What’s in a Name?

In 2009, we changed the name of our church in Cambridge. We were Living Waters and now we are King’s Church. There are a number of reasons why. It’s theologically better; fits in with Cambridge, and the church council were never going to let me have St. Peter’s. Most important of all, it is seeker friendly and jettisons an unnecessary religious barrier as we try to build missional bridges with our community. The Pentecostal Apostle Paul, thinking as ever of the unchurched, commented that in the spiritual communication business – which is our business – it is important to avoid confusing people (1 Corinthians 14:7-9). We can, hopefully, put unfortunate days behind us of attending the University Freshers Fair where students gave the Living Waters’ stand a wide berth, thinking that we were a mineral water company. Well, you live and you learn.

From Scripture we learn that names are rather important to God. They not only identify us but can define us. The Lord often renamed people, like Abram, Sarai and Jacob, when bringing them into a new season (Genesis 17:5,15; 32:28). While we might think, “what’s in a name?” the Almighty called for a reprint of their birth certificates. Indeed, when raising up John the Baptist and the Lord Jesus, He insisted that an angel went ahead of their birthdays, selecting the divine choice from the Bethlehem Baby Book.

Perhaps the most famous renaming of an individual in the Bible is that of the fisherman Simon. His name meant ‘a reed’ or ‘blade of grass’, but Jesus changed it to ‘Peter’, the stone. Here’s an interesting thought. Maybe some of us have misread this passage. We might perceive the name ‘stone’ to mean strength, immovability or power. Yet when we follow Peter’s journey through the Gospel narrative, the changing of his name does little to turn him into anything more solid. He remains impetuous, driven by unrestrained passion and poor decisions, and is ultimately blown over like a blade of grass in the Easter courtyard by the words of a little girl. Some rock!

But maybe this is not what Jesus had in mind. In his excellent book on Peter, American singer-songwriter Michael Card notes, “Simon’s new title ‘rock’ was not meant to signify strength but something to build with.” Jesus was not commending him for being the finished article, or even predicting his future strength, but simply announcing that for the first time in Peter’s life, he had become useful and malleable in the hands of God.

The phrase, “God is not looking for our ability but our availability” may have gone around the block a few times, but it is none the less true. The Spirit’s power fills mortal men because they need Him. We are a damaged and collapsed wall; broken stones, longing for the Nazarene’s fingerprints upon us: moulding, shaping; putting us into the right position in God’s great building. The Lord is not calling you to be the next Nehemiah, but a willing stone in the Kingdom’s wall. If we will be malleable, then we will be useful. In Philemon, Paul returned the slave Onesimus – whose name means ‘useful’ – back to his owner, writing “Formerly he was useless… but now he has become useful”. Paul’s affirmation of him was that he was, at last, living up to his name.

I believe that those who offer themselves to the work of God in any way that they can – having a desire simply to be useful to the Master (2 Timothy 2:21) – shall find themselves still serving Him many decades later; while those who aspired to serve God by virtue of some gift or title may find a cruel expiry date to their enthusiasm. Christ is not looking for heroes. You don’t have to be a rock of strength: that is God’s role in the cosmos. We simply have to be something that He can work with: a smooth stone in His sling. It may be timely, even for those with some experience, grey hair and a box file of old sermons, to say “Lord, change my name! Don’t call me strong, please call me malleable!” Upon this kind of rock, and of this kind, He will build His church. One New Testament writer captured this thought wonderfully when he called the church a house of living stones (1 Peter 2:5). Can you guess who might have written that?

Originally published in JOY Magazine, October 2009

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