Giving God the Glory or Using His Name in Vain?

Some nights ago, I dreamed of *Kate, a friend whom I hadn’t talked to in over 10 years. I woke up in shock and had a hard time getting back to sleep.

This thought kept me awake for a long time, because Kate was someone I had deeply hurt in my teens. You see, before I came to know God and gave my life to Christ, I was a mean and nasty friend. I was insensitive to my friends (including my closest friends), had made many hurtful remarks, and also betrayed their trust. The worst part was that I had never apologized for any of this.

So when I was jolted awake by this dream, I knew immediately that it wasn’t just another dream to be forgotten. I sensed strongly that God wanted me to contact Kate and to do what I should have done 10 years ago―apologize.

When I got up the next morning, I thought to myself how tough God’s request was. I had all the reasons to ignore His promptings and get on with my day. After all, 10 years had already passed! Who would remember what had happened? Why should I disrupt her life with my sudden and awkward presence? But deep down I knew that I had to do it, because God was refining me. Immediately, I contacted a mutual friend and asked if she could put me in touch with Kate.

Kate texted me the next day. After the introductory text message exchange, I jumped right to the purpose of my text. In my zeal to stay focused on the task, I stated in my message factually that I needed to seek forgiveness from her as God had asked me to, and that I had to do it because I wanted to live right for God. I received no reply from her that day.

On the evening of the third day, I finally received Kate’s reply; it was not what I had expected. In short, it was a curt reply stating that I should only apologize when I sincerely wanted to—not because I felt like I needed to.

I have to admit that I was taken aback by her reply. And instead of feeling apologetic towards her, I felt anger rising from within. In my self-righteous state, I asked God why I received such a response when I had already obeyed Him. These thoughts continued to consume me the following day even though I knew they were not pleasing to God. But as much as I tried to stop thinking about them and move on from the entire incident, my efforts to do so lasted no longer than five minutes each time.

That evening, I tried to distract myself by doing household chores. While I was hanging laundry, the same self-righteous thoughts came back; the thoughts became more ungodly by the second.

Suddenly, a piece of laundry fell to the ground outside the laundry yard. The sound of the hanger hitting the ground rang in my ears and that was when I knew that God had intervened. It was as though God had had enough of my selfish and self-righteous reasoning, and decided to yank me out of my downward spiral.

I froze. At that same moment, I saw the word “vain” flash across my mind and I knew at once what God was telling me. “You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.”  (Exodus 20:7)

God showed me clearly that while I told my friend that I was seeking her forgiveness because I had wanted to please God, I had unwittingly used His name in vain—using it to cover up for my self-righteousness. My act of seeking forgiveness was borne out of self-righteousness instead of a truly contrite and repentant spirit.

I realized I had sinned, and I felt ashamed. I wanted to hide my face from God but there was nowhere I could turn to. I did the only thing I could―I repented of my sinful ways and thoughts. Immediately, I felt God’s loving grace wash over me.

Some hours later, I replied to my friend’s text message, thanking her for her reply and telling her again that I was sorry. Although I still have yet to receive any reply from her, I trust that God will make the situation right again in His time.

Prior to this whole incident, I had been asking God to light a fire in my heart for Him, as I want more of Him in my life. I believe that God heard my prayer and this whole incident happened as a result. Indeed, wanting more of God in my life requires me to die to myself and to my self-righteousness. While this has been one of the hardest lessons for me to learn, God knew I needed to learn, and learn it fast.

God wants a pure heart that loves Him above all else, a pure heart that puts others above myself, a pure heart that does things out of love and not obligation. And I pray that God continues to refine me each day with His loving discipline.

Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. (Psalm 139:23-24) 

*The name has been changed to protect privacy.