A reporter from the LA Times interviewed me on Friday about how I use mobile applications in my spiritual life. She was particularly interested in Prayer Journal, and the effect that putting your most intimate needs and desires on an iPhone has on your relationship with the device. The conversation was interesting, and at some point I plan to post more thoughts about the risks and benefits of using technological tools for toil and the "relationship" one forms with the tools one selects.
But for today, I thought I'd just explain how I'm using Prayer Journal right now. I have been using the app for about a month. I have not totally committed to using this application for my prayer life, but I have benefited from using it so far. Please note, I have looked at but not tried any other prayer apps; there are about half a dozen in the iTunes store. I can't say that Prayer Journal is better than these other options, but it has been a useful little app to me so far.
I use Prayer Journal a little differently from how it is set up by the developer. The application is set up to enter prayer requests by person. The prayer request dialog gives you a text box to enter a person's name and a text box to enter the prayer request. When you go to pray, you have the option of seeing your entire list, praying through a portion of the list (there is a setting to specify how many requests you see when you select a "Pray for Portion of List"), praying for a specific person, or praying for a randomly selected person from your list.
As I have described previously, I have found it fruitful to order my prayer life to pray in concentric circles with daily themes. I have certain people (including myself, my wife, and my children) for whom I seek the Lord's mercy every day, and other people and institutions that I pray for once a week. Of course, I feel complete freedom to deviate from this order (the structure is there to serve me, not me it), but I find that I am often most faithful and fervent when I follow this structure.
Prayer Journal's simple interface does not have the option of adding a day-of-the-week layer to the prayer structure, so I have modified how I enter names to accommodate that additional structure. Here is what I do (See screenshots below): When I add a prayer request, instead of just entering the name of a person or institution (Like, "Me", "Work," "Martin" or "Reformed Forum") I write the number and day of the week (2Mon, 3Tues, 4Wed), followed by a dash, then the name. For daily requests I type #Daily instead of a day of the week. There is a setting in Prayer Journal to sort your list by name or by date. I sort by name so the app alphabetizes the list. The three requests above would appear like this:
- 4Thurs-Reformed Forum
Each day, with my Bible still open, I can open the app, and pray through the @Daily prayers and the prayers designated for that day of the week. Needing to do the # and numbers is a little janky, but it serves.
What I like about Prayer Journal:
- Simple interface. The interface doesn't get in the way or encourage a bunch of fiddling. I can enter requests quickly and get on with conversations, ministry, and life.
- Unitasking. I have enjoyed keeping prayer requests in a different application from the rest of my tasks and responsibilities. I use Omnifocus heavily for the rest of my task management, but I like being away from it while I'm praying.
- Ubiquity. This prayer list is always with me.
Wishlist for Prayer Journal:
- Built in way to order prayers as daily or assign them to a day of the week.
- Sync option. Syncing to desktop or ipad through WebDav or MobileMe would be nice. Nothing fancy needed, but I'm often at my computer when I want to add something to my prayer list and it would be good to be able to get it there more easily.
- An option to not have the "answered" button appear and/or an option to enter text after using the "answered" button. I'm ambivalent about even having an "answered" button at the bottom of my prayer requests. I want to pray expectantly and to be reminded that our prayers are real causes of real events, but having a little slider there does feel a bit mechanistic and perhaps presumptuous. So I may or may not use that button. If I do use it, I'd like to enter text to journal what I mean by using it.
It is too early to say whether Prayer Journal or any other application will replace a good old-fashioned paper prayer list. I'm pretty sure there is no replacement for a paper journal for actually praying and reflecting in writing. At least for me, typing or dictating does not create the kind of unselfconscious flow that I think it best for journaling.
I'm still trying to figure out what combination of digital and analog tools will serve me best as I serve the Lord in daily disciplines--and at the same time, trying not to focus too much on the tools. The Word is living and active, and Jesus did not need a computer. He did create all things for Himself (Col 1:16-17 ); so here were are, seeing dimly, toiling to use all things digital, analog, animal, and mineral for their created purpose.