I am a committed blogger, but a sporadical journaler. If blogging is thinking out loud and in public, journaling is thinking quietly and in private. I am convinced that both practices have value, and I have often regretted my lack of dedication to the discipline of keeping a journal.
This regret was heightened as I encountered a little postscript at the end of one of John Flavel’s books. Having written a couple hundred pages of theologically-dense teaching on God’s providence, he closes with a simple plea to Christians to maintain a journal that records specific instances of God’s compassion and care. He does not advocate a tell-all diary, but a prudent, humble, and appropriate record of our experiences and observations of God’s providence. He suggests that keeping this kind of journal can benefit and enrich not only ourselves but also other believers. He offers these 3 helpful instructions.
First, understand that your memory is far too slippery to entrust with all of the amazing providences you have encountered in your life. It is true that we do not easily forget the things that greatly affect us, but still, new impressions have a way of overwriting existing ones. One wise man has said, “My memory never failed me because I never trusted it.” Writing down our important memories secures against forgetting them and has the added benefit of making them useful to others. Why would you carry all of this treasure to heaven with you? By writing down your memories you can leave them as a legacy to those who follow you. The loss of your money, your property, and your possessions counts for nothing next to losing the record of God’s faithfulness to you.
Second, do not simply record these treasures in a book, but also ensure that you refer to them often. When you experience wants or needs or difficulties, or when temptations assault you, turn to the written record of God’s past graces. When when are in any kind of distress it will do your soul good to see how God has faithfully delivered you from similar situations in the past.
Third, be careful not to diminish your past difficulties and dangers when comparing them to newer ones. Whatever is beside us always appears most significant to us. Just as the land seems to shrink as the sailor sails away from it, so those troubling situations can seem to grow smaller as time increases the distance between them and us. By reading the accounts of God’s mercies you will remember that in the past you have faced dangers just as great and fears just as terrifying. For this reason make sure you do not only record the facts, but also your emotional and spiritual experience of them. Write them as if you will need to cling to them in the future.
These are Flavel’s 3 simple instructions on maintaining the most helpful kind of spiritual journal.
If you have been reading The Mystery of Providence with me, this brings us to the end of our reading. I hope and trust you enjoyed the book. I found it deeply encouraging and hope to return to it often in the future. Thanks for reading this classic with me!
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