The Spiritual Benefits of Private Writing

by Derek Brown

In past articles, I’ve reflected on the reality that where Christianity has thrived, so has a love of reading and learning. The same can be said of writing. Wherever Christianity has taken root, so has a proliferation of Christian material and the intentional use of writing as a means to spread the gospel and edify the saints. These historic realities are not coincidental: Christianity is a word-based faith.

God has chosen to reveal himself in a written word, and we know God and his ways through a written text that was carefully crafted by human authors with the assistance and supervision of the Holy Spirit. While the occasion of some of this writing was determined by God (“write in a book all the words I have spoken to you” God told Jeremiah, Jer 30:2), much of the Bible consists of books and letters that were penned by an author who was compelled by various factors and circumstances to write.  

Take Luke, for example. He was motivated to write his gospel to give a man named Theophilus an accurate record of what had recently transpired within Israel concerning Jesus (Luke 1:1-4). Paul wrote letters to various churches due to some particular theological concern or practical necessity. The authors of Israel’s history books desired to keep a record of the nations kings and God’s dealings with them.  

Ever since Christ’s ascension, a steady pursuit of writing productivity has characterized the church. From the early church onward Christians have served fellow believers and the greater world by writing academic and popular books, evangelistic tracts, letters, confessions, and articles of all kinds to defend the faith, exhort fellow believers, and teach and maintain sound doctrine.  It is natural that writing would take priority among those who have been given a written revelation from their Creator. We see intuitively that truth is preserved and instruction furthered through the written word, and good writing has immediate spiritual benefit for the reader. But are there other spiritual benefits that come from writing, even for the writer?  

Most Christians won’t become published writers. Even with the advent of blogging the last fifteen years, relatively few Christians utilize these platforms consistently.  Nevertheless, I am still convinced that the discipline of writing can be a spiritually useful practice, even for the Christian who isn’t employed in vocational ministry where writing is part of one’s daily work.  

Many Christians have found the regular keeping of a journal or a thought-notebook to be useful. While maintaining a personal journal is not exclusive to Christianity (it’s actually quite popular among all kinds of people these days), the practice certainly fits within the structure of biblical revelation and the history of the church. David, for example, wrote what we could call “journal entries” of prayers which were later collected and placed in Israel’s psalter. For centuries Christians have kept private diaries, notebooks, and personal papers in which they wrote their biblical reflections and prayers and wrestled over important theological and practical issues in their lives. Why such devotion to writing? 

First and perhaps most important, writing enables us to meditate on the word of God. Like reading Scripture and hearing sermons, writing rivets our minds on the truth. But writing can help us hold sustained thought over a particular truth better than if we just read our Bibles, closed our eyes, and thought about what we just read. Often, our minds quickly drift away from what we just read and we are quickly thinking about lunch or our messy office or tomorrow’s meeting. Taking pen to paper or fingers to keyboard helps us remain focused on thinking about the word of God.   

Second and related, writing helps us gain clarity of the truth. While a good amount of my writing is for public readership or teaching, the benefit I derive from writing can be enjoyed by anyone who is willing to take time to put their thoughts on to paper. Writing forces me to think carefully through issues and make logical connections between my thoughts while enabling me to see the gaps in my understanding. As I sharpen my thinking, my convictions about the truth deepen, which leads to more robust affections.  

Third, writing preserves Spirit-given insight into Scripture. When God grants you illumination into a particular verse or theological problem, do you simply enjoy that illumination, thank God for it, and move on with life? While I don’t think Christians are obligated to write down every thought they have (a practical impossiblity anyway), I do think there is wisdom in capturing some of our best thoughts for later use. Later use may mean returning to that insight in a journal to derive additional benefit from it, or utilizing that insight to edify others in personal conversation, correspondence, or teaching.  

Fourth, writing helps us reflect on our walk with the Lord apply the truth to our lives. Over the years I’ve found that keeping a journal is a practical way I can “ponder the path of my feed” (Prov 4:26). In a journal I can think through my various responsibilities and how I am conducting myself at home and work, loving my wife, my children, and my colleagues. I can reflect on recent sins and how I might apply the truth of the gospel and walk in new patterns of obedience. 

 Fifth, writing can help us worship. If, starting today, I was never able to publish another piece or teach another lesson for the rest of my life, I would still continue to write. Why? Because writing enables worship. As I meditate upon the word of God, grow in my conviction of truth, record God-given insights into Scripture, and apply the gospel to my various sins, my heart often swells with gratitude and joy in the Lord. Writing helps me focus my attention on Christ and his word and to grow in my knowledge of him.  For these reasons, I commend to you the discipline of writing. 

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