J. W. Alexander on the Thought Life of the Minister

In his wonderfully helpful book Thoughts on Preaching J.W. Alexander notes how a minister who is not bound to a schedule for his study, but who gives himself to the free, unrestrained study of a variety of books, and of thinking a multitude of thoughts unexpectedly, is often generating the most valuable insights. He put it this way:

I could never understand those people who divide their day into portions…and allot so much to one study, and so much to another. I used to make such schedules when I was a lad. Great credit did I take to myself for making them, and great shame for breaking them; which I did day by day. I am now convinced that any attainments that have fallen to my lot, were really not made in these compulsory hours.

When a man is roaming about his library, taking down now this book, and then that, pacing the floor, scribbling on a bit of paper, humming a tune, and seeming a tune, and seeming to others and to himself to trifle, he is often engaged in his most profitable exercise.

Where there is an active inquiring mind, something is always brewing. There is no such thing as idleness. If he is not gathering the raw material, he is elaborating that which has been gathered. Many of these processes go on without our control. Our best trains of thought come and go without our bidding. The man who never knows what it is to throw himself upon the waves, and go whither they carry him, is not likely to have very genial thoughts.1

This is also true with regard to women bringing up children. As they hurry through the day, taking care of the children,  they are often generating a multitude of thoughts and ideas for several areas of life. We all need to learn the skill of intellectual “multi-tasking.” May ministers of the Gospel learn that there is great blessing contained therein.

[1] J.W. Alexander Thoughts on Preaching (Carlisle, Pa: The Banner of Truth, reprinted 1988) p. 61

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