What’s In A Name?

January 31, 2014
Jo Naughton
Jo Naughton

By Jo Naughton

Former VP for Prince Charles's charity, International Speaker & author Jo Naughton explains how God wants to mark your identity 

We don't know much about Abraham's upbringing.  His dad clearly had his best interests at heart when he gave him a great name. Abram means 'exalted father'. Perhaps Terah had an inkling of the battle his son would fight to become a dad. Or maybe he had high expectations of him becoming a leader in their tribe. Whatever the reason, Terah did good.

The same is true for Sarah. She was given a positive name by her parents.  Sarai means ruler. Or to put it into 21st century language, manageress. Her mother and father were declaring leadership over her right from the start.

However, God had a problem with these names. They were good, but His plans for this special couple were great.  Maybe you see yourself as relatively successful. Perhaps you think you've reached the top of your tree.  Maybe you believe you're not quite as gifted as other people.  If your view of yourself is mediocre, it's time to get God's perspective.

God gave Abram a new name, Abraham, which means father of multitudes. So every time someone shouted to him, he was reminded of his calling.  To Sarai, God gave the name Sarah which means queen. "No longer will people call you boss, now they will address you as queen." He was preparing them for their destiny.

My Story

When I met my husband, I was in my final months of Bible School.  He had just planted a church so as soon as we were wed, I joined him in ministry.  After graduating, I sought secular work while the church was still small. The favour of God opened doors and I was quickly promoted until I was running the Communications Division of Prince Charles's most prestigious charity.

I was a wife, mother, pastor and Vice President.  Each role gave my life a sense of value. The titles and kudos that went with them built my confidence. They made me feel whole. The stage was set for success. Or was it?

My self-esteem was based on what I did rather than who I was and my identity was wrapped up in my roles. As a result, I was not stable. If my job makes me feel good about myself, what happens if I lose it? If being called 'Pastor' makes me feel valuable, how will I cope with the rejections of ministry? God wants our security to be founded in His, and not man’s, view of us.

God would not raise me up on shaky foundations. He had to go to the root of my identity flaws. He revealed rejection deep within and showed me my insecurities. He uncovered old wounds so that He could heal me.  He broke down my veneer in order to build the real me back up.

I have always related to Jacob.  He was raised in a good home and had God-fearing parents. The call of God was on his life and he loved The Lord. However, he had a difficult journey.

Jacob's Journey

Right from the start, his dad spoke negative words over his life.  He gave him a name which means deceiver. So every time his father called him, it was as though he was shouting, "Hey, cheat!" As he grew up not much changed. His dad openly preferred his twin brother.

I believe that Jacob's identity was moulded by a mixture of words and rejection. So it was not long before he was living his name. He tricked Esau out of his birthright and then deceived his dad into giving him the first born blessing that was rightfully his brother's.

Despite any shortcomings, God will never give up on us. Jacob messed up and went about things the wrong way but The Lord was with Him through it all. During the years when I took confidence from my gifts and talents, God, in His love and mercy, still used me and prospered me.

Jacob left home to start a family. He met Rachel (and Leah), married (twice) and had lots of destiny children.  He became extremely successful.  However, marriage, family, ministry and wealth can never heal a damaged identity.

The day came when Jacob decided enough was enough. He made a decision: I am not leaving my prayer closet until something changes. God did not breathe fire from heaven. He did not release earth-quaking power.  The Lord simply asked him his name.  God, who created heaven and earth and knows everything, asked him his name.

Jacob's name symbolised the pain and failings of the past. It represented his dad's disdain and reminded him of the error of his ways. God was asking Jacob to acknowledge his hurts and hindrances. The Lord never wants us to brush over wounds, He sent Jesus to heal them. Like David who cried out to God about all his hurts, we need to learn to release our pain in His presence.

"Pour out your heart like water before the face of The Lord." Lamentations 2:19

Jacob faced the truth and God out poured His healing love.  The Lord then made a new pronouncement over his servant: "You will no longer be Jacob, the rejected cheat.  From now on, you are Israel - Prince with God." The Lord gave him a new identity based on love and acceptance.

So what is identity?

Stop for a moment and answer the following question, as honestly as you can. What do you believe that other people think about you? Jot down your first impressions on a piece of paper.

Your identity is made up of three parts: your self-image, your self-esteem and your individuality. Your self-image is the picture, that is quite resistant to change, that you have of yourself. The little exercise above is a simple indicator of yours. You can decide if you think that it is healthy.

Self-esteem is your emotional evaluation of your worth. It is a judgment and an attitude about your value. It includes beliefs like 'I am successful' or 'I am not good enough' and emotions such as confidence or shame. Individuality is the sense of your own needs, desires or goals, separate from others.

Too small

One of the most significant words I received was spoken over me at Bible College.  I can't remember the topic being taught that day or why I had gone to the front of the auditorium for prayer.  However, I will never forget what the Dean of Students pronounced as he prayed over me: "You're too small! You're too small in your own eyes."  I can still hear those words like it was yesterday.

You know the story of the 12 spies. Their job was to glean information about the promised land and report back to Moses. Remember, God had sworn that He would give them the land.  He performed miracle after miracle delivering the Jewish people from Pharaoh and then providing for them in the desert. They knew from experience that God was both faithful and able. However, that was not enough. For God to use us we must believe in Him. But we must also believe in ourselves. The spies did not believe they were able.

"As a man thinks in his heart so is the man" Proverbs 23:7

Your self-image is like a projector. It conveys who you are to others.  If you have a healthy identity, that will be relayed. However, if you feel inadequate or unimportant, that will seep out. I had a low self esteem and a confused self-image.  On one hand, I was a bag of insecurities and on the other hand I was full of self-importance.  God had to do a deep work to heal me and straighten out every crooked way. Eventually, my opinion of myself started to match God's view.

What do you see?

The Lord is looking to take the lid off your limitations and show you your real value. You have often heard it said that good is the enemy of best. Allow The Lord to paint a bigger picture of your purpose in your heart.

You may have a pretty healthy inner image, perhaps simply needing a new injection of faith. On the other hand, perhaps as you read you recognise that yours is flawed and needs healing.

To be free, we need to face the truth. As we acknowledge hurts or hindrances, He will heal.  He takes away the old in order to establish the new. He heals our hearts and then seeks to give us a new identity based on His love and acceptance.