One of the most life-changing things I have ever done is start a daily prayer journal. It’s just a basic Word document on my computer. What started out as a few minutes a day has grown into often more than an hour.
I used to think I didn’t have time to spend in prayer in the morning. But after I tried it, I began to realize how much more I can accomplish when I take the time to start my day right. When I miss or rush my time with Jesus, I get stressed more easily. I am less kind and helpful to my wife and daughter. I am more vulnerable to pride and less interested in blessing others. But time with Jesus in the morning with my prayer journal changes all this and more.
God has grown me, corrected me, forgiven me, inspired me, and transformed me through that time spent basking in His presence, surrendering to His power, and praising Him for His love. My time in my prayer journal with Jesus reminds me who He is, who I am, and why I am here.
Perhaps that is why even Jesus needed to spend so much time in prayer. The Gospel of Luke portrays Jesus’ life as a journey back and forth from the mountaintop (prayer) to the multitude (teaching and healing). Through prayer Jesus was led to being filled with the Holy Spirit (Luke 3:21, 22), humility (Luke 5:16), wisdom (Luke 6:12-16), clarity of His identity (Luke 9:18), God’s glory shining through Him (verses 28-36), power against temptation (Luke 22:32-40), surrender (verse 42), strengthening in weakness (verse 43), and sacrificial obedience even to the cross (verses 44-47).
If prayer was such a necessity for Jesus, how much more is it necessary for us! Perhaps starting a prayer journal can help us become more like Jesus in our prayer life.
Here is what I like to pray about in my prayer journal:
1My Heart—“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me” (Ps. 51:10, NKJV).*
I reflect on my recent thoughts, feelings, and actions. Is there evidence of pride, selfishness, self-centeredness, etc.? What do I specifically need to confess to Jesus? What stresses or struggles must I surrender to Jesus? Is there anyone I need to apologize to or forgive? How am I doing at expressing love to my spouse and kids? I feel amazing peace and freedom when I have surrendered every part of my heart to Jesus.
2God’s Heart—“Be still, and know that I am God” (Ps. 46:10, NKJV).
I want not only to talk with God but also to pause and listen to Him. How does God feel about my life and the things I think about? When I realize how much He cares about me, I am far more ready to trust Him. I realize that when I pursue things that are important to Him, He will do whatever is needed most in the big picture.
3Praise—“Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise. Be thankful to Him, and bless His name” (Ps. 100:4, NKJV).
I am inspired when I focus on who God is and praise Him for it. I tell Him how amazing He is and why. I often quote Scripture and songs of worship. I become amazed by God’s perfect holiness, infinite love, extravagant grace, and omnipotent power.
4Providence—“Elisha prayed, ‘Open his eyes, Lord, so that he may see.’ Then the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha” (2 Kings 6:17).
I thank God for the ways I see Him work. I write out stories of answered prayers, divine appointments, and evidences of His love that I experience in my life and family. This grows my faith.
5People—“I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people. . . . This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:1-4).
I lift up people and ask God to help them sense His presence in their lives right now. I especially like to pray for people who have not yet made commitments for Christ. Then I thank God for lovingly answering even before I have seen any results. I often reach out to them right then and let them know I’m praying for them. I also ask if there is anything specific I can remember in prayer for them.
One morning I felt impressed to pray for a family I had not seen at church for more than six months. I reached out with a text message to let them know I was praying for them. Little did I know that at that very moment they were going through a very difficult situation. The wife was about to give birth to their second child, but the husband was away on duty with the Navy. About a month later they returned to church. I was overjoyed! The wife shared with me about their recent events and sincerely thanked me for my prayers: “I felt so alone and stressed out,” she said. “It felt so good to know that someone was praying for me.”
When I regularly pray for people, I can more clearly see God’s dreams for their lives as His devoted disciples. God gives me confidence, wisdom, and a desire to meaningfully encourage them and challenge them to take steps to get closer to Jesus. I’ve seen many individuals whose names appear in my prayer journal accept Bible studies and attend evangelistic series. I have seen dozens of them make decisions for baptism and become active members in my local church.
Writing on these five aspects in my prayer journal has been faith-building and rewarding. I try not to keep it too structured, because I want to allow my heart to flow in conversation with Jesus. It’s OK if I go out of order or focus more on only a couple aspects if that is what is needed most that day.
The practice of daily prayer journaling has impacted not only my life but also the lives of my entire family. My wife, Caitlin, has her own prayer journal. She gave one to our 3-year-old daughter, Quinn. Although Quinn cannot read or write yet, she loves making detailed little squiggles in her prayer journal. It’s adorable when she reads us what she wrote to Jesus.
One day when we were in the car on our way home from an overnight trip, Quinn exclaimed from the back seat, “We not have our time with Jesus today!” She had noticed that we had missed our morning devotion routine because we were away from home. I thank God that my daughter is learning to seek Jesus in prayer every day.
The God of the universe lovingly invites us to connect with Him in prayer every morning. He forgives us for the days we have missed in the past. He doesn’t ask us to make promises about the future. He asks only for today. Our moments in prayer become Jesus’ greatest treasures, and ours as well.
Why not give prayer journaling a try? It might change your life.
* Bible texts marked NKJV are taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Dustin Serns, pastor of the Port Orchard Seventh-day Adventist Church in Washington, United States, loves pursuing Jesus and His mission with his wife, Caitlin; 3-year-old daughter, Quinn; and newborn son, Joel.
“If our church doesn’t get more young people soon, we’re going to die,” blurted the head deaconess during my pastoral interview.
I looked around the room at the dedicated group of 60- and 70-year-old church leaders. I respected their openness about the reality in their church (and many other churches in North America).
We didn’t have young adults bringing their personal flavor and spirituality into our worship service. We didn’t have young adults leading ministries on our church board.
1 We didn’t have a young adult group organizing Bible studies, socials, and service projects. We didn’t have a young adult Sabbath School class.
When you don’t have many, or any, young adults in your church, what do you do?
Here are four things that
anyone in any church can do to activate young adults in your church whether you don’t have many or any.
God has many people (including young adults) ready to take the next step with Him if given the opportunity. The solution is not more young adults sitting in pews or holding titles on a nominating committee report, but more people activated in reaping the harvest.
2 Jesus says this happens through prayer.
I began praying for God to bring us young adults whom we could send into His harvest field. The first answer came sooner than I expected. On my second Sabbath at my new church, in walked Nik and Shayla. I was excited to meet the young couple with their 4-month-old son.
“Have you been here before?” I asked.
“I came here once 13 years ago [half his lifetime] when we first moved here,” Nik responded.
“This is my first time in a Seventh-day Adventist church,” said Shayla.
After the service I greeted them on their way out and asked about seeing them next week. “Yeah, we should be back,” Nik replied.
I prayed God would bring Nik and Shayla back to church. The next Sabbath God answered. So began a meaningful friendship with Nik and Shayla. They continued attending church and joined our home Bible study group. A few months later they were baptized. Nik and Shayla joined one of the praise teams. Shayla’s baking became famous at church potlucks. Nik shared a powerful testimony during an offering call about how since he started returning tithe, God had blessed him with three promotions at work in three months.
God answers prayer. He will send more workers into His harvest field if we ask Him.
How did David go from being an obscure shepherd to the most respected king in Israel’s history? How did Esther go from being a helpless orphan to the brave queen that saved her people? How did Timothy go from being unaccepted to an influential young leader in the early church? How did John the Beloved go from being a futureless fisherman to a death-defying apostle?
The answer is simple. Someone had to recognize their gifts.
In my church, whom did God want me to notice? Every Sabbath I began looking for the young adults God was bringing to us. I wanted to make sure that a young adult never made it out of our church without feeling noticed and cared about.3 The greeters made sure to introduce me to new young people who came in the door. I started a list of names and contact information about all the young adults who visited our church. Through the process I began to better notice the handful of young adults God had already brought.
I got to know 18-year-old Dusty better. Through our conversations I discovered that he had a passion for youth ministry. So I asked if he would help me lead a Sabbath afternoon youth outreach activity. Largely because of Dusty’s creativity and enthusiasm, the youth loved it; moreover, Dusty loved it, and I loved it.
A few months later I asked Dusty to preach. He had never done that before. He knew I believed in him, and he knew Jesus would take over. Dusty preached a powerful sermon, and the whole church was moved to see this young adult fired up about Jesus.
Dusty wants to become a youth director, and I believe God will use him to do amazing things. Whom is God calling you to notice?
In these last days God promises to pour out His Spirit: “Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions” (Joel 2:28). I want to know what “visions” God is giving the young adults around me. The only way to find that out is to connect with them.
Timing is crucial. When young adults show up at church, I may get only one chance to connect with them and discover their passions. The best conversations happen over meals: potluck, at my home, or in a restaurant. One secret I have discovered about young adults: A genuinely caring person offers to treat them to the restaurant of their choice. They will almost always say yes.
When I saw a new young man in his early 20s during the worship service, I made sure to catch him in the lobby afterward. I learned that he had grown up in the church and just moved back to town. “You should be seeing me around here now. Except in a couple weeks I will be in Oklahoma to film a movie,” Forrest said.
“Wow! What a sweet opportunity! So you know how to do stuff with video?” I was intrigued.
Forrest’s face lit up. He pulled out his phone and started showing me a video with all kinds of special effects he had made. I discovered his passion.
We exchanged contact information and set up a time for a meal together. We brainstormed all kinds of ideas that could be done with video to advance God’s kingdom. Then I asked which one or two projects he would like to pursue first. We made a plan and prayed together.
Our first project was an announcement video for our Christmas brunch. The members loved it! They shared the video on social media to invite their friends. The brunch was wonderfully well attended, and the video still is the most popular on our church YouTube Channel. Forrest began receiving more requests from other ministries in the church to use his video gifts for God’s glory.
Remember Joshua, the courageous young leader of the people of God? How was he activated for God’s cause? Joshua’s debut in Scripture comes from an insightful story in Exodus 17. The Amalekites attacked, so Moses called on Joshua, a young adult, to lead the charge. The Israelites rallied behind Joshua. Moses stood on the hilltop and raised his hands in prayer for the success of Joshua. “As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning . . . . So Joshua overcame the Amalekite army with the sword” (Ex. 17:11, 13). As long as we hold up our hands in prayer and support of our young adults, God will give them victories.
Whenever I discover a passion of young adults in my church, I immediately try to identify or create needs for their passion. Sometimes young adults already have ideas; other times I need to get creative. Then I do everything I can to dump fuel on their fire and set them up for success.
I met Marcus and Caitlin during greeting time at church. Although I only saw them sporadically, I continued to connect with them whenever they were at church. During one conversation I found out that Caitlin was a graphic designer. Immediately the wheels began turning in my head. By the next time I saw her, I had an idea.
“Our church will be launching a wave of small groups next month. Would you be willing to design a brochure with all the group options that we can distribute at church and mail out to our interest list?” I asked.
“Sure!” she replied. “What’s your budget?”
“Let’s aim for $100; we can adjust it later if needed.” I was fully prepared to pay the money myself if the church board chose not to.
Caitlin designed an outstanding brochure. Her passion had been engaged. She saw a difference that she could make for the kingdom of God and was willing to go all in. As a result of those brochures, dozens of people from both our church and community joined groups, including Caitlin. God had used her to multiply His mission. All we had to do was rally behind her and hold up her hands.
How do you activate young adults in your church when you don’t have many or even any? It starts with you and me. As we pray, notice, connect with, and activate young adults, God will unleash them as a powerful force in ministry to usher in His soon return. Ellen White wrote, “With such an army of workers as our youth, rightly trained, might furnish, how soon the message of a crucified, risen, and soon-coming Saviour might be carried to the whole world!”4
Could it be that our greatest assets for reaping a harvest will walk into our church within the next few months in the form of young adults? Let’s pray for laborers, welcome them, connect with them, and activate them. Then let’s rally behind them to prepare the world for Jesus’ soon return!
Dustin Serns is a pastor in Port Orchard, Washington, United States.