Did you ever go somewhere you simply weren’t wanted?
I once ran to the emergency waiting room to meet a family whose mother was undergoing CPR.
“Hello, I’m the hospital chaplain,” I said between breaths.
As the word “chaplain” puffed from my lips, 350 pounds of man distributed over 6 feet, 3 inches of body shot up and pointed his index finger toward the door.
“Get out of here!” he commanded. “My mama ain’t gonna die!”
His mama certainly was dying, but I wasn’t going to present a second opinion.
I backed out of the room in a reverse moonwalk, palms extended, saying, “OK, OK.”
But his older, smaller brother interrupted my retreat by begging me to stay. He forced an apology from his “little brother” and persuaded everyone to allow me to pray for their mother so she’d be OK.
While the big man was sure I was the angel of death, his brother wanted me to hold death back. To one man I was a good luck charm; to the other a bad luck curse.
In my prayer, I suggested that God was neither curse nor charm. Unfortunately, I disappointed them both. Their mother died, and I was summarily dismissed.
In crisis, people sometimes see God as their only hope of winning the big death lottery. But God won’t be used as a charm — good or bad. Using God this way is blasphemy.
In fact, the Judaic-Christian tradition has a commandment to address that specific blasphemy. Deuteronomy 5:11 says, “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.”
Most folks think that means we shouldn’t use “damn” as God’s last name.
While I’m sure that particular use of God’s name doesn’t inspire God to shower us with blessings, the commandment actually refers to using God’s name to obtain privileged influence.
In our culture, we call this practice “name dropping.”
Sometimes the practice takes the form of a “name-it-claim-it” theology. This toxic theology says that if you ask God with the special wording, “in Jesus’ name,” God is somehow coerced to do what he’s being asked.
No matter what form it takes, using God’s name to get what you want is vain and pointless thinking. It simply doesn’t work.
Walking out of the emergency room that day, I knew that prayers had been answered. They’d been answered by a God who is much bigger than we can even imagine or declare him to be. God is a God who is present in our pain, and forever among us as we seek him.
Unlike me, God doesn’t care if he’s wanted when he walks into a room. He isn’t scared away by people who reject him. He is always there when we need him; whether we know it or not.