Ep 105 Journaling Through Scripture
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I'm Jamie Bahr and this is Unlocking Christian Spiritual Practices. Join me as we look at the practices that are essential for growing responsibility and expanding leadership in our families, churches and communities. In the last podcast, we addressed the question, how do we hear from God? And we do this through three lights; circumstances, movements of the Holy spirit and scripture. In this podcast, we want to take this a step further with the practice of journaling through scripture. Scripture, which is key to navigating toward the inner formation of the soul. It's here where we seek a double knowledge, knowledge of God and the pursuit of self knowledge.
The practice of journaling scripture, it’s really a tool for navigation. So, I want you to think of journaling as a tool that helps you to set a course. Why do we do that? Well, we set a course for inner formation that shapes the soul. This has to be intentional, this doesn't happen by accident. So, if we want to hear God, we need to engage with the scripture in a way that forms the inner soul. And I want to have you think about this for a moment. Many of you have taken Bible studies, but when we are listening to the Holy spirit and we're journaling, what's happening is that really the scripture studies you, instead of you studying the scripture. At these certain points in time are checkpoints and these checkpoints we use as a way of navigating, much like navigating by the stars.
There's so many wonderful stories I've read and I'm sure you have too, about how Hawaiians navigate across vast oceans and waters. And can you... It's hard to believe that they ended up in those few little islands in the middle of all that water. And here the water is moving, the stars are moving, the wind is blowing and yet they manage to land right on target at a very specific destination over and over again. Well, how did they do this? Well, they had tools to navigate, but they also used one immovable object. So, while everything is moving around them, they use the North star. The North star throughout human history has been used to navigate far distances and the distances measure and give direction using the North star, I think it's called Polaris, but it is this immovable object that allows them to journey long distances.
Sometimes when we think about that and we contemplate a little bit about what it would have been like to do that with tools that could measure great distances and direction and yet they didn't get lost. in Ortberg's... John Ortberg has a book called Soul Keeping, which talks about caring for the most important part of you. And he states in there that the soul needs a center. And I would add that the soul also needs an immovable object to center upon. So, much like the North star, God gives us a center because He never changes. He is always faithful, always present, endless love, deeply personal and we can depend on that even when everything in the world is moving around us. Much like navigating by the stars, the Hawaiians... All the stars at night are all moving and there're so many moving parts, but the one thing that doesn't move is the North star.
So, we need something that we can center on for soul formation that doesn't move and that's God. And so we shape the journey of inner formation by charting a course in relationship to God, much like charting a course across the ocean in relationship to an immovable star. So, journaling is a tool to navigate our friendship with God. This navigation along the way really results in the inner formation of the soul, which is a godly character. John Ortberg says that without this center on God who is never changing, the soul lacks patience, the soul is easily thrown off or lost when it's not centered. And sometimes we begin to center on the external things for identity. Instead of having our identity in Jesus, we have identity in all these peripheral things in life that are short term and are fads really, that come and go and we can't guide our life and grow deeply in the character of God if we are caught off track all the time or distracted is another good word. And we also find it very difficult to make a decision.
So, a person whose soul is centered on God, brings clarity to their decisions. It's how we finish life well by impacting the world in our ordinary everyday lives. We become image bearers of Jesus. So, let's look at how we navigate through the practice of journaling. First of all, we have our journal and we sit for a moment in silence to quiet the mind and become ready to receive a word from God. We center on God and we might at that point, use some words that describe who God is that we know and understand who God is. And then after a few moments, then the second step is to choose a scripture. Now, this can be a book of the Bible that you're working your way through and you're going to read a few verses or it can be a scripture or a daily devotion. But if you take a few scriptures, you want to read these scriptures and just ask, "What word or group of words stands out to me?" And you would put that in your journal. You write out the scripture, then underline the words that really stand out to you.
And as you think about those words, then you want to ask another question, "What emotions or images come to my mind?" Sometimes it's, "Who am I thinking of right now? Who comes to mind? What is the image that I have?" I've sometimes asked the same question or questions to younger children and if they can verbalize what the image or picture is, I'll ask them to draw that picture. What are they thinking of? You can draw a picture or you could use a few adjectives to describe what emotions come to surface. Over time, I've found that a lot of people have a hard time naming an emotion. So, we have to gather some, maybe new vocabulary to go a little deeper to find out, "What is this emotion that I'm having?" These emotions, they come to the surface and it's wonderful when you can name them and say, "Well, no, it's not quite that, but it's this." And you keep going deeper.
So, in the next step you would reread the scripture passage and you ask, "What am I learning about God?" And again, I take a few moments to write a few descriptive words there. And then we would read the scripture again. "What am I learning about myself? Am I drawn deeper into a relationship with God or do I seem to be pushing back? Do I feel a little guilty when I read this word?" So, it might take time to reflect on what you're learning about yourself. You might even want to put your journal side, let's say you're doing this in the morning, but let this question sit with you a bit. Maybe you can go to work and then come back to this later in the day. Sometimes this is called consolation. We look for points in the scripture and say, "What point is drawing me near to God?" Moments of keen awareness of God's presence. Maybe a movement toward God in some way. You could ask yourself another question, "What are the things that I'm grateful for?" So times of consolation are often experienced with delight, but they can also experience some unpleasantness.
And by this I mean we can sense that we're moving away from God, but we might move to repentance. I've had that happen so many times where I'm reading a scripture and all of a sudden something jumps out at me and I go, "Oh my goodness, that's me." And I have to go right to the Lord, please forgive me. Those are beautiful moments of growing. Those are little... I was going to say insights to wisdom. And those also help us to chart the course for inner formation, for continuing to grow and to mature. The other one would be desolation. Desolation are times of moving away from God and away from his love and presence. So again, although times of desolation are often accompanied with some negative feelings, sometimes you can feel good about it because it may be pointing toward a temptation.
So, we want to be careful about times of consolation and desolation. I like to think of it when I'm moving in the presence of God, I sense a sense of peace and joy. And when does it seem like desolation and I'm moving away from God. What does this say about me? What am I learning about myself? So finally, after we answer a few of these questions and not journaling a whole lot, these are just a few descriptive words, then we would journal a prayer. Now, this could be a little more lengthy. You journal a prayer from what you have felt or what you've discovered about yourself or God. It's so wonderful to get to this point, where you place your soul in the presence and the care of God because God is always present in the soul. And these moments are checkpoints to help you mature and navigate life's most challenging times in your life.
Well, you can look at some times where you feel some desolation and you think, "Why do I feel bad about this?" And if you can go deep enough in there to reveal what God is trying to tell you there, it can really strengthen your relationship with God. I love to read that Psalm 62, where it says, "Truly, He is my rock and my salvation. He is my fortress. I will not be shaken." God is steadfast, unchanging, God is always available and you are always perfectly safe. Why? Because nothing can separate you from the love of God. Such a wonderful feeling to know this and then to be honest and if it's a time of confession or seeing yourself in different ways. Over time, this practice of journaling is really indispensable for maturing in Godly character through inner character formation. So, just as we become aware of the stars when we walk at night, we also become more aware of ourselves and God when we journal. We seek a double knowledge, knowledge of God, knowledge of self. We chart a course to develop patience by knowing ourselves, making decisions, find clarity in those decisions so that we are not tossed about in times of trouble.
Also, during this time, I like to call... There are certain moments that when you connect your experiences with the scripture, it'll be like what we call an “aha” moment. Or this “aha” moment is “wow.” That's what it is. And I like to think of those as inspiration. It really connects to your daily circumstances, our experiences to the scripture by putting yourself in the scripture. There's been oftentimes where I journal and that day something will happen and I'm thinking, "Oh, my goodness, am I ever glad I took time to go deep? Because here is this circumstance." So, where these two intersect, your life and God's word, there's great wisdom from God for your life. So, to journal personal insights from scripture is like a star that we use to chart a course. Checkpoints, I always think we have GPS today, but long ago you'd have a map in a car and you would say, "Okay, at the next corner there's going to be the name of this street. We're going to go down..." Then the name of that street.
So, you would be looking for certain points along your journey to make sure you are on course and that you're going to reach your destination. That's what journaling does. It gives you certain checkpoints, a word from God, a movement of the Holy spirit and then your own journaling that draws up some key insights to lead your family, to serve in your church or at your job and within our communities. So, these moments inspire and really ignite creative energy. It's like finding a golden nugget that others can see deeply reflected in your life, but you can't always explain it. So, we want to journal to hear God, to gain wisdom and to know ourselves. That's what shapes the soul. In the Bible, there's the book of Wisdom. In the book of Wisdom chapter nine verse 13 to 18 says, "Who has learned your counsel, unless you have given wisdom and sent your Holy spirit from on high? And thus the path of those on earth was set right." That's what journaling does. It helps you to set your paths right. The Holy spirit is our teacher and will reveal the insights we need to know.
This is really about friendship with God. It's not about perfection. So, journaling is a way to connect with the deep truth of God in really a very life giving manner. One tool that I might suggest to you is that I use, is a journal that's called Just Be Journal. And what I like about it is, it has in there at the top of the page it says silent prayer and you can put the date. Then it says scripture, underneath that it says images and emotions, under that it says what I learned about God, then under that it says what I learned about myself. And then on the opposite page it says written prayer. So, this is just a... What I'm I saying? An outline for you to follow for one month and you can order these journals online by looking in the resources.
In the next podcast, we'll talk about the practice of festooning. This practice, which we'll use with the Lord's prayer, really embellishes it in a way to give you new spiritual insights. If you have any questions or want to view the show notes and resources from today's podcast, please go to my website at unlockingchristianspiritualpracticespodcasts.com. Thank you for listening and blessings on your journey.