Ex. 20:7—“You must not misuse the name of the LORD your God. The LORD will not let you go unpunished if you misuse his name” (NLT).
Just for the fun of it, I’ve been reading the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Old Covenant. I’ve been in Exodus the past few days, zooming right along and having a good time, right up until I got to Ex. 20:7, the third of the Ten Commandments. This one stopped me in my tracks. Like many of us, I’ve memorized this verse from the King James Version, which says, “Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain.” This commandment extends the idea of the second commandment, for just as God forbids us to show disrespect to Him by making a god out of something that is not God, it is also a disgrace to use His Name without a legitimate or valid reason.
Until now, I’ve mostly thought of taking the Lord’s name in vain as cursing. When I was barely a teenager, I’d often get frustrated and say, “Jeee-sus Chrii-st,” as if it was His fault I wasn’t getting my way. My dad heard me say that once and he shot me a look that has stayed with me for 35 years, and I’ve (mostly) succeeded in not saying it again.
Other times, I’ve heard people vainly use His name to express surprise or disappointment, or even fill in the gaps in prayer. This last one I find especially irritating. When I’m speaking to someone, I don’t find it necessary to use their name seventeen times in a sentence, so why would I repeatedly use God’s name when I’m praying in public? For instance, how many times have you heard a prayer like this: “Dear God, we come to you Father God and ask you God that you Father God would hear our prayers, Father God, for God you are a God who heals, Father God, and God…” That type of prayer DRIVES ME NUTS! First, God already knows you’re talking to Him, so you don’t have to try to get His attention by droning His name on and on. Second, I see no legitimate or valid reason to repeat God’s name because one has nothing better to say.
However, my reading of Ex. 20:7 in the New Living Testament starting me thinking in a completely new direction, and its implications bothered me. I wonder how many times I have misused His name by praying for things that feeds my desires—many times at the expense of others—and capping it off with a quick, “In Jesus name, Amen.” To pray “In Jesus Name” is not some sort of spiritual abracadabra wherein God must comply with our prayers because we have said the magic formula. The fact is, many of us simply pray our own desires to enhance our own name and stature and attempt to use God’s power with an “In Jesus name” tag at the end of our prayers in order to accomplish our own will and desires.
To pray in the name of Jesus means so much more than merely uttering the syllables. His Name includes His nature, being and very person. It also means His morals, teaching and doctrine. It means I know His will before I pray it—I’m not guessing at what He would want. I don’t pray for a bigger house if I’m not taking care of the one I have. I don’t look for a different spouse if I’m not treating the one I have now with the respect God requires. I don’t ask for lots of money if my purpose is to spend it on myself. God created the earth because He wanted to share His abundant goodness with His creation. He didn’t create it so we may keep our portion to ourselves.
When Jesus taught His disciples to pray, the first thing He taught them to say was “Hallowed be your name” (Matt. 6:9). Above all else, our lives are to reflect the holiness of the character of God. This passage in Exodus has me thinking about the way I pray, why I seek God, and what I ask Him for. I learned at a young age not to substitute His name for an expletive. Now I want my whole life, especially my prayer life, to reflect the sacredness of His Name.