My first prayer journal was a single sheet of paper with a list. It was not much of a “journal” you might say, but it was a start. I was in Middle School, and I started keeping a list of my friends and the things important to me at the time. This simple practice helped me remember to pray for my friends.
I also cared about growing the Fellowship of Christian Athletes group at my school when I was in eighth grade, so I wrote “FCA” on my prayer list, too. I prayed for a wife one day and a job—I know, thinking ahead! The prayer list was simple, and it worked for me. Since then, I have used prayer lists throughout my life, on and off, as a way to remember what to pray for—and to chronicle God’s answers to my prayers.
That’s why I wrote this article.
In what follows, you’ll be able to:
- Read Reasons to Keep a Prayer Journal
- Consider Barriers to Keeping a Prayer Journal
- Learn How to Keep Two Kinds of Prayer Journals
- See an Example of a Prayer Journal
- Consider recommended Next Steps
Click on the links to skip ahead to a section of interest if you wish.
Reasons to Keep a Prayer Journal
Keeping a prayer journal can become a life-giving practice for you, and it might become an essential part of your spiritual formation toolkit.
Here’s why I recommend keeping a prayer journal:
1. To keep a record of your prayers.
It’s helpful, even fun, to keep a record of what you’ve prayed on certain dates. Let’s say, for example, that something or someone you prayed for came to be just as you asked for it.
Whoa! That’s great, I prayed for that! you might think to yourself. Then, Now, when did I pray for that?
Having a written prayer list with the timeframe, even a record of the exact date of your prayer, gives you a solid way to chronicle your prayers.
2. To celebrate answered prayers.
When we keep a record of our prayers, we can more easily celebrate God’s answers to our prayers.
I often recall how I prayed for friends in Middle School, and I celebrate the fruit of God answering those prayers.
Friends I prayed for became some of my closest friends. I believe our friendships became tight, in part, due to God’s answers to my prayers.
3. To remember what you hear from God—and then act.
One of the most significant benefits of keeping a prayer list is writing down what you hear from God during prayer, and moving toward resultant action.
When I keep a prayer list for particular people or items, the list is a work in progress. As I pray, I make notes. I believe that God often speaks to us as we pray for people, so I suggest writing down what you think you hear.
Test this over time and even through wise counsel to start discerning whether you’re hearing rightly from God. The more important the topic, the more you might want to move with caution.
Most importantly, don’t be surprised if you often feel moved to action as you pray like this. Writing action points on your prayer list can help you obey your inklings toward specific actions.
What Stops Us from Keeping a Prayer Journal?
Dallas Willard writes in Renovation of the Heart that in order to incorporate change into our lives, we need the necessary vision, intention, and means (and the grace of God, of course).1 He calls this VIM, which stands for:
- Vision. We need a clear vision for this practice, which is what I hope to show you in the “how to” section below.
- Intention. We need to decide to keep a prayer journal. First, this means we truly intend to have a regular prayer time. We answer to ourselves, When will I do this? Where will I pray? Then, we can add to our intention our decision to use our prayer list when we pray (at least some of the time).
- Means. We need the means by which to keep a prayer journal. My hope is this post gives you introductory knowledge on how to do this. You will need a journal, a pen or pencil, and a private place to pray.
How to Keep a Prayer Journal
What follows is a how-to guide for keeping a prayer journal. I recommend keeping two types of prayer journal lists, each of which serve different purposes:
- The daily prayer journal is for recording daily prayers, which changes each time you pray. You don’t necessarily plan these entries out; you simply write your thoughts as you pray on any given day.
- The seasonal prayer list is a form of prayer journal that you add to as you move through a season of life. It’s different from the daily prayer journal because it’s a single list you come back to repeatedly.
Here’s one way to do each of these. I know other methods, styles, and practices exist, which might not work for you, but at least this gives you a good launching point for getting started! Feel free to experiment and improve on these for yourself.
Daily Prayer Journal
1. Get a prayer journal you enjoy using.
I suggest buying a quality journal, especially if you care how a journal feels in your hands. I invested in a Gfeller journal with Midori Ruled paper journal inserts, but I have also used a Target Composition notebook during certain seasons of life. Moleskin notebooks can work well, too.
2. Each day you pray, write down what comes to mind.
This practice is something to treat with care, especially if it’s a new practice to you. Write some of what you think about as you pray. This is based on the presupposition that God is willing to speak to us as we pray.
You may want to hold lightly your inklings of God’s voice at this point. I subscribe to Dallas Willard’s suggestion in his book Hearing God to test (he uses the word “experiment”) this type of discernment for what God’s voice sounds like.2 Let wise counsel, Scripture, and experience help you discern. So, while you might write what you’re thinking about during prayer (and perhaps hearing from God), holding it loosely at first helps you learn the tenor of his voice.
That’s not to say we shouldn’t take God, his voice, or what we might contemplate during prayer seriously. It’s just that we are often wise to withhold judgement on what has either “come from on high,” or come from what we ate for lunch.
I write my thoughts on paper as I pray to make a sandbox for the Spirit.
This experience has become a cross between contemplation and prayer for me, and I don’t always make a clear line between the two. Oftentimes, I simply sit before God with an issue, thought, or request—and try to listen to God in prayer. I write what I think about, without trying to analyze it. Sometimes, I simply think of other ideas; other times, I’m confident I’ve heard from God. Either way, I’m opening myself to God through this practice. My desire is to hear from him.
My journal, in this case, becomes the temporary memory bank from which I try to discern God’s voice.
In practical terms, this is one way you, too, can keep a prayer journal like this:
- Write the date at the top to keep track of when you prayed.
- Make a bullet point for each notable thought.
- Prioritize action items that might come from your prayer time.
Once you’ve finished praying, you might feel a burden lifted—or perhaps you feel like you’ve got lots to do now! It might be a mix. Time and processing in real-life helps me unpack these items
3. Review what you’ve written in past entries.
You can use a daily prayer journal like this as a reference point for going back and reviewing prayers and action points from the recent past. Since, a journal like this can be a way to brainstorm and build on ideas you have during prayer, it’s not just a sandbox for God’s Spirit but also a sandbox for your spirit.
The daily prayer journal differs from the seasonal prayer list because the daily one is on-going and the seasonal prayer list has a definitive start and end date.
Seasonal Prayer List
While a “list” isn’t technically a journal, it can overlap enough to include it as a form of prayer journaling.
The type of seasonal prayer list I describe below is usually single sheet of paper (or a single page in your journal) used for consistent prayer reference during a particular season of life. This season should be months (not weeks or years).
Here’s a step by step way to keep this type of prayer list:
1. Write the season at the top of the sheet.
Write “Fall 2021,” “Summer 2022,” or whatever season you’re entering. The value in doing this is simply to demarcate the particular season of prayer for later reference. Don’t worry about putting a specific month or date on it because this is just a seasonal prayer list for a short season of life (remember, months not years).
Perhaps you could write “October 2021– ” at the top , then when the season finishes, you complete it with another date (e.g., “October 2021–December 2021).
2. List names of people.
As disciples of Christ, we pray for things, events, and scenarios, but mostly we pray for people.
I suggest prioritizing people you want to lift up in prayer during this season. This might be your family, the people you’re discipling (or perhaps those discipling you), and others who are on your heart, even if you’re not close to them at present. Then, prioritize other items.
3. List items of prayer.
It’s helpful not only to list the names but also the things, events, and opportunities heavy on your heart for a seasonal prayer list. This might include:
- A decision to make.
- A transition in life.
- A project.
- An idea.
- An important event.
- The new strategy of your company or organization.
- Peace in our country.
These are just a handful of ideas to help you think about the items in your life for which you might want to regularly pray.
4. Keep your seasonal prayer list accessible.
I suggest keeping your seasonal prayer list readily accessible for easy use on a daily basis. You might want to keep this list in your daily prayer journal.
5. Write what comes to mind as you pray.
Perhaps the most important action you can take once you’ve made your seasonal prayer list is to add your thoughts to it. This means writing what comes to mind as you pray for people and other items. I believe God often speaks to us as we pray. Writing down what we think as we pray can intersect with what God says to us in prayer.
Even more—and especially if you have a more intuitive sense of what God would say to someone for whom you’re praying—you might hear a word, or message, on behalf of someone else. By writing this word down, you can more easily reflect on and potentially speak this word to them because your note reminds you to act.
6. Watch God move.
Your seasonal prayer list can serve—like the daily prayer journal can—as a chronicle of what God has done.
God’s on the move, and he just might move specifically because of your prayers.
By keeping a prayer list for the season you’re in, you can later celebrate when you receive that for which you have asked for.
Perhaps you’ll hear a “no,” or nothing at all from God. In that case, you can learn still learn from this practice. You’ll likely learn patience, or even learn new ways of praying.
7. Retire your prayer list and start a new one.
Once you’ve reached the end of your particular season of prayer, “retire” your prayer list associated with it. Write at the top of the sheet or page “Fall 2021–Spring 2022,” for example. Perhaps your season of prayer lasts more than a literal season—instead of three months, more like six or nine months. Mine rarely last more than six to nine months.
The type of prayer list I’m describing may start to feel sort of “stale” when you use it longer than that.
That’s why I recommend retiring your prayer lists, which means you stop using it and use a new one. Even if you carry over some people or items from one season to the next, the act of making a fresh prayer list will keep you moving—and it will likely add vibrancy to your prayer habit.
The sweet spot for seasonal prayer lists seems to be three to five months for me. That time period leaves enough time, at least in my experience, to saturate myself in prayer for those people and items, yet also find a sense of resolution for them. This is generally but not absolutely true for me. Some items and people stay on my heart for years. What I pray for them might change season by season, but I try to keep prayer lists fresh.
You now have the tools to do these two prayer lists.
Other types of prayer lists and journals exist, but these two are the ones I’ve successfully employed.
Now, for an example…
An Example Prayer List
Here’s an example of what your seasonal prayer list could look like. Don’t feel like yours has to look like this, though! It’s just an example. It’s similar to the daily prayer lists I make, only the seasonal one is more intentional. They look similar, but the daily prayer journal is spontaneous and the seasonal prayer list is more intentionally thought out.
Note: This is not a real prayer list. The examples are made up, just to help you see what this type of prayer list can look like.
Recommended Next Steps
If you’re ready to get started with creating a prayer journal, I suggest trying both types! You can start these at the same time because they serve different purposes. Also, you’ll learn better how to keep a seasonal prayer list by keeping a daily prayer journal.
So, go ahead and start! You’ll likely learn better how to do this simply by doing it, so don’t fret about getting it all right at first or figuring it all out immediately.
Make your list and your process your own. What I’ve suggested here is just a starting point for you.
Just take the next right step and move forward. Ask God to connect with you in this process and guide you as you explore this new prayer discipline.
Leave a comment below letting me know you’re trying it out! Or perhaps you’re just trying out a modification to your practice because of what you read here.
 Dallas Willard, Renovation of the Heart (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2002) 85.