(I posted this earlier this year. I've slightly edited and updated the information here, and I hope it serves to bless you).
I've written about this before but I thought with the new year it might be a good time to do that again. A dear sister and I were having a chat the other day and prayer journalling came up in that conversation, so it reminded me of what a blessing it really is.
I know that for myself, my days are so busy and hectic that by the end of the day when I want to communicate with God in prayer, I have this horrible tendency to let my thoughts wander all over the place. This is one of the things about being disciplined in my prayer life that has always been an issue, and has always bothered me a great deal. Prayer journalling has helped in this regard.
Before I tell you about the benefits to prayer journalling, I'd like to take a moment to explain what what prayer journalling isn't.
You may have the idea that this kind of journalling is similar to personal journalling. For the most part, that would be incorrect. Personal journalling is all about documenting your thoughts, exploring your feelings, and expressing on paper all manner of thoughts that pertain to your life, your hopes, your dreams, etc. Essentially, it's all about you, and most people do this type of journalling as a way to work through things, or to simply document experiences. This can be very helpful for some people, and it can also (oddly enough, and I'm not even sure why) benefit your memory skills.
In contrast however, prayer journalling only shares one similarity with personal journalling and that similarity is that is will benefit you. Beyond that, prayer journalling isn't about you at all, but other people's situations, needs, requests, etc. Prayer journalling is simply a way to document prayer needs that are brought to your attention that otherwise might slip your mind in this hurry-up, fast-food, microwave, instant-world we all live in and deal with every day. While some folks might associate such a thing with emerging or pomo/mystic/liberal/wacky Christian churches or movements, I can assure you that just because some of them may promote "faith journalling" and the like, the exercise itself certainly isn't rooted in the same nonsense that comes out of most of these movements and churches.
Now that we know what it isn't, lets get down to what it is, and how it works to benefit you!
There are several different ways to keep such a journal, and each person will adopt their own style. One way is to actually write out your prayers in the journal each day. If you're going to do that, get a big journal with lots of pages so that you don't feel restricted in length. Another way people sometimes do this is to make each week a theme, such as week 1 of the month, they specifically pray for family, week 2 they pray for leadership (husbands, pastors, local civic and government leaders, etc.), week 3 might be friends and loved ones with specific needs, etc. Another way to prayer journal, is to write dated entries for those who have a need, and then simply pray for them each day and be sure to update the entry with how the Lord answered, when He does. Still another really helpful idea that I recently read about was to keep pictures in the journal of the people you're praying for. I really like this idea and may decide to include it in the way I keep my own prayer journal. I love to see the smiling faces of the people in my life, especially those that are far away, that I don't get to see in person nearly as much as I'd like.
What I have done, is use the dated entry format. I don't do it on the computer at all because I find that writing things out by hand and having a journal that I carry with me from room to room is better for me. I always write the date of the entry, followed by the person in need or the situation. During my prayer time those people and situations are things I pray for each day, and when the Lord answers those prayers I update the entry with the date and how He answered.
This is beneficial for me in several ways.
One, it helps greatly in keeping my thoughts from wondering when I'm praying. Instead of remembering that I didn't put the wash in the dryer, or take something out of the freezer for dinner tomorrow, or thinking about making a return call to someone, my thoughts are more firmly focused on what I'm praying about. While all of those "busy mom" thoughts are important in their place, I don't want them intruding on my time spent in prayer, and causing me to forget something that I wanted to pray about.
Secondly, its a joy, a privelege and an honor to be able to go to the Lord in prayer over situations and circumstances in the lives of those you're close to. When someone says "would you pray with me about this?" I say yes, and I mean it. Before I kept a journal I would often forget that prayer request and then feel awful about it. Keeping the journal helps me to remember and honor my word and take these things before the Lord.
Third, its such an incredible way to actually document the way the Lord works in the lives of His people. We've probably all heard that the Lord answers prayer in three ways; yes, no and wait. Well, it's true that He does answer that way but His answers are quite often much more detailed than that. His answers often come in completely unexpected ways and I think sometimes we miss noticing that. Journalling helps me to not miss it. Journalling helps me to meditate a bit more on the way our Heavenly Father is actively working in my own life, and in the lives of fellow believers (and unbelievers as well).
If you've considered starting a prayer journal, I would really encourage you to do it. There are lots of websites out there that tell you how to do it and give some great ideas, but however you do it, it's sure to be a blessing to you and only enrich this particular spiritual discipline.
By request I have recently introduced a beautiful line of Prayer Journals to Reflections Apparel and Gifts. Each Wire-O bound 5"x8" journal comes with your choice of paper (60lb bookweight (24 lb bond) paper -- blank, dot grid, lined college-ruled, or a task journal), is 160 pages, and has an inspirational scenic or nature image and "prayer" verse reference on the laminated front cover.
If you do keep a prayer journal and have additional ideas, I'd love to hear from you.