Down through the centuries Christians have found that certain practises have helped them on their spiritual journey. Rather than view them as “disciplines” (that word evokes spankings in my memory), a better word is practise. I practised piano in my early days, and from that came the joy of making music.
We all yearn for music in our soul. Well, there is a “practising” element that we will need to engage for that music to fully emerge. Here’s one practise that can really help. And like practising the piano, at first it’s hard, clumsy and not beautiful; but if you keep at it, music eventually emerges.
Journaling is the writing down of the conversation in our heart. It’s paying attention to the thoughts of the spirit, which get clearer when it flows through a pen. It’s not just a diary of events, like “yesterday I did this, and then I did that.” Journaling for the soul is much deeper than that. It’s a way to become aware of the deep thoughts, like looking through a window into your soul. It’s a mix of thoughts, prayers, responses from God, and experiences. When we write them down there is an insight that emerges that is more than just us; it is evident that God is involved with us. And I’m finding the insights often have additional impact when I go back and read my earlier entries.
It happened this morning. I opened my journal and read what I had written a week earlier. I was immediately transported back into the moment when I wrote it, but now also coming as an observer, looking at myself while simultaneously living the memory. The learning seemed even clearer, with additional impact.
Here is my journal entry, edited so that the identity of the person involved is kept confidential:
“James has been struggling, Lord, for his heart. He risked sharing his journal entry with me; I am thankful he trusts me enough to be that transparent. I phoned to affirm his journey.
I am impressed with his insight; his excellent writing skill, his earnest yearning for his heart, his deep desire for God. I told him to keep journalling and save them, because one day his journal will help others.
Dear God, I am glad I can trust James to you. I am confident in your unfailing love. As I get to know people better I find we are all on a spiritual journey, everyone in their own particular way. I thank you, Holy Spirit, for your relentless pursuit of our heart.”
This interaction with James made me reflect on my own journey …
As I keep reading The Message and other fresh paraphrases, I’m increasingly seeing how the Bible is such an accurate reflection of life. God pursuing his people; our inconsistent and often complaining life. How Israel, seeking to know God, still got it so wrong. How the Pharisees – so confident and arrogant that they were right – crucified Jesus! And how that Pharisee spirit has continued and has so often been displayed in the institution of church. While the church has done much good down through the centuries, we have also done much harm in the name of God. Jesus had his strongest clash with arrogant religious leaders – a battle to the death. It looked like Jesus lost … but actually it resulted in the greatest deliverance ever – the defeat of death itself.
There were exceptions in Scripture: Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Samuel, David, Isaiah, Nicodemus, Paul, Peter, John … each one earnestly seeking God, each one stumbling along in their journey, none perfect. God loved them dearly and brought them all along, into Him.
Today there are those who dare do their own pilgrimage and welcome others into a spiritual epic to find their hearts in God: John Eldredge, Dave MacLean, Eugene Peterson, Mark Virkler, Wayne Jacobsen, Philip Yancey, Ann Voscamp … the list goes on. It is heartening to know many are seeking God.
I am also a pilgrim. I am inviting people through CREST to rediscover their heart through reading the Scriptures in a fresh way, engaging in dialogue with others about life and leadership, finding abundant life in Jesus. There is something so transforming about doing this journey with trusted companions. I am finding increasing clarity (along with new questions), joy in God, and more confidence. Still not perfect, but making progress on this journey called life.
O God, I am seeking you with my whole heart. As the hymn writer William Williams wrote:
Guide me O Thou great Jehovah, pilgrim through this barren land.
I am weak by thou art mighty, hold me with Thy powerful hand.
Bread of heaven, bread of heaven, feed me till I want no more,
Feed me till I want no more!
Journalling is a spiritual practise I recommend to you. It just might become the window into your soul that brings light into an otherwise hidden place.