It was my sixth Christmas when I got my first journal. It was green and had a praying angel on the cover. Even though the pages would be penned in my very large learning-to-write characters and the greatest climax it ever saw was the frustration to be getting a second brother instead of a long-awaited sister; it would spark in me a passion.
I wouldn’t become part of God’s family for another year and I wouldn’t fully follow him for years after that – but that angel covered book, and the countless ones I filled after, would be a tool. A tool God gave me to harness the words within. A tool, that I now see as a spiritual discipline.
The Dangers of Disremembering
The Bible has a lot to say on the idea of remembering. You don’t have to get very far into the Old Testament to realize the Israelites, God’s chosen people had a propensity to forget. The Israelites were called out by God to be his special people and had front-row seats to the miraculous wonders of God. Yet like toddlers on a teeter-totter they wobbled back and forth between belief to doubt to faithfulness to disobedience.
In the desert, the people bemoaned God’s provision in the form of manna falling from the sky and forget all the miracles that took place to get them to that very place free from pharaoh’s rule. While God was literally inscribing a tablet to them, it only took them three days to assume Moses was dead and disremembered the wonders of God. They built gods of gold instead. They wanted to conform to the other nations and demanded an earthly king when they had King-God Himself. The prophets and minor prophets all detail Israel’s lack of faith, their inferior memory, and the consequences of their idol-worship and wandering ways.
If the Israelites aren’t example enough, we don’t have to do too much self-examination to see that we too have inherited their predisposition for spiritual amnesia. It began in Eden, with Eve. It continued 40 long years in the wilderness. It happened when God’s people and his promised land were captured time and time again.
In Deuteronomy 6, Moses returns full of the God-glory he witnessed on the mountaintop where God spoke with man and allowed man to live. Once among the people, Moses shows them the tablets of stone, the Ten Commandments engraved by Yahweh’s own hand. Moses urges the people to talk and teach the God-glory, to meditate on them day and night, to wrap them around their hearts, hands and homes, and keep them in front of their eyes. In verse 12, he says beware lest you forget the LORD.
The word beware in the original Hebrew takes on an interesting context. Not only does it mean to be on one’s guard or take heed as we would usually associate with the definition, but it can also be translated as to be kept, preserved. The word forget is translated as ceasing to care, oblivious of want of memory or attention, to leave something from forgetfulness.
Essentially, Moses is telling the Israelites, keep and preserve these God-glory moments and commands lest you cease to care.
How do you preserve these intimate God-glory moments?
By writing them down.
Ink Spilt Forth
Just as God inscribed his holy words on stone, the book of Jeremiah says he puts his law within us and writes it on the tablets of our heart. The specific word used in this passage is the Hebrew word kathab meaning to engrave, inscribe, describe in writing. Interestingly enough, the KJV uses the word tables instead of tablets in the verse where it says God now writes on human hearts, not on tablets of stone. The Greek root for tables creates the image of a potter forming and molding clay.
These journal pages, the ones with the ink spilt forth in prayers and petitions, in awe of a wonder or God-provision are the broad tablets in which we hold up in proof of how God is sitting at the potter’s bench pressing into the clay of our hearts and molding our lives into his likeness.
The word remember is found 148 times in the KJV and 168 times in the NIV. Needless to say, the act or concept of remembering is peppered throughout the pages of God’s word. First Chronicles says remember his covenant forever, remember the wonderful deeds for which he has done. When Jonah was engulfed in the depths of the sea, it is said that he remembered the Lord. Proverbs says the memory of the righteous is blessed. All of these verses use the same Hebrew word zecar which in its truest form means to call to mind, to recount, to record.
God warns his people the dangers of forgetting (ceasing to care) and in the same breath tells his people to record the stories of his faithfulness, to record his wonders by writing down his extraordinary deeds.
In Paul’s second letter to Timothy he writes remember the gospel. The Greek word reveals that it is a present, active, imperative parsing. The parsing tells us that it is a present, continuous action happening in real-time, that we are the doer or performer of the action, and it is an absolute command that requires our full obedience. This has vast implications on how we modern-day-Bible-readers understand what it means to remember.
See, God doesn’t just urge his people to remember the Gospel and remember his faithfulness to mankind, he actually commands that we continually and actively do so.
The Memorial of Ink
The creation of memorials in the Old Testament was a common practice to honor a specific event in time. By the way, do you know what the word memorial means in Hebrew? It means to remember.
One particular example takes place in the book of Genesis. The Bible says Jacob wrestles with a man all night long and refuses to give up until he receives a blessing. The ancient definition of wrestling was to grapple and get dusty, since in wrestling dust is raised. The man, who many believe is Jesus, reaches into Jacob and dislocates his hip leaving him with a permanent reminder of his personal encounter with God.
Jacob later goes back to the place where God appeared to him and builds an alter named The God of the House of God. Once again, God appears and talks with Jacob and Jacob builds a pillar of stone to memorialize the encounters.
Like Jacob, in between the paper filled lines I’ve penned questions to God, grappling in spiritual warfare, and recording the moments where I’ve felt God reach into me. In the wrestling, ink is smeared. Where the pen refuses to give up until blessing is found. Among the pages, a personal memorial begins to be built. One page and prayer at a time.
The great old hymn, Come Thou Fount recounts the commemoration of God’s divine assistance in the Israelites victory over the Philistines. Years before the battle, the Israelites suffered catastrophic loss, their priests were killed and the Ark of the Covenant was captured. Samuel builds a memorial of stone and inscribes Ebenezer on the front of it. The Stone of Help would be a visual to remind them that in the midst of the very same place they suffered defeat, with God’s help and power they sustained a great victory.
Journaling as a Spiritual Discipline
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten lost in the words of the old ink blotted pages of the journals currently stacked in my closet. Sometimes I would feel like I was ease-dropping on a very intimate and private conversation between a woman and her lover. Other times as I read the words and noticed the tear-wrinkled pages and the wave of emotion would rise and break at the shore of the next journal.
So how are we to remember? How do we prevent ourselves from the whiplash of the teeter-totter, from the faltering memory and spiritual amnesia we’ve inherited? We have words penned by God himself, we have his helper and spirit within, and yet we still doubt and question, we still disremember when we can’t see where he is taking us, we still bring his faithfulness, character, and love to trial.
Would it help during those moments if we could see specific examples of El Roi, the God Who Sees Me, of El Shaddai, God of all Sufficiency, of El Maowz, God is My Strength, of El Shama, the God Who Hears Me, of El Asa, God Who Does Wonders, of Immanuel, God is With Us, of Jehovah-Rapha, God Who Heals, in our daily lives?
Remember that verse above in Jeremiah that used the Hebrew word kathab? The one where God essentially takes a chisel on his potter’s bench and engraves his word on the tables of our heart? That word also gives the meaning of “filling his hand with letters in honor of Jehovah.”
To journal is to fill our hands with the letters that prove God’s faithfulness to us. In between the covers, inscribed among the parchment we preserve and record who God is, what he means to us, and what he has done for us.
With each stroke of the pen, with each journal filled page, with each completed journal stacked – these are the stones on which we build our altar. On which we consecrate a memorial of our hearts and lives. On which we offer as proof that God hears, God sees, God speaks, God saves, and that yes, we too, have seen the face of God and lived.