Helped by the article? Then support the work of TGC Canada!


It’s a strange idea, but worth considering. Keep a notebook for the glory of God.

Pascal did. He lived a short time, dying at the age of 39. He left behind a book called Pensées, “a thousand scattered ‘thoughts’ like the pieces of an unassembled crystal chandelier, a jigsaw puzzle of jewels” (Peter Kreeft). Just this week I’ve heard two authors credit him. Jen Pollock Michel’s excellent book A Habit Called Faith was inspired by a thought in Pensées. Gavin Ortlund quotes him extensively in his new book Why God Makes Sense in a World That Doesn’t. Pascal’s notes continue to inspire thinkers today.

Pascal isn’t alone “Many thinkers, poets, artists, travelers, and opinion formers in previous generations used commonplace books,” writes Mark Meynell “These books were handy places for jotting down thoughts, quotations, ideas, or even sketches or questions. A single page might contain profundity, trivia, and a shopping list. Such books had no order other than the chronology suggested by successive entries.”

John Stott left us a notebook. Starting in the 1940s, he jotted notes on index cards, arranged under different categories and biblical references. This practice aided his preaching ministry over six decades. Later, volunteers digitally scanned these notes and transcribed a selection of them. They’re published as The Preacher’s Notebook: The Collected Quotes, Illustrations, and Prayers of John Stott. I sometimes refer to Stott’s notebook as I write and study.

Jonathan Edwards kept a different kind of notebook in his famous interleaved Bible. Edwards took a 9.5 X 7.5 inch blank writing notebook and stitched a miniature King James Version in it. His notes continue to be read and studied today.

Publishers have made this kind of thing easier. I’m in a seven-year project to journal through the entire Bible using the ESV Scripture Journals. I also own Pass It On: A Proverbs Journal for the Next Generation, with the text of Proverbs and “plenty of space for you to add your own notes both on Proverbs and the wisdom you’ve gained from life experiences,” designed to be passed down to one’s child.

If you prefer a digital format, tools like Roam Research or Obsidian work well, and allow you to publish your notebooks for others to read if you’d like.

The goal is twofold. First, we get to build a library of wisdom from the sermons we hear, the time we spend in God’s Word, and the insights we gain as we meditate on God’s truth. Keeping a notebook like this forces us to slow down and distill what we learn. Done well, it makes our learning accessible for later. I wish I had access to notes I’d taken decades ago from books I read or sermons I read.

But it’s also for the sake of leaving something behind. The day that we die, our licenses to my Kindle and Logos libraries will end. Unlike physical books, our investments will be lost. We can leave behind what we’ve learned in our notebooks. While we may never rise to the level of Pascal, maybe we can leave something behind that’s worthwhile.

Consider keeping a commonplace notebook for the glory of God. You may enjoy it too.