A wise New Zealander named Blythe Harper told me when I was nineteen that one of the smartest habits I could practice in life was to keep a spiritual journal.
I started practicing his advice on October 30, 1972. I have been doing it ever since.
Right now, I am looking down at the yellowed first page of that record when my handwriting was still young and vibrant, and thoughts flowed like water. I’m sure glad I heeded his advice.
Ron Boehme Journal (1972-2020)
To the left of my desk is a shelf that contains four feet of those journals, carefully kept over five decades. The early years were written on college-ruled paper and filed in notebooks. The middle segment was penned into the pages of a Youth With A Mission Prayer Diary. The last twenty years have been compiled and stored on computer.
These precious chronicles contain many memories:
- They share the story of my growth as a young believer to a forty-plus year career missionary with YWAM and professor at Faith International University.
- They contain thoughts on many subjects, personal, theological, practical, and relational.
- They tell the stories of my travels, ministry, and spiritual highlights over a lifetime–including 1.5 million miles traveled in missions.
- They record details and records of people I have met on the continents of the world and in sixty nations–what a treasure!
- They expose personal failures and struggles, and how God made a way out of them.
- They help me remember God’s blessings over fifty plus years of walking with him.
It’s amazing how much you forget in a single day, let alone a year or lifetime. One of my current practices is to print out the past year every January to read it through and remind myself of the things God did and revealed. I am always amazed at how much we forget–if it weren’t for the discipline of writing.
That’s why writing is 20/20 memory.
Yes–I’m like everyone else–not always faithful to record things. When I got started in 1972, I wrote something down every day. But for years now, I don’t write daily, just regularly to record the highlights and keep the thread of continuity going. Sometimes when I get behind, I catch up on a plane flight or long trip across the ocean.
But I always keep the story going. It’s a tremendous benefit to my own life–even if no one else ever sees it.
One thing I use the journal for is to organize my time -what the Bible calls “numbering our days” (Psalm 90:12). About thirty years ago I prayed about the possible length of my lifetime based on the ages of parents, grandparents, and other factors–and settled on eighty-five years. There’s no guarantee, but that’s what I’m aiming for.
Then I decided to “number my days”–literally–and place the number of days that I’ve already lived and the number of days I could possibly live (up to age 85) on each entry page of the journal. The purpose is to remind me that life is short—there is no time to waste.
When I stated numbering thirty years ago, I had lived 10,952 days with 20,067 to go. Today I stand at 25,529 days lived, and 6,346 left. Looking at those numbers motivates me to make my life count for eternity. At this stage in my life, the hands of the clock are turning faster.
Besides the personal benefits of journaling, recording my journey might be instructive to family, friends, or anybody else who might be interested. God impressed me that journaling was a great way to leave a legacy to those who come after you–so that they can learn from your mistakes and be inspired by your victories.
That became great motivation to keep writing–for the help and encouragement of others–especially those close to you.
I have been deeply inspired by others. The Journal of John Wesley is a classic spiritual diary from the founder of Methodism while the Diary of David Brainerd is one that inspired many people into missions. The Diary of Anne Frank touched people with a behind-the-scenes look at the Holocaust. You can see “journaling” in the book of Nehemiah, especially the early chapters, where he shares his story, and throws in prayers and personal responses to God.
I love these two quotes:
“Once a day, especially in the early years of life and study, call yourselves to an account what new ideas, what new proposition or truth you have gained, what further confirmation of known truths, and what advances you have made in any part of knowledge” (Isaac Watts, English minister, and writer of over 750 hymns).
“I go over the days one by one, I ponder the years gone by. . . I’ll ponder all the things you’ve accomplished and give a long, loving look at your acts” (Psalm 77:5-10).
Over the next two years I will turn the highlights of the journals into a smaller, readable book. I want to share how I navigated the death of my mother, the imprisonment of my father, how I found God at fifteen and was called into His service at nineteen. I want to give God glory for His miracles in my life and how he carried me through the trials we all face. I want others to know we are nothing without His grace, empowering, and eternal love.
The journals are the detailed record–some 2200 pages (about 45 pages a year). They are also a permanent legacy I hope others will enjoy.
People won’t know some things about the real you unless you tell them–and write it down for them to read. The amazing thing about today’s world is that it is easy to put your thoughts in print form. Computers make that process quicker and it doesn’t cost much to self-publish. You can print ten copies for your immediate family or 100,000 if you like.
Journaling is one of the simplest and best ways to leave a legacy to your family and friends– one they can hold onto and cherish for the rest of their lives. As Francis Bacon once said, “Reading makes a full man…writing an exact man.” I want to “fill up” my family and friends with the news of God’s grace in my life. The only way I can be “exact” about it is to write it down.
“Ron’s Journal” can be found at the bottom of the usrenewal.org website. Check out a special year of interest. How about Washington for Jesus in 1980? My first trip to Mongolia in 1997? The King’s Kids years. Revive America Seminars in the 90’s. Many friends are mentioned by name. Each year is laid out by date and place–exactly as I wrote it (probably some typos too).
And how about you? You say you are older and it’s too late to start journaling? How about doing a “recap” of your life that can be a blessing for generations to come? If you stand closer to mid-stream, why not get started with that wealth of life experience that can be a help to those that follow you?
If you’re young, this is the time to begin. Take the wise advice I was given nearly fifty years ago: Keep a personal, spiritual journal.
It’s your legacy to pass on for the glory of God.