Sunday, April 17, 2016

Calling on the Name of the Lord

I find it interesting how little bits and pieces found in the nooks and crannies of the Bible have such significance and can be so very helpful. This morning we’re going to go back to Genesis 4 to consider something that could be easy to pass by. Listen to Moses.

To Seth also a son was born, and he called his name Enosh. At that time people began to call upon the name of the Lord. Genesis 4.26

What I’d like to do this morning is to take a look at that little phrase ‘to call upon the name of the Lord’. What is that, and how do you do it? I have two parts to my answer for this question. The first part has to do with understanding God.

Let me remind you of what I’ve said before about how the Bible uses names. For us a name is simply a label. It’s what you call someone when you want their attention. But names in the Bible can take a different tack. So, Abram, which means ‘exalted father’, has his name changed to Abraham, which means ‘father of a multitude’. And that happens when God promises that he will be the father of a multitude. Every time he was called by that name he was being reminded of God’s promise. Names usually mean things in the Bible.

Now, with that in mind, what are we saying when we talk about the name of the Lord? We’re not talking about some label to use when referring to Him. Instead, we’re talking about characteristics of God. These characteristics describe who God is and what He is like. They go together to become God’s name. Just like Abraham’s name, God’s name says something about Him.

So, consider one example where the name of the Lord is presented to us. We will see here some of the characteristics that make up who He is. It’s from Revelation.

Great and amazing are your deeds, O Lord God the Almighty! Just and true are your ways, O King of the nations! ​Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify your name? For ou alone are holy. All nations will come and worship you, for your righteous acts have been revealed.

God’s name is revealed when John declares those characteristics about God. They are an expression of who He is as He has revealed Himself to us. That bit of Scripture is all about God’s name.

So, to call upon the name of the Lord you need to know some things. You need to understand, to some extent, who God is.

Now, for the second part of my answer about calling on God’s name. If the first part of the answer has to do with understanding God, the second part has to do with understanding yourself.

If you are going to be able to call on the name of the Lord you need to understand yourself. You need to grasp what’s going on in your own life. Calling on God’s name is asking the Father to act in some way that is an expression of who He is. And you do that to affect something that is an expression of who you are. There is a connection between His very perfect characteristics and your very imperfect characteristics. One easy example is to pray to the Father as the healer that He has described Himself to be because you have the flu. There is something about who God is that meets a need in you. So, you see, calling on the name of the Lord requires that you understand something of who He is and something of who you are.

My flu example was easy. Let’s be a bit more sophisticated. Consider some Christian who has a negative attitude about his life. He manages to make it through each day, but there is this undercurrent that is usually there, and it’s not pretty. At times he asks himself, ‘Why does all this garbage happen to me?’ Or he finds himself daydreaming, ‘If only ...’, and off he goes imagining a much better life. He may not complain to others about these things, but he says an awful lot to himself. His life is just a lot of blah. And he really doesn’t like it.

What have I just done? I’ve described something significant about this Christian. I’ve talked about one particular characteristic of his. This, in part, is who he is. Or to say it differently, this is, part of his name, and it isn’t pretty. How should he understand himself? What label describes this characteristic? It’s a lack of contentment. And it’s a serious need in the life of anyone who is plagued by it.

Now, what would it mean for a Christian in this kind of situation to call on the name of the Lord? Let’s say that he sees this in himself. So, how does he pray about it? To be sure he could simply pray, ‘Lord, help me to be content’. That works. But I think that it would be a help to his faith to pray in terms of God’s name. That is, I think that it would be encouraging for him to see his need in terms of some characteristics of God. So, his prayer might go something like this.

Father, it’s clear to me that I have a problem. I am not content with the life that You have given me. People around me may not think of me in this way, but I know better. I am not content. I recognize this as sin, and I ask for Your forgiveness. And I really want to be changed. So, Father, reveal to me Your wisdom. Persuade me that You really do know what You’re doing with my life. Change me so that I am convinced that in light of the big picture of Your plan what is happening to me is for the best. Help me trust Your wisdom. I would also ask, Father, that You would give me a renewed sense of Your goodness. Teach my heart to believe that You really are a good God who does good to His people, who does good to me, even in the difficulties that I face. Father, I know that Satan is persuasive. He tempts me to doubt Your goodness. And I have to confess that he has had some success. So, I ask You to protect me from him and help me to embrace wholeheartedly Your goodness, a goodness that lies behind Your wise plan for my life.

That’s calling on the name of the Lord. It comes out of an understanding of oneself, of what’s going on in the heart. In this case, a lack of contentment. It calls out to God, in this case, in terms of His wisdom and goodness. It connects understanding oneself with understanding God.

Let’s look at another example. There’s a situation that confronts you. It’s a real problem and has been for a while, but you see no solution. As a result, you feel stymied. And that’s frustrating. And it’s not like you can just ignore it. Something has to happen. So, how do you call on the Name of the Lord here? It might go like this.

Father, You know the problem. It’s not a life-and-death kind of thing, but it really bothers me. I can’t get around it. Something needs to happen, and I am powerless to effect a change. But You are the Almighty God, the God whose power is unlimited. Nothing can thwart You. So, Father, I pray that You would use Your power to deal with this situation. Either change the situation or change me. Solve the problem or give me a peace about what’s going on so that I can live with it.

Again, you see how understanding yourself connects with understanding God.

One more example. And it goes like this.

Father, I hear all of this about understanding myself and understanding You. But the fact of the matter is that I don’t understand myself very well - or You. So, I’m functioning on half-truths and whole lies. And that isn’t working. You are the God of truth. So, please reveal to me the truth. Show me what’s really going on in my heart and in the world around me. Explain to me who You really are. I ask this so that I might do better at living this life since I would be living according to what is true.

Do you see why I say that calling on the Name of the Lord requires an understanding of both yourself and your God? And developing that understanding is something that He can bless you with. Just ask Him.

Last thought. Why is this important? I have a couple of reasons. Here’s one. Jesus has come, and as a result He has changed us. As I’ve recently told you, we have one foot in the age to come. We really are so very different from our neighbors who aren’t disciples of Jesus. And that means that we have the opportunity to live lives that are simply amazing. And yet, we aren’t quite there. Why not? There are resources in our God that can revolutionize how we live, that we might live according to who we really are. All we need to do is call upon His name. As we make progress in this the changes will become evident. The people around us will see the changes, changes of the heart that make huge differences in our behavior. And seeing this they will come and ask us how we do it. The most potent evangelistic weapon available to the average, everyday Christian is his or her changing life.

Here’s a second reason why this is important. I am persuaded that life is going to get harder for us just because we’re Christians. It appears clear to me that our culture is rejecting whatever influence the Gospel had when I was growing up. It has a very different idea of how people are to live together, and it wants us to live according to that different idea. That is something that we cannot do. As you have probably noticed, more and more pressure is being applied so that we Christians will conform. As the pressures grow it will be increasingly important for us to be able to call upon the Name of the Lord so that we will respond well, so that we will respond as faithful disciples of Jesus. And that’s why this is important. I fear that there are many Christians who are unprepared for the days to come, and I don’t want that to be true of you.

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