Yesterday, I told you why I'm easily stoked - because God has named me Little Fire, and He stokes me. There's a great value in knowing what it is God calls you and how He's weaving that into your story to draw your promise out of you and into His story.
But I think it's equally important by what name we know God.
One of the most powerful sermon series I ever heard was an extended look at the names of God, and to be honest, I think two of my senior pastors have done such a series over the past twelve years. And I love reading those passages in the Old Testament, where God has shown up and done something so powerful that His people remember Him by building a pile of rocks and naming it after the trait of God that they knew at that place - the God Who Heals, the Lord Who Fights For Us, the God of Victory. It's awesome.
I'm also a foreign language afficianado and love the old Hebrew and Greek words for things, so I love the idea of an El Shaddai (God Almighty), El Elyon (God Supreme), Adonai (my Lord). Sidebar again: I stole those three in particular from the old school song "El Shaddai," by Amy Grant, which is a fantastically beautiful song to play on the piano but every time I start to tap it out, my mother gets excited and thinks I'm playing the theme from M*A*S*H. Hilarious. I always tell her, "Still no."
But I love these names of God, and I think they are important to our faith. To call God by a name that is a trait of His character, that is a way in which we have experienced Him. It gives more depth and accessibility to this Creator we call God.
By the name of God, He can seem so far above us that He's beyond our reach. We can put Him in the Heavens, lording over us (pun intended) with a removed or distant hand that sort of kind of knows what we're doing here but just isn't touchable. When we choose to narrow it down, to describe Him as we have known Him, to call on Him by the name of what He's done here, we start to get a God we can relate to.
God has graced us with His presence...is more removed than God, who is present. God sent His Son to be a sacrifice for our sins...is less personal than God, who redeemed His children. God, who met me in my darkness. God, who held my hand. God, who stuck up for me. God, who created this butterfly. God, who encouraged me. God...
God who, by simply naming Him in these simple ways, becomes a tangible part of our lives, becomes here instead of everywhere, becomes someONE instead of something. God, who I'm reminded of by knowing not only Who He is but how He is. This is a God I can call on, a God I can talk to, a God I can trust in and walk beside and know.
As you can see by my examples, I'm not saying we need to memorize a bunch of ancient Hebrew or koine Greek to know the names of God; we simply need to do as His people have been recorded doing since the first generation - naming Him as we know Him, so that we know Him when we need Him.
In those tough times, it's an encouragement to know God by the names we have given Him from our experience of Him here. It's nice to be able to look back at the places in our lives, marked by Rock, and say, "This is God as I have known Him, and He is still that today." That is what our sane, rational brain is looking for in moments of trial - a memory to hang onto, a truth to know, something experienced rather than something studied. A God who is here because we have known Him to be here.
There is one caveat, however, and it is this: we should never get so used to naming God, to narrowing Him to our experience, to our moments of interaction, to the answering of our needs, that we forget to embrace and stand in awe of the fullness of His glory. He is God. He has been God as we need Him, but we must always remember He is more than we could ask or imagine or even encounter here. Our hearts know this is true.
For while it helps our sane, rational minds to know Him by name and to remember His intervention, His presence, and His love here in this way or that, in our times of greatest needs, our anguished hearts need only one name - the name above all names -