26 July 2022

The prayer journal: Keeping track of our conversations with God.

PRAYER JOURNAL 'pr(eɪ.)ər 'dʒər.nəl noun. A regular record of our interactions with God.
[Prayer journaling - 'dʒər.nəl.ɪŋ verb tense.]

Gotta admit: There’s a lot of old emails and texts I’ve never deleted. I have text chains going back decades now. I delete stuff from businesses and employers; I especially delete ads. But I wanna keep the family and friends stuff.

A prayer journal is as close as we can get to the same thing with God.

It’s sort of a diary. But rather than listing all the main things we did each day (or listing all of them, plus our innermost secret feelings about them, which’ll be a lot of embarrassing fun someday when someone finds and reads it, especially in a courtroom) it’s about what we prayed. We’re keeping track. God’s memory of our interactions is absolutely perfect; ours, not always so much.

Yeah, I realize not everyone keeps a diary. Sometimes because someone found and read it, and we realized such a thing is a great big embarrassment time bomb. Other times because we lack the self-discipline. Mostly because we never saw the point. Well this is the point: You kinda should keep track.

See, your average Christian doesn’t journal their prayers. Don’t see the point. They ask God a question and get an answer, then move on. They ask for stuff, get it, and move on. Or they don’t get what they want, give up, and move on. Or they ask God on behalf of others, but they don’t bother to follow up because they don’t entirely care; or they got some news about whether the prayer worked, then promptly forgot it and again moved on.

Lots of moving on. But no record of anything God’s done for them. No record other than their own personal, and often faulty, memories. And whenever people go through any kind of crisis, sometimes those memories immediately become irrelevant: Our panicking minds don’t recall, or even care, how God’s constantly come through for us in the past.

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. When we’re feeling low, we too often 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. Y’know, despite all the whippings and work and how they used to murder our babies, I remember Egypt was way better. Why’d we ever leave?” Ex 16.3, 17.3, Nu 11.18, etc. God forbid, but this kind of thing still happens with humans. 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. Today I’ll just start you off with a really simple method, which works for me.

Get something to write on.

I was at a Christian bookstore yesterday, and man alive do they have a lot of prayer journals. I hope this means more Christians are journaling… but since the latest fad is for Christians to draw and color pictures of their favorite memory verses, I have a feeling these “prayer journals” are just bible sketchbooks. Well, at least people are memorizing bible. But anyway.

Unless these journals are 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. I use my phone and tablet and Google Documents, ’cause I’m high-tech like that. You can just as easily go analog: A three-ring binder full of notebook paper. A spiral-bound notebook. A composition book. A steno pad. A day planner. Yes, even one of those leather-bound notebooks with fancy Celtic crosses on the cover, but bear in mind if you get serious about prayer journals, you’re gonna go through a lot of them. Still, whatever works for you.

What you put in the journal is usually gonna be private or confidential information. Particularly if other people’s requests are included: Td they won’t appreciate it if you left your prayer journal lying around for someone to open and find out, “Wow, Noa’s husband is wearing her bras, and she’s really struggling with that!” That’s nobody’s business. It’s barely yours.

Hence I’ve known people who put everything in their prayer journals in code: Initials representing the people they pray for, symbols indicating how God answered them and when. Me, 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, I tell ’em “Spells.” Watch ’em freak out.)

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

What to put in it.

For every prayer request, put down the following:

  • DATE, AND MAYBE TIME OF DAY. Not just “Wednesday”; which Wednesday? That Wednesday could’ve been a year ago. Time of day isn’t always necessary, but I’ve found God will sometimes answer a request the same day, so it can be useful.
  • PETITIONER (IF IT’S NOT YOU). Usually the stuff in your journal is your own stuff, but if someone’s asked you to pray for them, remember to say specifically who. Not just “My neighbor” or “Someone in my bible study” or even “My kid” unless you only have one; keep track!
  • REQUEST. What’re you asking God for? And how would you like him to solve the problem?
  • ANSWER, if God answers you immediately—as he will. If you’re just asking him a question, he’ll respond. Put down his response! Otherwise…
  • FOLLOWUP. Leave space for followup stuff. You might later discover new information which changes your request, so include that. And of course once God answers you, include that. And don’t forget to follow up!

Now: When you’re praying on someone else’s behalf—when it’s not really your request, but you’re helping someone else out—keep the details in your prayer journal to a minimum. You don’t need to know specifics; you especially don’t need to keep specifics. You just need to know God answered ’em.

Bluntly, this is because of gossip. There are way too many prayer gossips out there. You don’t want your perfectly normal curiosity to gradually turn you into another one of ’em. Their business is between them and God, and drawing unnecessary details out of them just because “I need to know what to pray for” is rubbish. It’s contrary to Jesus’s statement, “Your Father knows what you need before you ask.” Mt 6.8 You don’t need to know. You don’t need to pray “targeted prayers.” You’re not a surgeon working on a patient. God is.

And yeah, there are people who join prayer groups or prayer chains, just so they can learn all the church’s gossip. Not necessarily to spread it, but they love a juicy story and true-crime podcasts aren’t enough for them. 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 hypocrisy. 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, it’s totally fine.

I’ve known some who claim, “But I need these details because once God answers the prayer, I’ll be able to share the story.” Um… that’s not your story! Unless you’re part of God’s solution—you bought ’em a car, or you laid hands on them and God cured them—that’s not a shared testimony. You’re not involved, not part of it, didn’t start it, didn’t end it, didn’t prophesy, didn’t cure anyone. You prayed. God acted. Not you. It’s good to know he acted; it’s why you can include in your prayer journal, “God answered these prayers.” But the story is none of your business, so stop trying to swipe it.

Whereas your testimonies are about how God interacted with you. And your prayers should prioritize how he answers your requests. Focus on them.


God’s gonna answer you. Not always with the answer you expect, but some answer. When he does, go back to your initial request and fill in the followup space.

  • DATE. When’d you get this result?
  • HOW IT WAS ANSWERED. Give details.

When you’re new to journalism, you’re sometimes gonna find you didn’t give yourself enough space on the page to follow up! Since I use computer files, I can insert all the space I need, but if you’re using paper (depending on how big the ask is), save yourself anywhere from 10 lines to the rest of the page. Whatever you anticipate you’ll need.

Following up on other people’s prayer requests will take a little effort sometimes. Because most Christians suck at keeping us up to speed. I’ll run into a petitioner weeks later:

ME. “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—and rightly so. 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 share testimonies. They’re wholly unprepared to refute personal experience. “Well, it’s nice you think this happened to you” just comes across as condescending, disrespectful, and closed-minded—even by their own loose standards. Testimonies drive ’em bonkers.

Notice how, in the Psalms, a lot of them list things which God did for the psalmists—for David, Asaph, Moses, or the ancient Hebrews in general. Yep, they’re sharing their testimonies too. They’ll list God’s mighty acts right in the middle of another petition. And why not? It’s important to remember God did answer prayer in the past—and why can’t he do it again? It’s encouragement to ourselves, and anyone listening. ’Cause prayer works.

That’s why we keep track.