5 Journaling Prompts for the Overwhelmed/Discouraged Pastor

Mar 08, 2022

How do you keep from going down the spiral of discouragement?

You know what I mean. Something triggers you. An email, a conversation, a text, a leadership meeting, something happens and you feel the slip into discouragement. And if not addressed head on, it can spiral quite quickly to an overwhelming sense of discouragement.

In my experience, what psychologists call, externalization, can help greatly. Journaling is one way to practice externalization. Prayer is another. Even better is when we combine the two, sit down, and put pen to paper.

So if you're feeling overwhelmed and need to process things, the following journaling prompts will help.

1. Write about what happened and what you felt throughout it.

This is also known as expressive writing. At least it's a version of it. The focus here isn't to get all the details right, but to pay attention to the events enough to recall what you felt throughout it. 

Allison Fallon, author of The Power of Writing it Down, in her interview on the Carey Nieuwhof Leadership Podcast said, "Writing will allow you to tell the truth that you would be otherwise unable to admit to yourself."

There truly is something unique and powerful about writing. Especially this type of writing.

Maybe after beginning this prompt you find that the thing that you thought wasn't a big deal hurt you more than you wanted to admit initially. That it did cause pain and even violated your trust. 

What happened and what did you feel throughout that? Grab a journal and start writing.

2. When I look back at this moment in 10 years, how big of a deal will it be?

This helps put perspective to the countless triggers that we can deal with in life and ministry. It can help us when we are beginning to respond out of proportion to what happened. You know what I mean, right? That time you over-reacted to something and rage paced for a good thirty minutes... Just me? 

Too often, though, the things we're deeply frustrated by in life aren't life-altering. To be sure, life-altering events do happen. But most of the time? It's not that deep.

This question helps us see how big of a deal it really is.

3. What is the lie I am believing?

If we want to recognize the root of an issue, it's best to look at the soil it grew from.

And often, the reason we're flirting with slipping into the discouragement spiral is because there's some kind of lie we're believing.

This could be a lie about

  • yourself
  • someone else
  • a circumstance

As I've heard Steve Cuss, author of Managing Leadership Anxiety, say a ton: "When you name it, you begin to tame it."

Maybe the lie you're believing is

  • you failed/you can't hack it/your lack of perfection makes you a fraud
  • the opinion of your constant critic is shared by most other people too
  • it's up to you and you alone to make this work

Are you believing a lie? Write about it and you may be able to identify it. And when you do, you'll begin to tame it.

Lies don't like the light.

4. What do I know to be true?

When life is chaotic, when the volume of the critics is too high, when the future is overwhelming, stepping back and simply asking and answering this question can help greatly.

Begin with the situation. What do I know to be true? Make the list. As you go, work toward objectivity.

Start with everything about this specific instance and begin zooming out with what you know to be true. In the end? You'll likely end in a place where you know that the Lord is with you. You know that He is working out all things for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purposes.

I got this question from Chad Brooks. He talks about how he is using this question in an assortment of situations in his ministry in this video.

5. What am I worried about? Write it all out. Circle what you can control.

When thoughts remain thoughts, they can continue to invade our heart with the poison of worry. But when we put those thoughts on paper–all of them–then we can start to get a handle on them.

With this prompt, what we're doing is mind dumping on the page(s). You're putting everything and anything you can think of that is contributing to your weary heart on the page.

Then, you're going to read through what you wrote and circle only the things that you have some kind of control over. 

What people think of you? That's mostly outside of your control.

How you respond the next time you see that person? That gets circled.

This gives you something to hold onto. It gives you a steering wheel to steer your heart toward the Lord. It will likely lead you to some form of the serenity prayer. And what a powerful prayer that is.

Remember: You're Engaging in Battle

There is a battle going on for your heart. And that's true for every pastor (and every Christian). Put on the full armor of God. Wage war on your strongholds. Allow the Holy Spirit to continue His word in the renewing of your mind. 

I believe journaling is one way to engage in this battle.

Through it, you can point your soul back to the Lord.

Friend, I know you spend a lot of time communicating the gospel to others. Don't forget to communicate it to yourself.

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