Making a name

The Empire State Building looms outside my window like a giant hypodermic needle.

It seems poised to inject the low cloud cover with something: hubris, perhaps? Ambition? Self-congratulations?

Every time I walk around this city, as I did after driving in this afternoon, I’m awed by the vertical reach of the buildings. By staring at them, I mark myself as a tourist. Real New Yorkers don’t look up. Let alone gawk.

Skyscrapers are a tribute to man’s ingenuity. So was the first recorded building project – the Tower of Babel, recorded in Genesis 11. Those early engineers had two goals. First, to build a city and a tower that reached to the heavens. And second, to make a name for themselves.

Manhattan is not all that different. People come to these towers to make a name for themselves. Back in the early stages of my career, I drove up here four times with more determination than talent, trying to get art directors to view my portfolio. I sought to make my name memorable. With any luck, on the cover of a children’s book.

 

It’s an interesting phrase: make a name for oneself. It’s about building a reputation that will spread and last, sometimes literally carved in stone. It’s about giving oneself significance, a reason for being, a lasting memorial. But even names on buildings can fade.

When I think of people in the Bible, though, I’m struck by how often God gives a new name to people: Sarah and Abraham, Jacob, Peter, Paul. Barnabas was given his name by the Apostles. They didn’t strive for a name. The Lord just gave it to them.

And he promises to do the same for us. Jesus says in Revelations 2:17, To the one who conquers… I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it.” What a wonderfully curious promise! He will give a victorious believer a secret name, just for the two of them to enjoy.

So, I am here in this great city, working because God has allowed me to have success. I’m so thankful for that gift. But I’ll leave the soaring ambition for others, being content to know that my significance is a lasting one not because I’ve built my reputation brick by brick.

But because God knows my name.

Forgive us, Lord, when we try so desperately to be remembered and recognized. Our hearts rejoice to know that we are precious to you. You are our reason, our significance, our permanence. And we can’t wait for those white stones!

Thoughts or comments on this column? I’d love to hear from you. Email me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Bruce Van Patter

As a freelance illustrator, graphic recorder, and author, Bruce is on a lifelong journey to delight in the handiwork of the Creator. And he’s always ready for fellow travelers.

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