What does this mean? “We should fear and love God so that we do not curse, swear, use satanic arts, lie, or deceive by His name, but call upon it in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks.”
What’s in a name? My name, “Garrick,” derives from two Old English words meaning “spear” and “ruler,” and thus can be translated “one who rules with a spear” or “spear king.” Some say this is a rather apt name since I have pastoral courage to preach God’s Word of Law & Gospel to people without fear of the consequences. I lead with the spear, so to speak. I suppose my father has done well in naming me.
What does God’s name, Yahweh, mean? Well, He tells us, “Yahweh, Yahweh, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children to the third and fourth generation” (Exodus 34:6-7, NKJV). In short, God is gracious and merciful, yet He is also just against the wicked.
God has another name by which we know Him: Jesus. “Jesus” is the Greek transliteration of “Joshua,” which means “Yahweh saves.” Thus, “there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). “Whoever calls on the name of Yahweh shall be saved” (Joel 2:32).
God has given us the gift of His name, foremost in Baptism. Being baptised “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19) means we receive His name upon us in Baptism. This means we have been brought into the family of God. It also means there is a right and wrong way to use His name. How do you use other’s names? Do you use it to gossip about them or speak well of them? As we see above, Luther gives a short, helpful explanation of what it means to use God’s name wrongly and rightly. It is sinful to use God’s name for cursing, swearing, the occult, lying, and deceiving. Yet it is also sinful to omit using His name in prayer, praise, and thanksgiving. It is fine to go to family and friends for comfort. I comfort my wife all the time when she’s having a panic attack. Yet to whom do you pray, praise, and give thanks? “Offer to God thanksgiving. And pay your vows to the Most High. Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me” (Psalm 50:14-15).
God has given us His name because He desires that we use it in prayer, praise, and thanksgiving. We would do well, then, to pray every day, even as simple as once in the morning and once at night, even sing a hymn every day. Especially with our children (see Bonhoeffer in Life Together for more on this devotional practice). Otherwise, how can we expect them to know how to pray and sing praises unto the Lord? Luther’s morning and evening prayers in the Small Catechism are easy to memorise, as is the Lord’s Prayer. Purchase a hymnal for your home. You need not worry about inventing a beautiful, extemporaneous prayer when the Lord has given us words to pray. This is a prayer straight from the mouth of God; no prayer of ours can ever beat the prayer straight from God’s own mouth. Nonetheless, He still loves to hear our own words. Even more, in the 3rd Commandment we see how the Lord has blessed us with one day every week to find rest not only in His name, but in His very self.