Last week I finished a key portion of one of my research projects.  And then I did what I normally do during such times (indeed, it is coming a bit of a tradition)–I cleaned up the colossal mess that I had made.

Before it was all said and done, books were strewn all over my desk, across my computer table, on the floor (on both sides of my desk), and up against the wall. Here’s the picture below!

Messy Desk

After I had finally cleaned up my desk–and returned a couple of cart fulls of books to the library–I began to reflect on my life with a messy desk. What did it mean, if anything?  Most likely, it means that I am just disorganized and absentminded–like many other professors.

But, as I looked at the picture, I found a sense of joy in the chaos of my office.  It reminded me of what I love about being a professor of biblical studies–the joy of learning and discovering the endless treasures that God has for us in his Word, and in the world that he has made. The messy desk was (to me at least) a sign of how thrilling theological study can be.  The stacks of books were a symbol of the creative intellectual potential God has given each of us.

Of course, many in the church today have lost the passion for serious intellectual pursuit of the Christian faith.  Indeed, in many circles, such intellectual pursuits are viewed critically and suspiciously.  Academically-minded people are all head and no heart, one might think.  Sure, they love ideas but they don’t really love people.

But, the Scriptures themselves (not to mention the history of the church) are not willing to draw such a sharp dichotomy between mind and heart.  Christ called us to love the Lord our God with both our heart and our mind.

Even more, Christians throughout the ages–particularly in the time of the Reformation–viewed serious intellectual engagement as a way to glorify God.  Although Christianity was available (and understandable) for even the uneducated, it was deep enough and robust enough for the most sophisticated philosopher.

After a little snooping around the internet, I was encouraged to see two intellectual giants of the 20th century–J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis–both had messy desks.  And their intellectual achievements went beyond the stodgy halls of academia, but affected the hearts of millions through their fictional works.

Even in the non-Christian world, a messy desk is often associated with a love of learning.  Albert Einstein once said, “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?”

As I think especially about pastors today, my hope is that when parishioners enter their study they would see a desk piled high with books.  And that those parishioners would know that their pastor is a thinker, has a passion for the Word, and is eager to pursue God with his mind, as well as his heart.

Of course, there are some pastors out there—rare though they may be—who love books and still find a way to have a clean desk.  Well, if that’s you, then well done.  You are neater than the rest of us.

But, if you had left the books on your desk, you would’ve had even more time for study.

8 Responses

  1. You know the old saying: a messy desk is the sign of an active mind…maybe not always an accurate mind, but an active one.

  2. I am blessed with a pastor’s office that has multiple desks. I’m able to keep one or two clean. The others are pretty messy!

  3. Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean, but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox. Pr 14:4
    Books are the fruit of one’s faith and love while also displaying the gifts God has given to the church. It’s a two way street.

  4. After I had finally cleaned up my desk–and returned a couple of cart fulls of books to the library

    If those books were from your own library, can you put them back in order?

    You have a full, not messy, desk, if the answer is yes. If not, it is messy indeed.

  5. A shed floor/bench with tools etc becomes a bit of a maze when a job is in progress, especially when space is at a premium. Its part of the creative/constructive process. Process & product. By your photo that was some investigation!

    Do you utilise music at all in your study?

  6. Anywhere that someone is being creative is messy – the carpenter’s workshop, the artist’s studio, a building site. An academic researcher pushing back the boundaries of human knowledge is also creative – of an entirely new understanding of the subject which is studied.

    Tidyness is the enemy of creativity. For further reading on the subject, I recommend Tim Harford’s book ‘Messy : How to be creative and resilient in a tidy-minded world’ (Abacus, 2017). From the back cover: “‘Messy’ celebrates the impact that messiness has on our lives: why it’s important, why we resist it, and why we should embrace it. Drawing from research in neuroscience, psychology and social science, Tim Harford explains that the human qualities we value – creativity, responsiveness, resilience – are integral to the disorder, confusion and disarray that produce them.”

    I haven’t seen my desk for about two years …

  7. Jesus, the only begotten son of God, had the harshest words for the teachers of the law. In more recent history, John Calvin comes to mind. He twisted the word of God to justify deceit and murder. Yet, he was a “great” scholar, and many religions live by his words. Jesus, our king, said, “the world will know you are my disciple by your love”. I agree that looking deep into the words from the bible to lift and teach Christians to love is an extraordinary calling. Willaim Tyndale was one such scholar who helped free us from those who wanted to keep the world in the dark. History is replete with martyred scholars. Like so many things, it is not the what but the why.