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Prophets and Apostles Share Why It's So Important to Keep a Journal

The following is adapted from Receiving Personal Revelation: Using a Journal to Improve Your Communication with God by Larry Tippetts.

The Importance of Keeping a Journal: President Lorenzo Snow and President Spencer W. Kimball

President Lorenzo Snow taught that it is not only the grand privilege, but also the right of every Latter-day Saint to have the manifestations of the Spirit every day of their lives (see Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Lorenzo Snow, 76). I am convinced that learning to record the impressions that come directly to us will increase our likelihood of acting on those impressions, thereby opening the door to further guidance (see Elder Richard G. Scott’s personal example of this process while on an assignment in Mexico, in Finding Peace, Happiness, and Joy, 43-46, and Ensign, Nov. 2009). In the 1970's President Spencer W. Kimball pleaded with the Saints to keep journals. In fact, he gave brief mini-sermons in five successive general conference talks from Oct. 1977 to Oct. 1979! He straightforwardly said: "Every person should keep a journal and every person can keep a journal. . . . If there is anyone here who isn’t doing so, will you repent today and change – change your life?" (Ensign, May, 1979, 82).

Inviting the Spirit: President Joseph Smith and President Henry B. Eyring  

In recent years an increased emphasis has been given to the importance of journals as a means of recognizing, remembering, and applying personal inspiration. If we don’t consider inspiration important enough to write down, not only will we likely forget it, but also the Lord may be grieved, so that the flow of inspiration diminishes. Then Elder Henry B. Eyring (now of the First Presidency) offered the following counsel regarding a statement by Joseph Smith: "Let me pass along a little advice the Prophet Joseph Smith gave to the leaders of the Church: '[By] neglecting to write these things when God had revealed them, not esteeming them of sufficient worth, the Spirit may withdraw . . . (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 73, emphasis added). I think that means that in your heart, at least, the attitude of writing down even the simplest things that may come from the Spirit would invite the Spirit back again (Henry B. Eyring, To Draw Closer To God, 124).

A few years later in a conference address, President Eyring shared an experience in his life that resulted in a personal revelation he received from God expressed in these words: “I’m not giving you these experiences for yourself. Write them down.” That experience led him to begin a journal in which he answered the following question at the end of each day. “How have I seen the hand of the Lord blessing my family this day?”

"I wrote down a few lines every day for years. I never missed a day no matter how tired I was or how early I would have to start the next day. Before I would write, I would ponder this question: “Have I seen the hand of God reaching out to touch us or our children or our family today?” As I kept at it, something began to happen. As I would cast my mind over the day, I would see evidence of what God had done for one of us that I had not recognized in the busy moments of the day. As that happened, and it happened often, I realized that trying to remember had allowed God to show me what He had done." (“O Remember, Remember,” Ensign, November 2007)

Treasuring Personal Revelation: Elder Richard G. Scott and Elder Neal A. Maxwell

Elder Richard G. Scott suggests we keep a private journal to record the impressions that we treasure the most. “Knowledge carefully recorded is knowledge available in time of need. Spiritually sensitive information should be kept in a sacred place that communicates to the Lord how you treasure it. That practice enhances the likelihood of your receiving further light” (“Acquiring Spiritual Knowledge,” Ensign, Nov. 1993, 86). I am convinced that all of us have frequent spiritual promptings and whisperings. Many are not even recognized. Some may be acknowledged, and even treasured for the moment, but later forgotten. Elder Neal A. Maxwell reminded us of this all too human tendency. “The prompting that goes un-responded to may not be repeated. Writing down what we have been prompted with is vital. A special thought can also be lost later in the day in the rough and tumble of life. God should not, and may not, choose to repeat the prompting if we assign what was given such a low priority as to put it aside” (The Neal A. Maxwell Quote Book, ed. Cory H. Maxwell, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1997, 171).

Over three decades ago, while doing graduate work in how I might help students become better learners, I was impressed with the body of research suggesting that student writing increased their ability to clarify their thinking. Additionally, writing enhanced their ability to retain the knowledge they had worked so hard to gain. I began to experiment in my classroom with a variety of methods designed to encourage students to write down their thoughts and feelings more. The initial results were encouraging, but I learned that I could not teach convincingly what I did not do in my own life, so I began to couple my personal scripture study and devotional times with writing more frequently in my own journals. As I disciplined myself to listen carefully to the spiritual impressions that came to me while pondering or studying, I learned that it required practice to recognize and record those impressions in my own words. I often felt frustration because my written account did not seem to do justice to what I was feeling or learning. But over the years I became more and more proficient, and my ability to help students increased proportionately. Many institute students who struggled to write in the first weeks of a course, became much more comfortable by the end of the semester.

In 1998 I received a strong prophetic confirmation of what I had been doing in my classes. Elder Richard G. Scott delivered a powerful message and clear charge to religious educators entitled, “Helping Others to Be Spiritually Led.” In that address, Elder Scott encouraged us to teach our students that “we often leave the most precious personal direction of the Spirit unheard because we do not record and respond to the first promptings that come to us when the Lord chooses to direct us or when impressions come in response to urgent prayer” (CES Symposium, 11 August, 1998, 10-11). Multiple times during the talk Elder Scott asked religious educators to do three things for our students:

1. Help students to recognize when the voice of God is speaking to them
2. Encourage them to write it down
3. Encourage them to apply it in their lives, which will then result in more revelation.

It is one thing to have an insight or inspired idea about how to improve your life. It is another to write it down, and still another thing to act on it, to live in harmony with that insight naturally and without having to think about it constantly. That process takes time, and having the insight recorded in your journal where it can be reread and pondered, provides a place to give it time to fill your heart ("written in your heart") and become a part of your being.

I believe most people are given numerous spiritual promptings each day that we fail to recognize and act on. To habitually neglect those occasions when the Lord is nudging us will grieve the Spirit and decrease the likelihood that we will hear the voice of the Lord in the future. However, as we can develop a sensitivity to recognize those whisperings and act on them I believe we will steadily grow and mature in our spiritual life.

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Receiving Personal Revelation: Using a Journal to Improve Your Communication with God by Larry W. Tippetts

With the busy pace of everyday life, journal writing seems like one more item on an impossible to-do list. But with warmth and wisdom, inspiration author Larry W. Tippetts reminds readers of the incomparable benefits of putting pen to paper—or fingers to keyboard. Among the greatest impacts discussed is the fact that as we recognize and record spiritual experiences, we can receive increased personal revelation. For seasoned writers and new journalers alike, there is no time like the present to get started on your story.
Available at Deseret Book stores and on deseretbook.com.


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