around me. Forgive my fear that comes from lack of faith. Forgive me for fearing that you won’t take care of those whom I love. Forgive me for fearing for my grandchildren’s future. Forgive my lack of faith.

You sent your followers straight into the storm, and they learned about your great power. I know your power and protection because of previous storms. Help me remember them when I’m caught up in a new sudden storm.

I lift up my friends and family who are now in storms . . . . Give them grace and faith. Make them stronger in faith. Help them persevere and bring you glory. Bring comfort to . . . . In the storms’ wake, I pray they all know your power and grace in a deeper way. Amen.

You can do it!

Let me simply encourage you—you can do this. It allows God to move in your heart and mind in a way that specific questions may not allow for. Just read the verses, and write down what God brings to your mind. Refer back to the questions in the study, answering those that you want to answer and thinking about the others. Some wonderful insight may come to mind if you do.

I am praying that God will so encourage and speak to you through this format that you will continue to journal, never settling for fill-in-the blank Bible studies. (And I know God uses them in a mighty way sometimes, but consider journaling through the verses instead.)

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