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On your Mark

The gift of a new identity

These are the twelve he appointed: Simon, (to whom he gave the name Peter) ... (Mark 3:16, NIV)

Author and pastor Bruce Larson tells about the time when his boy was 6 years of age. His son began compulsively sucking his thumb. Nothing the parents did made him quit.

Finally, in sheer desperation, they gave him the nickname Thumbsucker, hoping it would shame their son out of the practice. But things only got worse. Someone who had once been a happy-go-lucky little boy now became a saddened, eyes-to-the-ground, shoulders-hunched-down son with the ever-present thumb in his mouth.

Bruce said he was praying one day when he felt the Lord ask him — not audibly, but in the quiet way the Lord has of speaking to our hearts — Is this the little boy you prayed to have? Are you happy with him?

"Yes, Lord," he answered.

Then why are you calling him Thumbsucker? the Lord responded.

Bruce Larson felt he had no good answer.

He sensed the Lord speak again: I did not give you a thumb sucker. I gave you a wonderful little boy, and I want you to call him that.

Right then and there, Bruce Larson decided on a new name, “Mr. Wonderful.” He rose from his place of prayer, found his little boy sucking his thumb as usual, picked him up, hugged and kissed him, looked into his eyes and said, “Hi, Mr. Wonderful!”

Larson and his wife kept calling their son by his new name, and it was only a short time until the son had stopped all thumb sucking and returned to being his happy little self.

The Larsons had given their son the gift of a new identity — a gift of grace from a greater to a lesser, a gift the son could have never given himself.

That’s exactly what Jesus did when He renamed Simon as Peter (the rock!).

John tells us that when Jesus met Peter for the first time He immediately renamed him Rock (John 1:40-42). There were many factors that Jesus evidently did not take into account when He gave such a complimentary name to Simon. Simon was impulsive, talked too much, and cracked under pressure. But the Lord saw something in Simon that no one else saw — not even Simon’s mother or Simon himself. Jesus perceived that Simon took initiative and was willing to learn and obey. Rather than focus on Simon’s weaknesses, Jesus determined to bring out his strengths, giving him the gift of grace — a new identity. He renamed Simon as Peter, which means Rock.

We learn something from this. Too often, focus is placed on our shortcomings, the areas we fail, our vulnerabilities and sins. Jesus is aware of all that. But He also envisions what we can become.

Before we ever had faith in Him, He has faith in us. Immediately upon our confession of Him as Lord, He calls us sons and daughters of God, saints, and heirs of eternal life. He gives us the inexpressible and inexhaustible gift of a new identity!

We are no longer sinners or thumb suckers — we are God’s precious children!

A prayer of response
Lord, I am a lot like Peter. I don't deserve to be called Rock. I often feel like putty — I squish in all directions. But You are taking the fluidness and liquid nature of my life and changing it into solidity. You bring wholeness out of the fragmentation of my life. Thank You, Lord, for seeing something in me far better than I or others even imagine. Thank You for the upward call that lifts me. Blessed be Your name!

GEORGE O. WOOD is general superintendent of the Assemblies of God.

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