“The ancient Hebrews followed a practice of naming sons with magnificently descriptive words. They believed that the good name they bestowed on their offspring actually endowed the child with the power to attain its qualities. God wants us to know that the same is true for us of his names. . . And he wants us to run to the security of those names, fully persuaded of their meaning and power.”
(David Wilkerson, Hallowed Be Thy Names)
“Putting a name to a bird is the first step in preserving and protecting it. Without names, birds are generic and often ignored, but once you attach a name to a species, both it and you are transformed. For then you can consider this particular bird’s nesting requirements, its feeding niche, its migratory pathways, its singularity; and you care about its welfare.”
(Jonathon Alderfer and Jon L. Dunn, Birding Essentials)
“What’s your name?” This is the initial question when introducing ourselves, but just knowing a person’s name doesn’t mean you know that much about him or her. I can list several names of God from the Bible, even the Hebrew translations of them like: Adonai, El Elyon, El-Shaddai and Jehovah-Jireh. But if you do not know Hebrew, these are just foreign words. To get to know God better, I spend time with him becoming familiar with what his names mean.
I am not just getting a definition of his name, any more than I am looking for the literal meaning of an acquaintance’s name. In a relationship, I want to know what it means to be Joe So and So or Sue Such and Such. What has it been like living in their skin, how are they related to other people and how have they come to where they are today– are all things I would want to know as I spend time with them. In a sense, I would get to know their reputation by living life with them.
Since the beginning of time man has not only been giving names to each other, but also to animals and plants. And then as time unfolded, we began naming places and events. We have been endowed with a propensity for naming. No wonder over the years, God has revealed himself through names. God also has been given names by those who have walked with him, because they knew that names hold much significance. This significance comes from more than just stating God’s name. God wants us to have more than just mere knowledge of his names, he desires us to experience the reputation of His names.
A recent struggle with my health brought this truth home to my heart. One spring evening, I suffered a series of incidents with numbness on the right side of my body. When I shared my symptoms, some friends advised me to get to the ER immediately. My trip to the ER landed me in the hospital overnight, and I knew that God was with me. All the tests taken the next day showed that nothing in my head or heart seemed to be the culprit. I went home thankful, and with orders to follow-up with my family doctor, yet with no clear diagnosis.
I waited a few more weeks, with this numbness still nagging at me. So I chided myself into making the phone call for the follow-up. My doctor listened attentively and ordered a MRI for my neck and my brain. I got through the neck MRI, and although it showed a bulging disc and a narrowing in the nerve area, he felt this was not the cause of my demise. Next came a month long battle to make it back into the MRI machine. Although I made it through the MRI of my neck, the experience revealed a weak spot, of which I have no control, namely, I am claustrophobic.
All through this struggle, I was praying and I was asking others to pray. I even had come across El-Shaddai, as a name of God in my Bible, and had done some digging into what it meant. Here’s what I read in the note at the bottom of the page, “El-Shaddai is the name of God which sets Him forth primarily as the strengthener and satisfier of His people. “All-sufficient” [is] . . . the characteristic use of the name in Scripture. God Almighty (El-Shaddai) not only enriches but makes fruitful.” (Note on Genesis 17:1 in New Scofield Study Bible, NIV)
The note in my Bible gave me an insight that I promptly filed in my “new knowledge” folder in my head. Then I left it there, thinking, “Wow! I never knew that about the meaning of El-Shaddai.” But God was not going to just leave me with this great knowledge; he was orchestrating a month’s worth of proving his reputation, and the experience of what it means to rely on El-Shaddai.
It took me three attempts to get through the MRI for my brain. The first attempt lasted seconds, the sounds of the machine seemed unbearable, so I squeezed my panic button, and asked to go home. God didn’t let me down; I just hadn’t quite understood yet that I was relying on my own courage to get through the procedure. I called my doctor’s office and asked if I could get some kind of sedative to get me through the test. They ordered it and I went back a week later, still covered in much prayer, and having spent the week resting and spending time with God in my secret garden gazebo.
This time, I took Les with me, and a dear friend came to sit with me again. The medicine relaxed me, and I had moral support, so I bravely walked with Les back to the machine. But once I got in the machine, I started hollering and kicking my feet for the technician to get me out of it. We were all disappointed, because I knew that God was with me, and that others had been praying. And I even had been rehearsing all the great Scripture verses about trusting in God and his promise to never leave or forsake me.
I went back home, called the doctor’s office again, telling them I really needed something else to get me through. They ordered an open MRI, but no mention of sedation. I told myself to be strong and that God would surely get me through this third attempt. I had a couple weeks before I went back and I tried not to think or talk about my trauma. I told myself I could do it. I started claiming promises that God would let me sleep through the procedure, asking friends to pray for this same type of deliverance.
My anxiety still was rising every time I thought about the MRI machine, and especially the terrifying noises that it makes. Two days before the scheduled test, I called about a sedative again. The doctor’s office ordered an increased dose. During those two days, I still wrestled with doubts about getting through this experience. On Wednesday night, I decided to act on the promise that praising God helps take away our fears. I went to a praise and communion service at a neighborhood church with two friends. As I worshipped and wept, God reassured me of his love. I confessed to him that I was a coward, and that I needed his courage, his “El-Shaddai”-ness to get me through.
The next morning with my body sleepy due to the medication, and my spirit calmed because of the surrender the night before, I groggily walked into the room with the open MRI. The technician was a very sweet woman, who got me settled. I told her I was going to say a verse before I started. So I said out loud, “When you lie down, you will not be afraid. When you lie down, your sleep will be sweet.” (Proverbs 3:24, NIV)
The technician offered me a plastic rosary to hold. I took the cross with Jesus’ body on it and held him in my hands. His Spirit spoke peace to me, and gave me realistic images, instead of nightmarish ideas of what the sounds were like. Instead of terrifying metal monsters, the sounds were like a jack hammer and techno music and Morse code. I didn’t fall asleep, but I definitely knew Jesus had not left or forsaken me at anytime, just this time I was experiencing his strength, sufficiency and peace.
My numbness prevails, but my heart has been opened to a deeper sensitivity of what it means to call upon the names of God. My MRI results were normal. Of course, many people question the psychological validity of that diagnosis. I am relieved to know that God will be with me during this mysterious season, and that I am not currently facing a major physical illness.