Years ago I heard a story told by a student in a nursing school. I may not get it exactly right, but I hope the point is driven home to your heart. The student had come down to her final exams. I will say that the particular test she was taking was in biology, but it could have been chemistry or anatomy or whatever else nurses study.
The student was giving a good account of herself, she thought, and was answering the questions in rapid succession. She had been a disciplined student and prepared well for the final examination.
However, as she came to the final question she was stunned, because the question was: “What is the name of the lady who cleans the bathrooms in your dorm?”
This particular nursing student had seen the cleaning lady on many occasions. She was small of stature, had greying hair, probably in her mid-50s and generally nodded graciously to the residents in the dorm each time she encountered one of them, but the student left the question blank, because she had no idea about the woman’s name.
As the student turned her paper in, she asked her professor, “Was this last question a joke?” And she was assured that it was not a joke.
Then the student asked, “If we failed to answer the question is it going to count off on our grade?”
The professor in the nursing program responded, “Yes, if you do not correctly write down her name, at least her first name, it will count off on your grade.”
The nursing student remonstrated with the professor and stated that the name of the cleaning lady had nothing to do with the subject the teacher had taught that semester and to deduct points for such a ridiculous question was unfair.
The professor responded, “You are pursuing a career in a field of endeavor that is supposed to be marked by compassion and a genuine interest in others. You will meet many people during the course of your career. Every person is significant. They all deserve your attention and love. The least you can do is smile and give everyone you meet a kind word. The most important words to any individual are the sound of their own name. Get to know people and treat them with respect and compassion.”
In his book How to Win Friends and Influence People, written in 1936, Dale Carnegie reiterated that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language. This applied to everyone all the way from introverts to hardened social veterans.
Now, stay with me. I promise to make a point out of this.
I had the opportunity to speak to a group of senior adults at Phillips Mill Baptist Church near Washington this week. Andy Perryman, associational missionary for the Georgia Baptist Association, invited me to speak for the occasion and 12 or 14 different churches were represented in the crowd. And, of course, Phillips Mill, established in 1785, is one of the most historic and prominent Baptist churches in Wilkes County. The principle organizer of the church was Silas Mercer, the father of Jesse Mercer, for whom Mercer University is named.
Forgive me for chasing that rabbit, but I used Luke 19:1-10, which tells the story of Zaccheus, as the basis for my message to the senior adults. I think the story of Zaccheus is one of the most interesting and beautiful narratives in the Bible. One of the things that makes it so personal and powerful is the fact that Jesus looked up into that sycamore tree and saw Zaccheus and called him by name. Jesus knew his name.
For any preachers who may be reading this I have a sermon outline for you – simple, but powerful. In verses 5-6 the Bible says, “And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up, and saw him, and said unto him, ‘Zaccheus, make haste, and come down, for today I must abide at they house.’ And he made haste, and came down, and received him joyfully.”
And Zaccheus must have thought, (1) “He sees me;” (“and saw him”) “(2) “He knows me;” (“and said unto him, Zaccheus”)(3) “He wants me;” (“make haste and come down”) and (4) “He has me” (“and he made haste, and came down, and received him joyfully”).
My bank knows me by my routing number. My postman knows me by my zip code. Charter Communications knows me by my telephone number. VISA knows me by my 16-digit credit card number. My utility companies know me by my account numbers. The federal government knows me by my social security number, but the Lord Jesus Christ knows me by my name.
The fact that the Lord knows me by name suggests to me that He wants to have a personal relationship with me. There are only two things in this world that will last for eternity: people and God’s Word. Jesus said, “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away” (Matthew 24:35). We also know that mankind was created for eternity. We shall go on measureless, timeless, and dateless for the everlasting ages.
So, our focus must be on getting to know the Lord through His precious Word and getting to know people by building relationships with them – starting by knowing their names.