Messy Desk versus Neat Desk

Published Date: 
January 3, 2007

Tuesday's "Wall Street Journal" reviews a book called "A Perfect Mess" written by Eric Abrahamson and David Freedman. It makes a case that messiness has its purposes and is not always superior to neatness. This is appealing to me--one who has always struggled with messy desk syndrome. On one occasion I was pointedly told that my messy desk was a sign of a lazy Southerner and it was evidence for my lack of accomplishing much with my life. Ouch! That hurt. Why not just press the blade into my stomach and twist?

However, the authors of "A Perfect Mess" make a bit of a case. A messy desk, say they, can often serve as an efficient filing system. Ever see the person with the messy desk find his paper in a few seconds while the person with the clean desk cannot remember what it is filed under? It can happen. Mess can also be a catalyst of creativity. Albert Einstein gloried in his messiness. He once asked, "If a cluttered desk is the sign of a cluttered mind, of what then, is an empty desk?" There. Take that, you neatilicks! Messy people certainly can and certainly do accomplish worthwhile things even while being messy.

But as with all things, I want to know what God thinks about it. Does God even care if my desk is neat or not? My mind started wandering. What if Paul, and Peter, and Barnabas, and Apollos all lived in the age of church offices? What would their desks look like? Well, Paul was the modern control-freak. His office [this is my supposing] would have been filled with books and maps and reminders of distant lands. And it would have been neat! He would allow nothing else.

But Peter? Don't make me laugh. His desk would have been piled high and overrunning with flavors. Barnabas was a people-person above all--the son of consolation. His emphasis on people might have left a messy desk. I see Apollos as a forerunner of Lee Roberson and his kind. I have never seen Lee Roberson's desk, but if you have and told me it was messy, I still would not believe you. I think the Apostle John's office would have been minimalistic. What does John need but the scriptures, writing instruments, and God. That would be neat.

All this, of course, is speculation. Please do not attack me for practicing something that most preachers do every Sunday. Yet, I want something more substantial. Here it is: "Let all things be done decently and in order" (1 Corinthians 14:40). I might mention that the context refers to church service order--and it does. I might also mention that at Antioch, I am able to have a messy desk downstairs and still conduct a very orderly church service upstairs--and we do. But the "all things" does kind of stick in the craw--as we say in the Southern United States. A few verses before this one, we read that "God is not the author of confusion, but of peace" (1 Corinthians 14:33).

The words messiness and neatness are not used in the Bible--at least not in the modern sense. Rather, we have "order" as opposed to "disorder;" "confusion" to "peace." The noose is drawn about my neck. The Lord may use me despite my messiness, as He may use others despite their arrogance. God is a great user of men with clay feet. However, there is nothing in the Bible promoting outright messiness and much to encourage neatness. Lord, I do need your help in this, and I confess my sin. However, I also realize that in the middle of a work, messiness may be the getting the job done (see any contractor on the job or any general on the battlefield). Yet, I will not bragg of my messiness or consider it a virture in any way and will attempt to grow in the blessed ways of the neat.

David Reagan

Daily Proverb

Proverbs 16:7

When a man's ways please the LORD, he maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him.