May 7, 2020

Pen Therapy

Are you overwhelmed by the COVID-19 crisis? Maybe you’ve turned to the Bible for certainty but hope still evades you? Consider this suggestion. Biblical journaling can deepen your relationship with Jesus and help you cope with the crisis.   

How to Get Started

Biblical journaling is a spiritual diary. You record your daily encounters with God in and through His Word. Here’s how it works: First, download a Bible app with a “notes” feature,1 or create a new document file in your preferred word processor and label it “My Bible Journal.” If you want to go “old school,” you could also just buy a physical journal to write down your conversations with God.2 Pick a book of the Bible that will be especially meaningful during this season of your life. Then begin reading verse by verse. Each day record the verse(s) under consideration at the top left margin of the page, and the current date at the top right margin.

Once you get started, there are three steps to daily biblical journaling. 

1. Apply Your HEAD in Discovery 

Ask God for the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit to understand His Word.3 Carefully look at the context of the passage. What issues are being addressed? What is the main thought, principle, or insight that God was trying to get across to the original audience? Read the passage in its historical context and discover the big idea. This process helps you determine the original intent of the author (exegesis), instead of imposing your own interpretation onto the text (eisegesis). You can look up key or difficult words in a Bible dictionary and utilize a Bible commentary for helpful insights.4

For instance, 2 Chronicles 20:1-30 depicts the story of a massive army arrayed against Judah. King Jehoshaphat initially “feared” (verse 3), but God reassured, “Do not be afraid nor dismayed because of this great multitude, for the battle is not yours, but God’s” (verse 15). The key principle God communicates through this narrative is, “Don’t fear, just trust!” As God speaks through the passage, record these insights in your journal.  

2. Apply Your HEART in Application

Once you understand what the text is saying, ask, Lord, what are you trying to say to me through this passage?” Take the key principle that you pulled from the passage and apply it to your own life. Romans 15:4 reveals, “For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.” The Bible was written not just for men and women in antiquity; God also has something specific He wants to say to us today (see 1 Cor. 10:11; 2 Tim. 3:16, 17). 

Ellen White adds this poignant insight: “We should carefully study the Bible, asking God for the aid of the Holy Spirit, that we may understand His word. We should take one verse, and concentrate the mind on the task of ascertaining the thought which God has put in that verse for us. We should dwell upon the thought until it becomes our own, and we know ‘what saith the Lord.’”5

As God reveals Himself to you, don’t be afraid to pour out your joys, fears, needs, and concerns to Him.

This quotation revolutionized my own reading of God’s Word. I used to see how “far” I could read during my devotional reading. But Ellen White urges us to slow down and see how “deep” you can read. “Take one verse” and meditate on that verse until you discern the thought God has put in that verse for you. Ask, what does this passage reveal about who God is and what He’s like? How does this passage relate to my hurts, needs, struggles, and challenges? As you reflect, God will whisper through His Word. Record these insights in your journal. As God reveals Himself to you, don’t be afraid to pour out your joys, fears, needs, and concerns to Him.

As I contemplated 2 Chronicles 20 and discerned God’s basic message, “Don’t fear, just trust,” I penned these words on March 25, 2020, in my journal: “Lord, this encourages my heart this morning. A great multitude of cares, perplexities, and challenges have overwhelmed me—work stresses, parents’ health issues, and the deadly coronavirus. I’ve been uptight about the outcome. This morning, you remind me not to be afraid or dismayed for You are with me! And Your presence makes all the difference in the world. Lord, this morning I wait, I rest, I trust because You are here holding my hand and carrying me through. You are an amazing God! I love you, David.” 

To help you get started, you may want to divide your journal page into two parts. At the top write, “God speaks to me.” Halfway down, write, “I speak to God.” Remember that as you open your journal and begin to write, you are in direct conversation with God. Note this remarkable statement by Ellen White. “The Bible is God’s voice speaking to us, just as surely as if we could hear it with our ears.”6

One cautionary note: During this exercise, keep the focus on God’s Word. As you “individually hear Him speaking to the heart”7 through His “still, small voice” (1 Kings 19:11, 12), remember that God’s voice will never contradict His Word. Let Scripture be your safeguard against counterfeit forms of spiritual enlightenment and experience.8

3. Apply your HAND in Response-Action

Now that you’ve heard God’s voice, go and carry out His commands. It is only as we act on God’s Word that it will take on real meaning in our lives (cf. John 2:5; James 1:22, 23; Rev. 1:3). In the case of 2 Chronicles 20, you might take action by reciting verse 17 throughout the day and sharing it with others—“Do not fear or be dismayed . . . for the Lord is with you.” As the sobering news reports about COVID-19 hit us, keep looking to Christ, and not to the crisis (verse 12). God desires for His written Word to become the living Word and to transform our lives (see John 17:17; Eph. 5:26).   

Benefits of Biblical Journaling

When I began journaling in January 1986, I felt overwhelmed by a new work assignment. This experience drove me to God’s Word for encouragement and strength. I bought a spiral notebook and began logging insights into my journal. That launched a 34-year adventure in biblical journaling with 25,000 logged pages. 

Here are some of the benefits of biblical journaling that I have discovered over the years: 

  1. Journaling facilitates heart-to-heart communion with God. 
  2. Journaling fuels spiritual growth. 
  3. Journaling fortifies faith to cope with crises. 
  4. Journaling fosters rich communication skills. 
  5. Journaling feeds witnessing and ministry. 
  6. Journaling forms a permanent record of God’s leading. 
  7. Journaling focuses our attention so the mind won’t wander. 

Journaling can help you cope with the COVID-19 crisis. It’s a valuable tool for communicating with God at the deepest level. Try it! This may become the most meaningful experience of your life!

David Hartman, D.Min., serves as associate professor of applied theology at Southern Adventist University, Collegedale, Tennessee.

1 Such as YouVersion or Logos.

2 While an electronic journal is more convenient, can be easier stored, searched, retrieved, and shared, I still prefer the handwritten journal because it seems more personal and impactful. Use whatever method works best for you.  

3 Spiritual things are spiritually discerned. God wants to show us deep and hidden treasures in His Word, but without the aid of the Holy Spirit, we’ll miss these gems (1 Cor. 2:9-14). 

4 You can use as a free resource or invest in a digital source such as Logos at

Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1940), p. 390, italics added.

6 Ellen G. White, My Life Today (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1952), p. 283.

7 The complete statement is: “We must individually hear Him speaking to the heart. When every other voice is hushed, and in quietness we wait before Him, the silence of the soul makes more distinct the voice of God.” Cf. White, The Desire of Ages, p. 363.

8 Such as New Age or Eastern spirituality, which emphasize a “god within”—a “spark of divine” that is inherent in each soul. Hence, to find truth, one only needs to look within to the “inner light” (in a pantheistic sense) rather than to the ultimate source of authority, God’s Word (Ps. 119:105; John 17:17).