In the article “Leading by Naming,” Mark Labberton wrote about the power of a name. He said: “I can still feel the impact of a musical friend who one day called me ‘musical.’ No one had ever called me that. I didn’t really play an instrument. I was no soloist. Yet . . . I instantly felt known and loved. . . . [He] noticed, validated, and appreciated something deeply true about me.”
Perhaps this is what Simon felt when Jesus renamed him. After Andrew was convinced that Jesus was the Messiah, he immediately found his brother Simon and brought him to Jesus (John 1:41-42). Jesus peered into his soul and validated and appreciated something deeply true about Simon. Yes, Jesus saw the failure and impetuous nature that would get him into trouble. But more than that He saw the potential of Simon to become a leader in the church. Jesus named him Cephas—Aramaic for Peter—a rock (John 1:42; see Matt. 16:18).
And so it is with us. God sees our pride, anger, and lack of love for others, but He also knows who we are in Christ. He calls us justified and reconciled (Rom. 5:9-10); forgiven, holy, and beloved (Col. 2:13; 3:12); chosen and faithful (Rev. 17:14). Remember how God sees you and seek to let that define who you are.
To celebrate Winston Churchill’s eightieth birthday, the British parliament commissioned artist Graham Sutherland to paint a portrait of the celebrated statesman. “How are you going to paint me?” Churchill reportedly asked the artist: “As a cherub, or the Bulldog?” Churchill liked these two popular perceptions of him. Sutherland, however, said he would paint what he saw.
Churchill was not happy with the results. Sutherland’s portrait had Churchill slumped in a chair wearing his trademark scowl—true to reality, but hardly flattering. After its official unveiling, Churchill hid the painting in his cellar. It was later secretly destroyed.
Like Churchill, most of us have an image of ourselves we want others to have of us also—whether of success, godliness, beauty, or strength. We can go to great lengths to conceal our “ugly” sides. Perhaps deep down we fear we won’t be loved if the real us is known.
When the Israelites were taken captive by Babylon, they were seen at their worst. Because of their sins, God allowed their enemies to conquer them. But He told them not to fear. He knew them by name, and He was with them in every humiliating trial (Isa. 43:1–2). They were secure in His hands (v. 13) and “precious” to Him (v. 4). Despite their ugliness, God loved them.
We will find ourselves less motivated to seek the approval of others when such a truth truly sinks in. God knows the real us and still loves us immeasurably (Eph. 3:18).
When Moses gathered the children of Israel together to begin work on the tabernacle (Ex. 35–39), he called on Bezalel, a gifted artisan, to help make the furnishings. We’re told that certain women were asked to give their precious bronze mirrors to make the bronze basin he was constructing (38:8). They gave them up to help prepare a place where God’s presence would reside.
It’s a rather nondescript house that sits on a busy thoroughfare. With no distinctive characteristics, this rather plain home is easy to ignore. But as I drove past it the other day, I noticed a “For Sale” sign in the yard. Attached to the sign was a smaller notice that happily announced: “I’m gorgeous inside.” While I’m not in the market for a new house, that sign intrigued me. What could make this otherwise forgettable house gorgeous inside?
Years ago, world-famous evangelist Billy Graham was scheduled to speak at Cambridge University in England, but he did not feel qualified to address the sophisticated thinkers. He had no advanced degrees and he had never attended seminary. Billy confided in a close friend: “I do not know that I have ever felt more inadequate and totally unprepared for a mission.” He prayed for God’s help, and God used him to share the simple truth of the gospel and the cross of Christ.
When going through old family photos, my cousins and I joke about which physical characteristics we’ve inherited. We notice primarily the negative ones: short legs, crooked teeth, unruly cowlicks. All of us can easily identify in our ancestors our own least favorite body part. In addition to physical attributes, we also inherited character traits—some good, some not so good. But we don’t always pay as much attention to those.
Some years ago I found myself in an elevator with a couple of men. It was late at night, and we all looked weary. The elevator came to a stop, and a larger-than-life cowboy ambled in, wearing a battered hat, an old, stained sheepskin coat, and rundown logger boots. He looked us up and down, met our eyes, and growled, “Good evening, men.” All of us straightened up and squared our shoulders. We were trying to live up to the name.
Edward Payson was a famous preacher in a bygone era. One stormy Sunday, he had only one person in his audience. Some months later, his lone attendee called on him: “I was led to the Savior through that service,” he said. “For whenever you talked about sin and salvation, I glanced around to see to whom you referred, but since there was no one there but me, I had no alternative but to lay every word to my own heart and conscience!”