When I need to think through something, I write it down.
I know this doesn’t work for everyone—some people are external processors and need to talk it through with a friend. For some, just attempting to journal can cause more stress than it alleviates. But my method of processing the world inevitably involves writing, whether it’s sitting down to journal or just writing angsty poetry in class.
I hadn’t thought about applying this fact intentionally to my Bible study, until this summer. It started when I wanted to memorize a chapter of Psalms. As a student with multiple jobs and a busy schedule, I don’t have the time to sit down and memorize a big chunk of the Bible these days.
And what’s more, I didn’t want to—I wanted to be able to take my time, memorize a verse every few days, and take it with me. I wanted to have a verse to think about and pray over throughout the day (it’s a lot easier to “meditate on God’s word day and night” when you have a passage ready to hand).
So I decided to apply a memorization technique I had discovered during my time as a National Bible Bee competitor: write it down. I’d already experienced how handwriting a passage can help you remember it better, and I’d proven the principle with handwritten notes over three years of college.
Handwriting the Bible certainly helped me remember it better. It helped set the verses in my head. But it did more—it helped weave the Word into the fabric of my mind.
An Unexpected Spiritual Discipline
I realized, if I write out my own thoughts in order to process and understand them, why shouldn’t I do the same with the thoughts of God?
Writing something out, for me, makes it more concrete. A cloud of confused emotions and snippets of reasoning can become coherent—or at least understandable. Once everything is on paper, it makes a bit more sense.
The process also creates a kind of space for reflection and thought. It’s easy for me to rush through the process of reading or memorizing the Bible. “Okay, it’s in my head, I get it, let’s move on now.” The physical act of writing forces me to slow down. It encourages me to reflect on what I’m writing, to think through it, and even use it as a jumping-off point for prayer. Sometimes I write my own thoughts and observations about a verse on the opposite page, making it a tool for Bible study as well as memorization.
Writing out God’s words, in a way, helps me to claim them as my own. They aren’t just lines on a page that I can read and consider from a place of detached interest. To write it down, the way I would write down a quote from a book I love, signifies my agreement, assent, accord. I am saying, “These words are true, good, important, beautiful. This is what I believe (and God, help my unbelief).”Writing out God’s words helps me to claim them as my own. They aren’t just lines on a page that I can read and consider from a place of detached interest. To write it down signifies my agreement, assent, accord. Click To Tweet
This unexpected discipline has helped me make God’s thoughts my own—to mold the very workings of my mind after His.
It’s Not About Formulae
I’m not telling you to go get a notebook and a gel pen and start writing out a psalm. I don’t offer my own experience as a silver bullet for your walk with God. There are no magical formulae or perfect prayers to make your Christian life what you want it to be.
If handwriting is something that helps you learn and understand, then this might be worth trying. If you couldn’t stand penmanship in school, or if the very thought of journaling fills you with anxiety, then it may not be so helpful.
The point is, God has given us so many good gifts that can help draw us closer to himself. The physical and the spiritual worlds are more intertwined than we tend to imagine (who would have thought that writing something out with a pen would be so different from reading it in a book?). The whole point of the spiritual disciplines is to practice godliness as whole, embodied people who are both soul and body, both spiritual and physical.
Maybe praying on your knees helps you cultivate a proper reverence for God; or maybe going for a walk while you pray helps you focus. Maybe singing Scripture is what sets it in your mind and heart. Maybe, like me, you have health issues that prevent you from fasting from food; but you can take a day every week to stay away from social media. Maybe practicing Sabbath looks like a time of silence and solitude, or maybe it means Sunday is the day you can fellowship with friends without having to worry about the homework that needs to get done.
Seek God for wisdom, and He will give it (James 1:5). If you’re trying to draw near to Him through His word and through prayer, He will help you—He wants to draw near to you (James 4:8). Ask Him for His guidance on the best way for you to engage in spiritual disciplines. And remember that just because a practice works well for your friend—or a writer on the internet—doesn’t mean God commands it for everyone.
Don’t get me wrong—God does command us to be in His word, to pray, and to fellowship with other believers. But Christians throughout the centuries have found a hundred different ways to apply these broader disciplines in specific ways in their own lives. Seek God’s wisdom on how to apply it in yours.