What’s in a name?
Recently, I’ve been struck by the power of God’s name, and how knowing and verbalizing his name can deepen my relationship with him. Conversely, I’m amazed at how flat and impersonal prayer and worship can become when we don’t address him by his name.
This all came about as I was teaching the men about the third commandment:
"You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain" (Exodus 20:7)
Most of us immediately translate this verse as “don’t swear.” "Stop your cussing!" "Change your salty and coarse vocabulary." And, of course, that’s a derivative application. But it means much more.
The Honor of His Name
The primary meaning of this commandment is found in the word take. It means to take up, carry, raise. In other words, don’t carry the name of the Lord in ways that reflect badly on him, his reputation, or his purposes. In vain means to waste, make empty, or false. So, this command has a broader and much more uplifting, noble call on God’s people. When we become believers we represent the God of the universe and the Savior of the world! We are called to walk worthy of the name, the name of God Most High. That’s a weighty responsibility and a great honor.
The Privilege of Knowing His Name
I know it’s dangerous to critique how people pray, but I’m chagrined at how common it has become to simply pray to “God.” “God,” please help me with this. I praise you “God.” We worship you “God.” Of course, the intention is right, but the vocabulary is stilted and impersonal because “God” is not his name. It’s his title. It’s a common noun. It would be like speaking to a friend and saying, "Thank you, person.” “Please, person, can you help me with this?” Using a common noun instead of a proper name conveys that we don’t really know them, or we have forgotten their name.
How different it sounds when we say “Thank you, Tim,” or “Megan, I need your help.” There is power in a name, and not just because of its attributes, but because of the connection it fosters. This is why our self-revealing God has given us his names. Actually, I’ve been refreshed and encouraged to be reminded of God’s many names. Here are just some of the ways God reveals himself:
- I AM
- Most High
- Holy One
- Mighty One
- Righteous One
- Lord of Hosts
This is not an exhaustive list. But just pick one name from the list. What a privilege to know that the God of the universe is my Strength, or my Father, or my Deliverer. How this enriches the confidence and intimacy I have with him! And, how much more boldly I will ask when I know his nature by his name.
What a privilege to know that the God of the universe is my Strength, or my Father, or my Deliverer. How this enriches the confidence and intimacy I have with him!
The Honor of Representing His Name
I remember what an honor it was as a scrawny sophomore in high school to achieve a varsity letter in the first fall season of running cross country. I was now qualified to wear the maroon and white letter jacket as a proud representative of my school. And I soon learned that by wearing that big G on my chest I was a walking representative of the values, expectations, and character of my school, my teammates, and my coaches, even when I sometimes forgot that I was being watched.
This taste of responsibility is a tiny example of the gravity attached to the name we carry as Christ-followers. Jesus, that master teacher, captured the heart of this when he taught his disciples to pray. In addressing God, he uses the most familiar name with which to begin our prayer: Father. Then his next word calls us to the deepest, most honoring humility: “hallowed be your name.” We are to regard God’s name as sacred, weighty, and kingly. Jesus’ whole ministry was to reveal, honor, and magnify his Father’s name (John 17:3,6,26). When I live my life from a desire to honor God’s name, it changes the motivation behind the third commandment. Instead of the negative effort of avoiding vanity, I become propelled by the positive motivation to bear his name with honor.
"Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name" (Matthew 6:9 ESV).
The Comfort of Calling Upon His Name
I appreciate the respect intended when people call me pastor. But, to those who know me, who are friends, I’m known by my name. We know this intuitively. There is a special relationship implied when we call another by his/her name. And so it is with God. When I pray in his name or one of his names, the intimacy flows in both directions. Calling him by name reminds me of his love, his majesty, his grace, his strength. Whatever I need, he already is! His names tell me so. This rich and varied revelation of himself through his names provides palpable comfort in my need. Just knowing his names reminds me of what I need from him.
Calling on his name honors his character and magnifies his generosity.
So, enrich your prayer and worship life by learning and using these names of God. There is a whole theology compressed into his names. How our adoration will be deepened, and our hearts strengthened when we call on him by name.