Praying Through a Pencil

On God rests my salvation and my glory; my mighty rock, my refuge is God. Trust in Him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us. – Psalm 62:7–8 (ESV)  

When it comes to spending time with the Lord, I struggle with prayer the most. I don’t know how many of you struggle like I do, but I will find myself in the middle of praying for something, and at some point, I am thinking about something completely different and fail to finish speaking to the Lord. My mind begins to wander about tasks that I need to accomplish, people I need to follow up with… really about anything BUT continuing my prayer.

For anyone who knows me, this probably isn’t surprising at all. My unchecked default is to be a speed-walking, fast-talking, ball of energy that ping-pongs all over the place (both physically or in a conversation!) Spending extended time focusing on a single subject takes a lot of effort (and coffee!).

A few weeks ago, I was having a conversation with a spiritual mentor who is on staff with me at the church. He is a wise saint who loves Jesus, reads a lot, and has journaled his times with the Lord for years. During our mentoring time together, I asked him, “What does journaling do for you?”

Spending extended time focusing on a single subject takes a lot of effort (and coffee!).

Thus began an incredibly fruitful and edifying discussion on why he journals. The words that really stuck in my mind from that conversation were when he mentioned that journaling, “really helps me slow down.” That resonated with me deeply. When trying to spend time in prayer with God, my mind never slows down and moves ahead of me, and before I know it, I had stopped praying ten minutes before. The concept of journaling my prayers might just be the solution to my struggle of remaining focused during my time with the Lord.

The second statement he said that spoke to my ongoing challenge was when he said he doesn’t have any rules with what he journals. He could be writing a reflection on something he read or a prayer, but there were no rules on the format or the length.

Now, whenever I begin something new, for instance, a new devotional Bible study plan, I get tangled up and tripped up on being super “type A” and formulaic in my approach. I overthink the structure, and when I eventually fail my rigid plan, I give up. The thought of having “no rules” for journaling my prayers gave me freedom from my instinct to overcomplicate things.

The last few weeks I have been writing my prayers out fully. Sometimes it’s a paragraph, other times a full page. Some sections, I am writing a personal reflection on a passage of Scripture I read that morning, and then it transitions to a single sentence prayer directly addressing the Lord. Sometimes I have even missed a day, other days I have a morning AND an evening prayer… no rules, so no problem!

When I am handwriting my prayers, my mind and soul remain focused on being present with the Lord. My prayer time with the Lord has been extended and intimate. I really enjoy spending time in prayer now. I look forward to someday having decades of prayers to look back on—to see where the Lord has faithfully answered prayers, to reflect and remember the times of struggle, as well as to savor the victories.

I know journaling is not a new concept, but if you are anything like me and you struggle to stay focused when you are wanting to spend time with Jesus, this may be the answer that really enriches your walk with Him. As David wrote in the Psalm at the beginning of this article, my hope is that you will learn to pour out your heart before Him, because He is a refuge for us.


Ryan Heath


If you would like other tips on spending time with God in prayer or Bible study, our video series called “How to Have a Quiet Time”  might be helpful to you. Watch it on SBC’s RightNow Media channel by either logging in or creating a free account.