He gives me new strength. He leads me on paths that are right for the good of His name. Psalm 23:3
I come from a family where no one is ever called by their real name. My brother, for instance, is called Skeeter and I didn’t even know that wasn’t his real name until I was in middle school. I have a myriad of nicknames and when friends would visit the house, they might hear my dad call for Guacamole and they’d say, “Who?” with a strange look on their face. I’d happily answer and they’d look confused…how do you get Guacamole from Nicole? Long story, but my Mom never wanted me to be called Nicky…nothing against any Nickys out there.
Names are important. They aren’t just the way someone gets our attention but they are the way we are comforted, they can define us, they are the way we are known. If we had a strange sounding or different name, our name could be a source of dread because people used our names to make fun of us. I’m pretty sure that’s the first tactic kids try to use to tease. But in my family, giving nick names or new names to someone is a form of endearment. It’s a sign of love. My own kids are often called Bug, Mini, or Rosie. We have other names like Doodle, Macious and Pheeny. When my kids hear those names, they know they are loved. And like many families, if their given names are used, including the middle name, it usually means they’re in trouble.
Names were big in the Bible. Parents often gave their children names with significant meaning to mark their hope for their child, the circumstance of their birth, or the time of life in which they were born. Jacob, the trickster and sometimes called the supplanter, was given his name because he was holding on to his twin’s heal at birth. It turned out, Jacob lived up to his name of tricking and lying as he tricked his older brother Esau from his birthright. Naomi, a widow, changed her own name to Moira, which means “bitter” because she was a sad widow who was forced to leave her home because of famine. Our Savior, Jesus, also had many names. But the one I like to focus on is Emmanuel, which means God with us. When we feel alone, saying the name Emmanuel can bring comfort because it reminds us that God is near.
Sometimes we are like Naomi, and we call ourselves a new name…not the name lovingly chosen by our parents or the one used by God, we call ourselves names based on circumstances or mistakes we’ve made. We call ourselves, Loser or Freak. Ugly or Fat. We call ourselves Screw Up and Idiot. I’ve been called some terrible names in my life but I’ve probably called myself worse names. The problem is the names start sticking and they aren’t true so in the end we are lying to ourselves about who we are and whose we are. We believe our identity belongs to our failures or a situation instead of belonging to God who doesn’t count our sins against us and who doesn’t love us based on performance.
I started writing this message with an ending in mind but as I wrote, a Bible verse, came across the television. I often turn on a program in the mornings that plays hymns and features beautiful photography of nature. While the music plays, Bible verses are shown on the screen. Just as I began to write, Psalm 23:3 was featured, “He leads me on paths that are right for the good of His name.” This isn’t the translation most of us have memorized. We remember the end of that verse as “for His name’s sake.” Anyhow, I realized, as much as we focus on our name or what we are known by, God works in our lives to take us on a path for the good of HIS name.
We are meant to point people to the name of God. So while my family might call me Nicole, Cole or even Guacamole, others are to see me and the path of my life and say nothing but GOD. You might think your path would never point someone to God. God would say, “No, my dear, there is nothing else to see BUT me.” Even the ugly paths...the sin, the pain, and the defeats are part of God's path. Even when we are in the middle of those terrible times, when our name is something like Loser or Screw Up, God is there. He is Emmanuel, with us. With us in all of it, on the path, taking us to Himself. Our path is for His name’s sake, not our own. God will use anything that was meant for evil in our lives and use it for good, His good.
We aren’t here to make a name for ourselves. That got the people of Babel into a lot of trouble. Their desire to make a name for themselves was the very making of their demise. It’s the same for us. The more we try to make a name for ourselves…impress others or need acceptance from others, the more we lose ourselves and our lose our focus on God. When we release our need for recognition our Lord can take on His way and I’m certain that as we follow Him, He calls to us with the kind and loving names He has for us…Blessed, Child of God, Redeemed, Forgiven, New Creation.