I read and resonate with an interesting observation, posted on Michael Volland’s blog, that Christians have ‘lost a sense of the Bible as the central text in the formation of Christian character and identity’ and that we need to learn and pass on to our children the stories of our ‘extended family.’ I agree. This is true for our particular Christian character and identity (who I am within that family) as much as for our shared Christian character and identity (or family likeness).
Psalm 139, Jeremiah 1, and Ephesians 1-2 tell us that God planned us before he made us – indeed before he made the world – and that he planned the particular work he wanted to display through our lives.
Jesus tells us that there is a Shepherd (himself) who comes into our lives with the intention that we might know life in its fullness, and that there is a thief who comes into our lives with the intention to steal and kill and destroy (John 10). That is, there is a battle over who we become.
Throughout the Bible, names – of individuals, of communities – are important. They carry the work that God intends to display through that person, and they are the place of the battle between the Shepherd and the thief over whether that person experiences the fullness of life God intends for them or not. ‘Gideon’ means ‘Great Warrior’ and God meets him hiding in a hole for fear of enemy raiding parties. ‘Simon’ means ‘to be heard’ and Simon Peter often speaks out, sometimes with God-given insight and sometimes at the devil’s provoking...
This might sound a strange idea, but it is one we observe – even if we don’t recognise what lies behind it. Comedians (who fulfil the important role of observer in a society, pointing out our folly in a way we can receive) note the irony of a girl called Charity, who is the meanest person you could hope to meet where money is concerned, or the girl called Chastity who is promiscuous. We see names with a clear meaning as a parental aspiration for their child’s character, which actually functions as a curse. But all names have a meaning. And if God knew us before he made the world, then he knew us by name, and that name carries something of what he intends for us. The ‘curse’ is the result of the thief, but the Shepherd intends full life.
It is worth reflecting on our names, on what the Bible says about them, asking what God might have intended for us and also ways in which we might expect the thief to attack – so as to bring his works into the light. This will help us to worship God more fully, for if worship is about giving ourselves to God then knowing who we are and are intended to be is important. This may well also help us to understand one another, to understand the ways in which the thief works so that we do not inadvertently collude with him.
Obviously, many names are not biblical in origin. However, they often describe characteristics or actions the Bible does speak about. Start with a word search, asking the Holy Spirit to highlight significant verses. These will not necessarily describe your character strengths and weaknesses (though they may well hold a mirror up to you), but rather they describe the kind of things that the Shepherd may be saying to you about your identity and the kind of ways in which the thief might seek to steal that identity from you. It may surprise you how often God will speak directly to the struggles you face, the battles where you have given ground, the ground you need to take back again.
James 4:7 says this:
‘Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.’
As we reflect on our identity, we need to submit these things to God by asking:
“What is it you want to say to me about who you have made me to be, and what you hope to do in and through my life, by the name you gave me?”
And as we gain insight into the battle we face for our identity, we need to resist the devil by recognising his tricks, refusing to agree with his lies, and telling him in the name of Jesus to go.