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People who aren’t Christians say that they don’t believe in prayer, they want scientific proof that it works. Christians know better, they know that faith works, not because some scientist told them so but because God tells them so. Prayer is as natural as breathing, whether you acknowledge it or not, in times of need the natural human inclination is to turn to prayer. According to research by the Pew Research Center, 55% of U.S. adults, who were surveyed, said that they prayed for an end to the spread of Coronavirus. You can be sure that the actual percentage of people who prayed during that challenging time was certainly much higher, they either didn’t want to admit to it, or they didn’t even realize they were praying. Christians, who experience the power of prayer in their lives don’t need any scientific research to tell them what they know to be true.
‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’
You can’t quantify God’s grace; you can’t put a figure on prayer. All scientific research can really tell us, is what we already know. A 2009 study by Koenig and colleagues, which looked at the effect of Christian prayer sessions on patients at a primary care office, found that their depression and anxiety was reduced and their optimism increased. In fact, there’s actually plenty of research out there confirming what we Christians already know to be true. A study by Amy Wachholtz and Kenneth Pargament looked at the difference between secular meditation and spiritual prayer. Their conclusions found that spiritual prayer was much more effective at reducing anxiety and that it enabled the subjects to endure pain – putting their hand into freezing water – for twice as long. A 2017 study of married couples by Frank D Fincham and Ross W May found that those who prayed were less aggressive toward each other and were much more capable of forgiveness. A 2011 study by Bremner, Koole and Bushman concluded that prayer helped individuals resist anger in the face of provocation. Christianity enables self control and a series of studies have found that Christians who pray are less likely to drink heavily and more likely to forgive. We know that prayer works, so let’s take a look at how a prayer journal can help us on our spiritual journey.
What is a Prayer Journal?
A prayer journal is simply a place where you record your prayers. You are probably used to recording the things that you want to remember on your phone or your tablet and yes, you could use an electronic device to record your prayer journal, but you know what will happen if you do, don’t you. They’ll be pop ups, they’ll be notifications and you’ll want to check your news feed or your chat groups. You’ll be distracted; you know you will. This is very much a case where simple tools are the best: a pen and paper. The tools that the scripture writers used will serve you just as well. You could use any sort of notebook, but this is the most important writing that you’ll do, so don’t use something that’s going to fall apart on you. Many people choose to buy a Christian Prayer Journal, perhaps they find it an incentive to start recording their prayers, perhaps they find the prompts and suggestions useful. Take a look at what’s available and decide what will suit you best.
Why Keep a Prayer Journal?
It’s a reasonable question, after all, it’s not like God is going to forget your prayers or need reminding about them. Your prayer journal is there to help you map your spiritual journey and once you’ve started keeping one you’ll see just how useful it is to be able to look back over your prayers and reflections. Although prayer comes naturally to human beings, there are times when you just don’t know how or where to begin, you feel overwhelmed and dumb. A prayer journal can help you structure your thoughts and open up that conversation with God. A prayer journal is a visual prompt to pray; it helps you to remember to make time for the most important conversation of your day: the one you have with the Lord your God.
How to Keep a Prayer Journal
The simple answer to that question is: in whichever way works best for you, however, that doesn’t mean anything goes. If you are spending your journal time drawing pretty pictures and ornamenting the margins, then, whilst you might be enjoying yourself, you are not having a meaningful conversation with God. You do not keep a prayer journal to impress other people and doodling ‘I love Jesus’ is not a meaningful prayer. A prayer journal should track your thoughts with honest simplicity. It is not a creative writing exercise, you don’t need to impress God with how well you can write, nor do you need to worry if you have poor literacy skills, God is not going to give you a grade. Keep your Bible open as you write; your prayers may well arise from your day-to-day struggles or from the struggles of others but they should always be informed by scripture. One way to start the habit of prayer journaling might be read a passage of scripture and then reflect upon it. Writing things down helps you clarify your thoughts: what is it exactly that you wanted to say to God? The act of writing is a great way to pin down what’s on your mind, but so too is the act of reading, looking back over what you’ve written can help you spot patterns, can help you reflect on the quality of your prayer.
How to Organize a Prayer Journal
A prayer journal can help your conversation with God by giving you a structure to follow. A structure will help you focus, so that you’ll spend a lot less time daydreaming and gazing out of the window. Again, there is no absolutely right or wrong way to structure your prayer journal: if it helps improve the quality of your prayer, then that’s all that matters. Some prayer journals that you can buy will give you a structure to follow. If you’re just starting out on prayer journaling, maybe you should consider one of these. Other journals will just contain blank pages, enabling you to impose your own structure. Let’s consider some of the useful heading under which you can write.
Reflect - take the time to think calmly about things that you have done, things that have been done to you, things that you intend to do. Keep the focus tight; life is too beautifully complex to reflect upon everything at once. The most important part of reflection is that you should always use scripture to illuminate your thoughts.
Confess - reflection may well lead to confession, a recognition that you have sinned or that you have behaved in an unchristian way. We are all sinners, facing up to our sin and shining the light of scripture upon it is how we become closer to God.
Give thanks - your prayer journal is not a complaints book, nor is it a list of problems for God to attend to. Opening your eyes to the blessings of the Lord is a joyous thing to do. It rebalances and reinvigorates you.
Prayer requests – should be built on reflection and study of the scripture. Are you asking God to help you become a better Christian or is this a selfish or materialistic prayer? Worldly success is not evil, but if you exclude the Lord in order to pursue it, then it becomes so. How often have you prayed for others? A prayer journal will help you track this.
Praying scripture-maybe you are following a Bible study course, which will run alongside your prayer journal, or maybe you will seek out specific passages, which speak directly to you. Reading the Bible, reflecting on God’s wisdom and using it to inform your prayer, opens up a direct line to God.
When to use your Prayer Journal
Most of us lead very busy lives, too busy maybe. We have to prioritize what is important. So, how important is prayer to you? If you are a Christian, the answer really shouldn’t need thinking about: it’s the most important thing that you do in a day. Decide how much time you want to spend each day with your prayer journal; I would suggest that twenty minutes is the absolute minimum, if it’s going to be a useful experience. Create a sacred space in your day: a time and a place where you will not be disturbed. Try getting up half an hour earlier: prayer is absolutely the best way to start the day. Prayer before breakfast means that you’ll have a clear mind and that you’ll feel energized for the rest of the day. Choosing a time in the middle of the day, though not unworkable, is likely to prove more problematic. For one thing, your mind will be buzzing with the affairs of the day and you’ll find it hard to find the calm that prayer requires. Using your prayer journal in the evening, before bed, can be a great way to reflect on your day and is a sure recipe for a good night’s sleep. Maybe you’ll need to switch that T.V. off a little earlier though. Reading scripture requires an alert, awake mind. No one is too busy to make time for prayer and once you get the journaling habit, you’ll wonder how you ever managed without it.