TXAB: The Christ Almighty Blog

25 October 2016

The prayer journal: Keeping track of prayer requests.

It’s good to have a written record of God’s answers to prayer.

Prayer journal /'pr(eɪ.)ər 'dʒər.nəl/ n. Daily (or regular) record of transactions with God.
[Prayer journaling /'dʒər.nəl.ɪŋ/ vt.]

A prayer journal is a sort of diary, but rather than listing everything you did during the day (and all your innermost secret feelings about them), your prayer journal is about what you prayed—for yourself, and for others.

I realize not everyone keeps a diary. It’s for the same reason not every Christian keeps a prayer journal. We don’t think our lives are interesting enough to record, or can’t remember to keep it up to date… or fear what’ll happen when the wrong person reads those innermost secret feelings. Well, a prayer journal isn’t necessarily about personal secrets. (Unless you requested things from God which you’d really rather other people not know: “God, please cure my butt pimples” and the like.) It’s how to keep track of what you’ve prayed—and how and when God answered these requests.

See, your average Christian doesn’t keep track of what they prayed. Consequently they don’t know how long they’ve been making certain requests of God. Or how regularly (or if) they kept up on these requests. Or when God answered them. Or how often God answered them. I mean, God answers our prayers all the time (and not just with “no!”), but when we never keep track, we can’t always tell you when, how, and how often. And when we’re feeling low, we’re gonna forget every good thing God has done for us. You know, like the Hebrews did in the wilderness, every single time they hit a rough patch: “Aw man, we’re gonna die. Egypt was better. Why’d we ever leave?” Ex 16.3, 17.3, Nu 11.18, etc. God forbid, but this kind of thing still happens. All the time.

That’s why the prophets and apostles put together a written record of what God did do for ’em. And you oughta have one too. Your prayer journal is what God’s done for you. Keep track!

Especially if you’re involved (or getting involved) with your church’s prayer ministry. Or if you regularly pray for others. Or if you’re not entirely sure prayer works: Keep a journal for three months and see for yourself.

There are dozens of different prayer journal techniques. I’ll share a few different techniques with you in future. Today I’ll just start you off with a really simple method, which works for me.

Get something to write on.

Some Christian bookstores sell pre-made prayer journals. Unless they’re on the $1 clearance shelf, I’ve found every last one of them to be ridiculously overpriced. Leather-bound? Built-in ribbon? Every other page consists of devotionals or inspiring scriptures? Those aren’t prayer journals; they’re semi-blank books for Christians to write happy thoughts in. Get one of those for playtime; we’re gonna do work here.

All you really need is something to write on. Could be a binder full of notebook paper. A spiral-bound notebook. A composition book. A steno pad. A day planner. A folder of word processor files on your computer or phone. Yes, even one of those leather-bound notebooks, but bear in mind if you get serious about prayer journals, you’re gonna go through them regularly. Still, whatever works for you.

Like a diary, keep it private. Particularly when other people’s prayer requests are in it: That’s confidential information. They won’t appreciate it if you leave your prayer journal just lying around. I mean, go ahead and show it to people you trust, but don’t just leave it on the coffee table for guests to browse.

I’ve known people who put everything in their prayer journals in code: Initials representing the people they’re praying for, symbols indicating how God answered them and when. I write the confidential parts of my journal in ancient Greek. (Growing up I used Spanish, but too many people in California know Spanish… including my siblings. So that was kinda dumb of me.) Greek is a great way to catch people in the prayer group reading over my shoulder: “What are you writing?” (And if they’re the superstitious sort of Christian, tell ’em “Spells,” and watch ’em scurry away from you tout de suite.)

But if you’re gonna use code, don’t make it too hard for you to understand it. If you write it in shorthand, make sure it’s legible shorthand. If necessary, write yourself a code key, and keep it someplace else.

For every prayer request, write out the following:

  • Date. Always keep track of when you first made or heard the request. (Time of day isn’t necessary unless God answers it the same day.)
  • Petitioner. Who made the request? You, or someone else? If it’s yours, be detailed. If it’s someone else’s, be brief. I’ll explain why.
  • Issue. What the problem is.
  • Request. Briefly, how the petitioner would like God to solve the problem.
  • Followup. Leave space for followup. And don’t forget to follow up!

When it’s someone else’s request.

Some Christians, when they take prayer requests, are very particular about details. They wanna know specifics. A whole lot of specifics. Every last thing.

Bluntly, it’s because they’re gossips.

Of course they’ll claim they’re not. “I need to know what I’m praying for!” Lately a lot of these gossips have been claiming it’s for prophetic reasons: “I need to make a specifically targeted prayer request. That way when God takes care of it in that specific way, we can know it’s him.” What, we’re not gonna know it’s him otherwise?

Yeah, it’s all rubbish. When it comes to prayer, we need nothing but faith.

This demand for details is wholly contrary to Jesus’s statement, “Your Father knows what you need before you ask.” Mt 6.8 God already knows the specifics. It’s unnecessary to tell him what he already knows. It’s unnecessary to pray for targeted answers because God knows best: His answers are always gonna be better than our detailed requests. We’re not the surgeon working on a patient; God is.

Often details are truly none of our business. Forcing people to divulge them, just because we hunger for a juicy story, but are disguising it as a necessary part of gathering prayer requests, is hypocrisy. Not to mention evil.

And yeah, there are people who join prayer groups or prayer chains, just so they can learn the church’s gossip. Not necessarily to spread it, but they wanna know what’s going on. If disaster befalls anyone in the church, they wanna be first to hear it. “So I know what to pray for,” or “So I can have the true facts when others ask,” but these noble-sounding reasons are bunk. Knowledge is power, and they covet power.

Whereas our mantra is: “I don’t need to know the details.” Heck, if they wanna give us nothing but unspoken prayer requests, that’s totally fine.

“But I need these details,” claim some, “because when God answers the prayer, I’ll be able to share the story.” Um… not if you aren’t part of the answer. If God has you lay hands on ’em and they get healed, or if God has you buy them a house, that’s your testimony too. If you’re not involved, not part of it, didn’t start it, didn’t end it, didn’t prophesy, didn’t heal anyone, only prayed: That’s not your story. That’s the petitioner’s testimony, not yours. God helped them, not you. You did nothing but pray. Which is great, but still: Testimonies are stories you can share with others. Including skeptics. Including people who aren’t sure prayer works… and your story hasn’t convinced ’em one way or the other. It doesn’t prove you had any impact in the situation. So it’s not a useful testimony. Shelve it.

Your testimonies are about how God interacted with you. Not them. Keep those stories in your journal, ’cause it’s nice to see God at work. But your priority should be on the stories about you: Your requests, how God answered you personally, and whether God used you to help others. The rest of those stories, impressive as they might be, even miraculous as they might be: When you tell them to others, they’re gonna get dismissed as hearsay. Stick to your experiences, not theirs. Leave ’em be.

Leave the answer to God.

Often when I get prayer requests, people don’t really give me a request. It’s just “My husband needs prayer,” or “My kid’s having a tough time; pray for her,” or “My kid’s giving me a tough time; pray for me.” Pray for what? Well, they don’t say. And yeah, they don’t need to tell me, remember?—“I don’t need to know the details.” But most of the time, the reason they have no request is because they don’t know what to request. They need prayer. They need God to intervene. They can’t fix it, but they know God can, so they want him to. That’s all they know.

That’s fine.

True for us too. There are some issues in my life where I really don’t know how to fix ’em. But I know God does know how to fix ’em, so that’s my prayer request: “God, in your infinite wisdom, lead me to the way out, or show me what to do.” He knows best, and I’m not so foolish I’m gonna demand he answer it to fit my specific guidelines. Who am I to direct God?

So if all I get is, “My mom needs prayer,” okay: “God, help her mom.” I could pray for what I think is best, but it’ll always be based on inadequate information. Say I’m one of those busybodies who pried as many gory details as I could from the petitioner, under the pretense I need those details so I could ask for specific things. Even then, the petitioner’s gonna have partial information, and I’m gonna have partial information. Neither of us is all-knowing; God is. He knows all the factors. He knows all the possible outcomes: The best outcome, the worst outcome, and the one that’ll eventually happen. (Calvinists insist the one that’ll eventually happen is always the best outcome, ’cause nothing happens outside of God’s secret will. Clearly they’re ignoring the bits in their bibles where God didn’t will certain things to happen. Jr 32.35, 35.15, 42.21, Mk 7.24 But I digress.)

Now, if God drops some information into me as I’m praying—“God, help her mom with her rheumatoid arthritis,” and nobody ever told me what her mom needed prayer about—it’s okay to pray for that. It tells the petitioner God’s really there, and really listening. And blows their mind, gives ’em hope, boosts their faith, all that good stuff. All the more reason they don’t need to tell you anything: You can tell them, and God can encourage ’em that way.

Otherwise, they didn’t give you details, and you don’t need ’em. And most petitioners are fine with that. They don’t know what requests to make either. They’re fine with leaving it to God to sort out. They know Jesus taught us to pray, “Your will be done,” Mt 6.10 so whatever God wills is fine with them: Let’s not interfere with his problem-solving by pitching our own short-sighted solutions.

But often the petitioner has no specific request for the wrong reason.

  • They don’t believe God’ll answer. Hey, if you never offer a solution, you’ll never be disappointed when God doesn’t solve things your way. So this attitude of “God’ll sort it out” isn’t based on faith, but apathy: They don’t expect God to sort out a thing. (Not good!)
  • They don’t believe there is any solution. They don’t entirely lack faith… but they lack hope, which means their faith is gonna be weak and pathetic. God’s gotta cure their pessimism just as much as he’s gotta solve their other problems.
  • They totally know the solution to the problem. It’s ridiculously obvious. But they don’t wanna do it, and want God to do it for them, or give them another way out. It’s a disobedience thing. It’s like a cocaine addict who prays, “Lord, cure me,” because he doesn’t wanna go to rehab. But rehab is nearly always how God’s gonna cure him.

Bear in mind sometimes you’re the solution to these petitioners’ prayer request. God’ll tell you the answer. You know, prophecy. Pay attention to his voice when you’re praying for people! If he’s got instructions for them, pass them along. Then, in your prayer journal, note what God told you, and what you told them.

And sometimes you can answer their requests yourself. They’re looking for a job? Maybe you know an employer. They need their car repaired? Maybe you’re a mechanic. They need a hundred bucks? You give ’em a hundred bucks. Too many Christian take prayer requests, ’cause they’d rather do that than actually do for others. Lk 6.31 Don’t be stingy like that. Be their testimony instead.

Followup.

If you’re the answer to their prayer request, or God tells you the answer to their prayer, or to your own prayer, or answers your prayer through another Christian (prophetically or not), that’s what you put down as your followup:

  • Prayer answered. And details.
  • Date. Just to remind yourself God answers prayers quickly. (More often than you realize!)

The rest of the time, the answer won’t come immediately, so you’ll have to follow up. So like I said, leave space in your journal for followup. Since I use a computer, I can insert all the space I need. But if you’re using paper, save a few lines, or the rest of the page. Whatever you expect you’ll need.

Then whenever you pray, pray for this.

When you’re praying for someone else’s request, you’re often gonna have to track those petitioners down and see whether God answered their prayers. Because most Christians suck at keeping us up to speed on these things. I’ll run into a petitioner weeks later:

Me. “So has anything happened with that prayer request last month?”
They. “Oh… yeah, that! Yeah, God cured me that afternoon.”
Me. “The same day?”
They. “Yep. God’s awesome. Hey, thanks for praying for that for me.”
Me. “No problem.”

Didn’t tell me. Never would have told me, had I not followed up. Not that they’re ungrateful; they are. But they’re grateful to God, not me. After all, I didn’t cure ’em. And I’m probably one of two dozen people they asked to pray for ’em. Stands to reason they’d forget to tell me how things turned out.

But that’s an answer to prayer which could’ve fallen by the wayside. And most of those prayer requests totally do fall by the wayside. Nobody follows up, so nobody knows how often God answers “yes.” Once you follow up, you’ll discover God usually answers yes. There are miracles going on all around us. But Christians don’t share, so Christians go unaware.

And sometimes Christians forget. Remember I mentioned how the Hebrews kept griping at Moses, even though God rescued ’em from Egypt and thundered down from Sinai and gave ’em water and manna on a regular basis? For a lot of us humans, gratitude doesn’t last long. Hit us with another trial and we’ll easily forget about all God’s previous acts of provision. All the more reason we need a prayer journal: It’s harder to forget when we’ve got a written record of how God’s answered dozens—and after a few years, hundreds—of prayers.

Making testimonies.

After God answers our prayer requests, that’s a story we can share with others. “I asked God for this, and here’s how he answered me.” When people have doubts as to whether prayer works, or whether God’s real, you have stories. A whole journal of them.

From time to time I run into skeptics. Mostly they’re just people with doubts, who can’t fathom why I believe in an invisible God whom they’ve never seen. How do I know he’s real? Well, for me it’s simple: I have testimonies. I just tell ’em story after story. I’ll admit, “Okay, you might call this one coincidence, but it got answered way too quickly after I prayed for it, so I have my doubts it’s coincidence.” Or “This one sounds hard to believe, but it totally happened to me.” Just sit back and watch their eyes get wider.

Some of these skeptics have learned nontheist apologetics—how to defeat any arguments which claim God exists—and they’re hoping I’ll debate them on it. Kinda like a kid who learned krav maga, who’s just itching for bullies to try something so she can slap ’em down. I frustrate ’em greatly, ’cause I don’t bother with intellectual arguments: I just share my testimonies. They’re wholly unprepared to refute personal experience. “Well, it’s nice you think that happened to you” just comes across as condescending, disrespectful, and closed-minded—even by their own loose standards. Drives ’em bonkers.

Notice how, in the Psalms, a lot of them list events God did for David, Asaph, Moses, or the Hebrews in the past. Yep, they’re sharing their testimonies too. Even in mid-prayer, it’s important to remember God did answer prayer in the past—so why can’t he do it again? It’s encouragement to ourselves, and anyone listening. ’Cause prayer works.

That’s why we keep track.