The Value Of Journaling

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on AppleSpotify, or Audible. 

Do you keep a journal? I’m not talking about a diary of your daily events, but a journal of your ongoing dialogue with God. This is a discipline I began over 25 years ago, and it’s been immensely helpful to me. 

Every time you read the history of Israel in the Old Testament, you are really reading a written history—a journal—of what God did for His people.

In Luke 1:46-55, we read Mary’s song about the soon-to-be-born Jesus that someone journaled to record for posterity. The same thing is true for Zechariah’s song about his son John in Luke 1:67-79. I am sure that many people found great comfort in reading and recalling these songs, perhaps even Jesus Himself and John the Baptist. 

Even Jesus told His disciple John to journal the words He spoke to him about events still to come (Revelation 1:11, 19; 2:1, 8, 12, 18; 3:1, 7, 14; 14:13; 19:9; 21:5). 

Journaling has helped me at so many crucial points in my life. Especially when I needed to look back to be reminded of something God had spoken to me. I shared one example of this in my book Shepherd Leadership: The Metrics That Really Matter

       The board was making a major decision. They were considering a change in their leadership to one who had completely different credentials and training from all of their previous leaders. Because this change would be so momentous, the board interviewed me for more than four hours. When they finally felt they had deliberated long enough, they asked me to leave the room while they prayed and voted. I stepped out into the lobby for just a couple of minutes when the door opened again and they asked me to step back inside. 

       “Well, Craig,” the spokesman began, “we prayed and we feel you are the one God has selected for this position.” I told them I would be happy to accept their offer. After they prayed over me, I began to pack up my things to head home. 

       “Hold on a minute,” one of the board members said to me, “we’re about to discuss the budget, and we think it would be good for you to be a part of this discussion.” I agreed and resumed my seat at the table. 

       I was handed both the year-to-date financial report and the projected income and expenses for the remaining quarter of the year. “As you can see,” the treasurer began, “we are projecting a $70,000 loss for this year.” Then he turned to me and asked, “What are you going to do about that?” 

       I gulped, tried not to show that my stomach was doing flips, and said, “Honestly, I don’t know.” I paused, and since no one else said anything, I continued, “But I’ll let you know what we come up with.” 

       All the way home, I kept thinking, “What have I gotten myself into? I’m walking away from a successful business to oversee an organization that’s going to go bankrupt before I even get started?!” But then I began to remind myself of something else: God chose me. 

       When I returned home, I immediately went to my journal. I flipped to the page where I had written down all of the reasons why I had concluded that God chose me for this position. I looked at the way God had spoken to me and to my wife, and the way friends who knew nothing about this decision spoke a confirming word to me. I looked at the pages where I had written down the vision I believed God had given me for this new organization, and how the board chairman’s handwritten vision for the organization matched mine thought-for-thought. Looking at these words—at the specific dates and ways God had spoken, and confirmed, and re-confirmed His direction—gave me the confidence to step into this assignment, even when facing such a huge financial mountain. (excerpt from chapter 5 “A Humble Leader’s Attitude Adjustment”) 

If you haven’t journaled in the past, I encourage you to begin this spiritual discipline today. I can tell you from both what I read in the Bible and my own personal experience how valuable this will be for you. 

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Surprised By Paradox (book review)

Many years ago, as I struggled with some of the either-or challenges of Christianity, I read C.S. Lewis’ wisdom that the safest course between two either-or extremes was a course straight between them. Jen Pollock Michel embraces this profound wisdom in her thoughtful book Surprised By Paradox—The Promise of And in an Either-Or World.

Jen wrestled with many of the same either-or struggles I wrestled with, which I actually found encouraging. The reason I find this encouraging is that it tells me that I’m not alone in my wrestling, and you aren’t either! So embracing the same C.S. Lewis wisdom that helped guide me, Jen opens up her heart to us in an intimate journey of discovery. 

Surprised By Paradox felt like I was getting a glimpse at Jen’s personal diary. Every chapter seemed like it could start out “Dear Diary…” with Jen sharing what prompted her wrestling thoughts, the alternatives she considered, and then the AND solution that God revealed to her. I could feel her growing in insight and confidence as I turned to each successive chapter. 

This book will cause you to question and ponder and wrestle as well. And that’s a good thing! To help you along the way, there are some very helpful discussion questions sprinkled throughout the book. Although these would be fine questions for you to answer on your own, I encourage to invite someone else alongside you on your journey. Surprised By Paradox will help you and your friends grow in your spiritual maturity. 

I am an IVP book reviewer. 

If (book review)

Amy Carmichael was a committed follower of Jesus Christ! She served as a missionary in India, where she operated an orphanage, for 55 years. During all that time, she never took a furlough, but remained at her post, faithfully loving Indian children with God’s love. She wrote a number of books, but perhaps the most hard-hitting is a little book simply called If.

This isn’t a book for everyone. In fact, Amy herself wrote, “It is clear, I think, that such a booklet as this is not meant for everyone, but only for those who are called to be undershepherds.” By ‘undershepherds,’ Amy is referring to those who feel God has called them into full-time vocational ministry.

(A little side-note. I feel the Bible is clear that all followers of Christ are to be involved in ministry [see Ephesians 4:11-16], but God has appointed some to positions where their ministry is also their vocation. These ‘undershepherds’ [see 1 Peter 5:2-3] will have to give account to God for the handling of their vocational ministry [Hebrews 13:17]. It is to these folks that Amy writes.)

Amy set the bar high for herself. She expected to be continually growing in her level of commitment to Christ, and she expected that her outward life would continually show greater devotion to her Savior. If comes out of Amy’s personal introspection in the Holy Spirit’s presence on how she was progressing in her faith-walk with God.

If is written as a series of challenges that all follow the same format: “If I don’t measure up to God’s standard in this area … then I know nothing of Calvary love.” I realize this sounds challenging. In fact, this book smacked me right between the eyes! This is why If is only for a small segment of people.

Live Dead Life (book review)

I have been a big supporter of the Live Dead movement ever since this initiative was launched. So I was more than happy to read Live Dead Life by Joy Hawthorne, even though it was written as a 30-day devotional for students. Although written by a teenager for other teenagers, I was instantly hooked!

Joy is living in a country that is closed to the Christian message, and yet she is daily living out her Christian testimony in such a genuine and winsome way that it is having a positive impact on the Muslim members of that country. I can see why, because the book had a profound effect on me too!

As I read this journal and pondered Joy’s setting contrasted with mine, I couldn’t help but ask myself, “Why aren’t I doing more to tell people the Good News about Jesus?” I think this book will provide that same tug on your heart as well.

Parents, read Live Dead Life with your son or daughter.

Youth pastors, read Live Dead Life with your students.

This is a life-changing book! You can download Live Dead Life free by clicking here.

I recently had an opportunity to interview Joy Hawthorne—

Craig T. Owens: I am curious as to the seed thought behind this book. Did you simply start a journal for your own thought-processing, or was there a book idea in the back of your mind right from the beginning?

Joy Hawthorne: The original thought of a Live Dead book for teens was not my idea, I was asked to write the book. Writing a book was something I might have imagined I would do when I was older… the idea of writing a book as a teen probably would not have crossed my mind until one of my Live Dead mentors asked me to consider it.

As I started to work on it the seed definitely grew. At first, it was on a couple major topics (like fear or calling) and then it just really grew out of my life and sharing what God was speaking to me in my heart with others. As it developed, my mentor suggested it be a 30-day devotional including Live Dead values.

CTO: I can tell that a major audience for your book is other teens that are living in the same sort of environment in which you are living. How would you suggest that students in the US read this book?

JH: I can see how other TCKs [third culture kids] would connect with it more because we have an understanding of each other and connect with our lives that way. Living as a TCK has been such an adventure, and that is something I would want kids in the US to see and join me in the journey that way. This book is intended to fan into flame a deeper intimacy with Jesus and obedience to whatever He asks for ALL teens, not just TCKs.

My life living worldwide has shaped some of the ways I walk with Jesus. Hopefully, from seeing through my eyes a bit, other teens would be able to see the world with eyes that are little more wide open. It’s easy to focus on the stuff that bugs us daily in our little corner of the world, but I wanted to encourage following Jesus and being a part of what He’s doing worldwide. I would love if other teens can see a little more of what ordinary life overseas is like and watch God doing extraordinary things.

CTO: How has writing such a journal (and sort of bearing your soul to the world) changed you?

JH: Writing the journal is a way that I do process things. I write in my in my journal that way and it helps me think and respond to things. Bearing my soul to the world sounds kind of scary to me feeling so broken but something I’ve discovered from writing is that I have a voice. Everyone does. We just have to choose to use it, to not stay silent when God asks us to speak but choosing to follow Him in what we say and do in a way that brings Him glory. Being a quieter person, it is a hard choice for me to speak when I’m scared. Writing something others will read is choosing to use my voice, and also a choice to open myself to let God use me.

A verse that has really encouraged me to speak is Esther 4:14, about being here for such a time as this. That pretty much hits what I’m here for. Created for this time and place for His glory.

CTO: Will there be other books from Joy Hawthorne in the future? If so, any hints as to what you may be working on? 

JH: There’s no ‘next book’ I’m currently working on, but writing about what God is doing in my life and sharing it to bless others is something I love to do. If I felt God was leading me that way I hope I’d be willing to follow Him and do it again. So I’m open to it, writing will probably be something I will always do, love, and grow in.

I am a Live Dead Publishing book reviewer.

Know Who You Are (book review)

Tim Tebow continues to astound me! Few people have used their celebrity status to promote other people like he has. In his latest book—Know Who You Are—he turns his sights on something near and dear to his heart: homeschool students and parents.

A key component of any student’s education is learning to articulate their thoughts in writing. At the beginning of his book Tim shares about some research on this topic:

“An esteemed professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin studied the impact of journaling. Through a handful of studies, this expert found that expressive writing in a personal and meaningful way positively impacts health, well-being, and self-development. It can put us in a better mood. It can help us process tough situations. It can challenge us to make good changes. It can pave the way for a more impactful future.”

Know Who You Are helps students journal their thoughts by giving them some positive things to ponder. Tim shares his personal stories, many of which involve mistakes he’s made or things which have caused him to second-guess himself, and then talks about the life lessons he learned from those experiences. He then gives students an opportunity to apply those same lessons to their own life. Each week’s lesson wraps up with a couple of writing prompts for the student’s journaling exercises.

This book is designed to take a student through their entire school year, but will help students to think better about themselves and their circumstances for a lifetime. Know who you are—Live like it matters is an excellent resource!

I am a Waterbrook book reviewer.

P.S. If you would like to check out other Tim Tebow books, my review for Through My Eyes is here, and my review for Shaken is here.

Spend This Week For God

Joseph AlleineJoseph Alleine was very concerned about using every moment of his time to honor God. He wrote, “Give me a Christian that counts his time more precious than gold.” To help him do this, he built in reminders to his weekly journaling and prayer times.

At the beginning of each week he wrote in his journal—“Another week is now before us, let us spend this week for God.”

And each morning he wrote in his journal—“Let us live this one day well!”

The Bible instructs us to:

What can you do this week to make sure that you spend this week for God?

The Fearful Privilege Of Being A Pastor

PreachingI was studying the life of the Old Testament prophet Ezekiel, and I jotted down some thoughts in my journal of what God was speaking to me. But I also felt like this was a message for my fellow pastors as well. So here are my unedited thoughts, just as I penned them in my journal. 

The Lord said to me, “Son of man, look carefully, listen closely and give attention to everything I tell you….” (Ezekiel 44:5).

I have to take personal responsibility for this. This is not something I can pass off to anyone else―“instead of carrying out your duty in regard to My holy things, you put others in charge of My sanctuary” (44:8). No, never!

I have been given the privilege and heavy responsibility for souls in this community. I must, therefore, hear what God has to tell me about this city and these people. He knows, and He wants to share with me. He calls me to look carefully, listen carefully, and give careful attention to what He’s saying. He is desirous that everyone in this community will see His radiant glory (43:2), and―wonders of wonders!―He has asked me to deliver His message of life to my community.

Who am I that You would choose me? But you have, and I am grateful. I am also filled with holy dread that I carry out my duties in a way that pleases and glorifies You, my King. I need Your help. I need to hear Your voice. I need Your Spirit to stamp the image of Christ ever more clearly in me.

May I only live to bring You praise!

My Prayer

Right from my journal…

My prayerHeavenly Father,

May those who hope in You not be disgraced because of me, O Lord, the Lord Almighty; may those who seek You not be put to shame because of me, O God of Israel. Amen.

 

Backcasting

Psalm 22 is a prayer of raw desperation. I love how transparent David is with his emotions. Many people would hide this sort of thing: never daring to admit that they had doubts. But David freely admits that he’s frustrated by what is happening—or actually not happening—in his life.

I see three points of David’s desperation:

  1. God, why don’t You answer me (vv. 1-2).
  2. God, why don’t You defend my honor (vv. 6-8).
  3. God, why don’t You rescue me (vv. 11-18).

Do you think David had a right to say these things against God? Remember Jesus said them too!

Do you think David was over-reacting when he said these things? Remember Jesus said them too!

David truly, deeply, felt these things. He truly believed that God wasn’t answering him, or defending him, or rescuing him. At least, AS HE THOUGHT GOD SHOULD!

But David says something VITAL after each of his points of desperation. It’s summed up in one conjunction each time…

  • Yet (vv. 3-5).
  • Yet (vv. 9-10).
  • But (vv. 19-21).

In all of these David recalls past history. David looks to the past to help him look to the future.

He BACKCASTS so that he can have a better FORECAST!

Looking back gives David assurance of God’s faithfulness. This assurance gives David hope for the future. So now look how he responds in his present desperate situation:

  • I will declare Your name (v. 22a)
  • I will praise You (v. 22b)
  • He calls others to join him in praise (v. 23)
  • He realizes that God has not hidden His face… but He has listened to his cry for help (v. 24)
  • He decides to praise God in spite of the temporary disappointments, giving all glory to God (vv. 25-31)

This is what is called a typio-prophetic Messianic psalm: what David experienced, Jesus would both experience and fulfill. So although Jesus cried out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me,” He too could backcast to forecast and get the strength He needed to persevere

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of our faith, Who for the joy set before Him endured the Cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:2)

This is why I’m a big believer in journals: writing things down now will give you ammunition for future trials. Then when you are in those trials, you can backcast to get a better forecast of the hope for God’s deliverance. That will give you joy in the present, just like David. And just like Jesus!

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