A prayer journal is a type of diary. But instead of listing all your experiences of the day, and what you felt about them, your prayer journal is about what you prayed.
Not everyone keeps a diary, and not every Christian keeps a prayer journal. But it’s not a bad idea. Particularly if you’re involved with your church’s prayer ministry, or if you regularly pray on other people’s behalf. And if you’re not entirely sure whether prayer works, it’s a good experiment: Keep a prayer journal for three months and see for yourself.
A newbie of my acquaintance went for the first time to his church’s weekly prayer meeting, and had some questions for me about how they used prayer journals. I didn’t know how that particular group used them. Some prayer groups follow specific steps. If your prayer group does, stick with their steps. Otherwise, I’ll tell you how to generically set one up.
1. Get a journal.
Some Christians sell ready-made prayer journals. You do not need to buy one. If you have the disposable income, go ahead, but really all you need is something to write in. Could be a binder full of notebook paper; could be a spiral-bound notebook; could be a composition book, a blank book, a steno pad, a section in your day planner; could even be a word processor file on your iPad. Whatever works for you.
Like a diary, your prayer journal is private. Particularly if other people’s prayer requests are in it; that’s confidential information, and doesn’t need to be blabbed around. Go ahead and show it to people you trust, but don’t just leave it on the coffee table for guests to read. And don’t try to create an encoded version of your prayer journal, with initials representing the people you want to pray for, and shorthand for the things you want to pray. (Unless you’re good at shorthand.) Write it so that it’s easily understandable, ’cause you don’t want to spend time deciphering when you could be praying.
2. Write out the following.
Date. Always include the date you first heard the prayer request. Time too, if you think you need to keep track of that.
Petitioner. Who’s asking for you to pray?
The petitioner is not necessarily the person with the issue that you’re praying about. Let’s say I asked you to pray for my dad. My dad is not the petitioner; I am. My dad is a pagan, and wouldn’t ask for prayer, wouldn’t appreciate it if you prayed for him, and won’t give God the credit if the prayer is answered. I would. So your prayer would be on my behalf. Not so much his, even though he stands to benefit (as far as I know) by a positive answer.
The reason you list the petitioner, and not the person with the issue, is because the petitioner might be wrong. Annoyingly, this happens a lot. Christians hear gossip, think, “Oh how dreadful,” and—often out of real concern, and not because they themselves are gossips—ask for prayer requests. I’ve been guilty of this myself before I learned better. Eventually you learn which petitioners are reliable. Regardless, list the petitioner.
The issue. Briefly summarize what the issue is.
Some Christians are very particular about details. Quite a few Christians teach that when you bring requests to God, you must bring Him specific requests so that the people praying will know specifically what to bring to God. This teaching flies in the face of Jesus’s statement,
The request. Okay, so now that you know the issue, what must be prayed about it?
You’d be surprised how often you get a prayer request where you’re given an issue… but no actual request. It’s like the “My husband needs prayer” statement: Prayer for what? For things to resolve? For things to get better? For a warm fuzzy feeling? For a pony? What?
Many times the petitioner hasn’t even thought about what would answer the prayer. Sometimes this is because we want to leave things open for God to resolve it however He wants; like Jesus taught,
- The petitioner doesn’t entirely believe God will answer the prayer. If you offer no solution, you don’t have to worry about being disappointed when it never pans out. So it’s the very opposite of faith that God will sort everything out. It’s a lack of faith, disguised as faith.
- The petitioner might trust God to resolve the situation, but can’t possibly think of a way out of it. Or can’t think of a moral way out of it. (For example, “Lord, kill my boss” has come to mind quite a lot, but the petitioner doesn’t want to pray that. Not publicly, anyway.) In many cases the solution has to do with God reforming the petitioner’s own bad attitude, but of course this is a blind spot that the petitioner isn’t yet willing to deal with. (Of course, since this is your prayer journal, and you will be the one doing the praying, you can decide for yourself whether this is the solution, and pray it on your own.)
- Related to the previous one, the solution to the problem is ridiculously simple: The petitioner can even solve it without God’s assistance. But again, the petitioner isn’t willing to do that. Whether it’s out of a lack of hope, or because the petitioner is clinging to favorite sins, the expectation is that God will bail us out and we needn’t do a thing. (And again, you can pray for the real solution on your own.)
3. Leave space for followup.
After this point you can stop writing and start praying. But leave some space next to what you’ve written so far. Since I use a computer, I just insert text, but written notebooks are not so easy to work with: Save a space or two, where you can write the page number or date of the followup.
If you’re keeping a prayer journal, this means you now have to keep track of whether or not these prayers get answered. There are two ways they get answered: Either God tells you something, or tells another prophet something, and that message needs to be shared with the petitioner; or God does something that resolves the situation. That “something,” of course, can be nothing: God could decide to stay out of it. (That’s what He usually does when we’re supposed to answer the request instead of Him.)
If God tells you something, that’s your followup. Write it down in your journal. You’re going to share it with the petitioner.
If you’re nervous about whether it actually is God, as I’ve discussed elsewhere, talk with other prophets (namely, prophets who can keep things confidential) about what you think God’s given you. See whether they’ve heard anything from God themselves; or give them time to speak with God for themselves, and confirm your message. But don’t rush things. Even though prayer requests tend to be last resorts, the petitioner’s anxiety shouldn’t make you skip any steps when you need to confirm you’ve really heard from God.
- If it’s directions, give them, note whether the petitioner followed them, and note what happened as a result.
- If it’s directions to you, or to anyone else—’cause God often wants Christians to be part of His answer—note that too; whether you followed His directions, and what happened as a result.
- If it’s a statement about something that’s going to happen, definitely record that, watch for it to happen, and note how it happens and the results.
If God tells you nothing, do your own followup. The next time you’re at your prayer meeting, ask the leader, “Is there any news about…” and list the requests brought up at the last meeting. If a petitioner came to you directly, follow up with your petitioner directly. Too many Christians are quick to share requests, but not so quick to talk about how those requests got sorted out. So you gotta ask.
5. Make testimonies out of what you can.
When God answers prayer—when He answers your requests, or when He uses you to answer someone else’s request—your story about that is a testimony that you 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, you have testimonies about how it definitely does. You have a whole journal of them.
In writing a testimony about answered prayer, of course you may need to leave out details if you’re speaking about another person’s prayer request. Respect their privacy. Ask their permission if you simply must include those details.
Notice that, in the Psalms, a lot of the prayers list things that God has done for David or Asaph or Moses or the Israelis in the past. In praying, it is always encouraging to remember that not only does God answer prayer, but here are some specific examples of prayers He’s answered in the past. When you pray that, you encourage both yourself and anyone who hears you; anyone who’s skeptical about whether prayer works will see that, in your life at least, prayer does work.
Really, it works in everyone’s life, but when you don’t keep a prayer journal, and you don’t follow up, you don’t always see this.
There are other types of prayer journals, which I may discuss in the future. Meanwhile, that should get you started. As you can see, it’s not complicated. The hardest part is of course followup. But once you do that, you’ll be stunned at how regularly God answers prayer—and how little this actually gets talked about.