I have always had a soft spot for stationary any journals. My first ever journal accurately documents my determined journey of pursuing a relationship with a girl I fancied (who would later become my wife)! It is therefore a deeply sentimental source of pride, embarrassment, romance and cringe. It captures my prayers, my frustrations, my successes and my failures. As the years have gone on, my journalling approach has changed. And has slowly become an instrument I use to record prayers and reflections from my times in God’s word.
But at one point in my journey with journalling, I got to see a mentor’s journal. He placed a rugged, leather-bound journal on the coffee table in Starbucks and told me to read through one of his prayers for me. I was in awe. I had never seen such a bulky, leather-bound book outside of The Lord of the Rings! As I opened it to the last filled page, I was struck by how many pages had been filled with beautifully neat prayers. It was an expensive book, compared to what I’d been using.
And I knew in that moment, I would be finding out where he got it from and getting my own.
Obviously, the journal in itself, as cool as it was and as close to something out of an epic fantasy fiction book as I had ever seen – WAS NOT THE IMPORTANT THING. The prayers inside were and are so much more important to God than the material of a book. However, by choosing a high quality book, he had shown me how much he valued prayer. As a mentee, as a student, as a disciple, I wanted to imitate.
So on the 30th December 2016 I purchased my first leatherbound, clunky looking journal and started praying.
2 years later I had filled every page. And I bought another without even thinking twice. I just wanted to continue.
But now, 5 years later, I have finished my second one (or will be soon) and I am thinking about getting another journal. Do I get a third one bulky and clunky. Difficult to use in coffee shops, slightly overkill. Or do I go for something more simple? (I had a similar decision with Bible’s last year).
I know, this is all very first-world problem-esque. But it’s not a problem really. It’s an honour, that I get to pray with pen and paper. My decision will be made of a couple of factors:
- It is NOT a money issue. I will be prepared to spend a high amount for a book. Not ridiculous sums, but not a few pounds either. If I don’t get a bulky book to journal in, I will probably still get a relatively expensive one. Why? Because I feel that by spending money on this endeavour, I am communicating to myself that prayer matters. The way our finances work is that each month my wife and I, allocate some money separate from bills, giving, food etc as ‘pocket money’. Which is used to buy clothes, takeaways, books, technology etc. I will be buying this with pocket money and therefore I want to demonstrate that the expense is being spent to honour God. I think of two verses, firstly David ‘I will not offer to God that which costs me nothing’. Secondly, the story of the woman who pours out the expensive perfume on Jesus’ feet. Whilst the disciple’s complain that the gift was too extravagant. Jesus defends the gesture to the hilt! Likewise, I want to spend on this because it is a matter of devotion to God.
- It is NOT an ease issue. Around halfway through my use of journalling with this book, I switched to journalling on my phone/laptop. Because it was easier than using pen and paper, and slightly more socially acceptable in a coffee shop. It doesn’t look as weird to be texting on a phone, as it does pulling out a journal which looks like it belongs in a medieval play. However, I reverted back to the bulky journal, because I want to be reminded that I am coming before a very holy God. I want my times of prayer to be ‘set apart’. And so I am using a book which feels ‘set apart’ from my ordinary life. Overtime, I stopped having my quiet times in a coffee shop or in random places. And I set aside a time and place specifically where I would pray. (Not that I couldn’t pray anywhere, I can and I do). But that there would be a time each day, where I was alone with God, alone with His word, and alone with my prayers. This has not been an issue I have been able to compromise on even after having a kid. I have to find space. I think of the Psalmist who says ‘I will not rest my head, or lay down before I find a place for my God’ (Psalm 132:5). This is not a legalistic, having to earn God’s favour. This is a joy and a necessity. I must meet with God, otherwise I cannot function in my family, in my work, in my church. In my day to day life, I do not do well without time alone with God. This is my daily bread.
- This is a relationship. Ultimately, I know that my walk with God is not dependent on which book I get, or if I even get another one. The book is a tool, a very useful one at that. But like all things, there is a danger that we seek the activity as an end in itself. I often think about people who say ‘oh I really want to be a man of the word or a man of prayer. We think if we become people of prayer, or ‘prayer warriors’ we will be sorted. But we forget. We don’t read the Bible to become a man of the Word, we read it to get to know God. We don’t prayer to become a ‘prayer warrior’, we pray because we love spending time with God. I love how Pete Greig puts it in a tweet:
Can I be honest with you? I’m actually not into prayer. I’m into Jesus, so we talk. I don’t believe in the power of prayer. I believe in the power of God. So I ask for his help. A lot. I’m not into evangelism. I hate evangelism! I’m into Jesus. So I talk to people about him.Pete Greig