I have, as long as I can remember, loved both the words and the tune of the old hymn, “Come Thou Fount” (words by Robert Robinson, tune by Asahel Nettleton) If you are not familiar with it, you can hear it here I love the tune because it easily lends itself to beautiful three part female harmony – which means my sisters and I can sing it together. I love the lyrics, because they are such a testimony to God’s tender mercies towards his people in the midst of our pilgrimage through this life.
The second verse begins with the phrase, “Here I raise my Ebenezer.” I can remember sometime in my early adulthood realizing I had not a clue what that meant. So I did a little research to understand it. It comes from a story in 1 Samuel in which Samuel sets up a memorial stone and calls it Ebenezer which means ‘stone of help’. The point of this memorial was to remind the Israelites of two things. 1) that the Lord had been with them all the way to this very place and time. 2) that presumption on the Lord does not lead to good results.
These days it seems that we only raise memorials for those who have sacrificed their lives for the sake of others. While I am all for this kind of honor being given to those who have lead such selfless existences, I think it is good to in some way raise our own Ebenezers to remind ourselves of the times that we have come through a fiery trial in which the results are evidence of God’s tender mercies towards us. This correlates with what we see in the Psalms of the Old Testament where there is often a recounting of all the Lord had done to preserve his chosen people, either by protection or by punishment. This is why the gift of memory is so wonderful!
When we are facing a difficult time we have a tendency to think about the the good times that used to be. And that’s ok! Thinking back to happier days can help us to remember that things weren’t always this bad and chances are they will be good again, at least on some levels. As long as it doesn’t make us bitter about today, remembering the good times can give us perspective and a sense of gratitude.
But that is not what is meant by raising an Ebenezer. This kind of memorial requires that we remember the dark days: the days of disappointment, of rebellion, of chastisement, and grief. The story in Samuel is about the Israelites having forsaken Yahweh for foreign gods. During this time they were conquered by other nations, the Ark of the covenant was stolen from them. Life was not good. Then they repented, and as they were in the process of repenting, the Philistines rose up against them and Samuel cried out to the Lord for deliverance. God hears them and brings confusion to the Philistines with loud thunder, and Israel is able to chase them away. It is at this point that the Ebenezer is raised up as a memorial. “Thus far the Lord has helped us.”
As I look back over my life I have many Ebenezers:
I remember that first year in boarding school when I was so lonely and homesick. God gave me friends and a love for the Psalms. Ebenzer!
I remember coming back to the States for furloughs and college and feeling so lost and so alone and so confused as I tried to fit in to a culture that made no sense to me. God taught me of His great love for me, and of truths that transcend culture. Ebenezer!
I remember having step children that did not trust me to love them, who wanted me gone. And now I have such a wonderful relationship with them. Ebenezer!
I can remember twice despairing of my daughter’s life as she struggled with illness no one seemed to be able to comprehend. There were sleepless nights and pain, and questions. There were songs in the night, prayers and discussions with my child about what this all means in terms of God’s sovereignty and love. God brought us out of those dark days. Ebenezer!
I can remember having no insurance, and then miraculously having insurance that covered retroactively. Ebenezer!
I can remember flipping my car with my disabled husband and my son in it. We all walked away unharmed. Ebenezer!
And if God has helped me thus far, can I not trust Him to help me now, in the things I am facing today? Can I not trust in His promises to me even more as I remind myself of the impossible situations he has brought me through thus far? Here, today, I raise my Ebenezer!
I have actually brain stormed about a physical memorial to raise at the end of these trials to remind me of the Lord’s faithfulness (a new pair of shoes perhaps? a tattoo? another tree in the yard? a charm bracelet?). I haven’t really come up with a reasonable idea yet, but I am still thinking. Meanwhile, I am thankful to have it written down. Perhaps as we count our blessings, and list the daily gifts we receive from the hand of our loving God, we should also list our Ebenezers.
What are you struggling with today in your life, dear reader? Does it seem impossible? Insurmountable? Overwhelming? Raise your Ebenezers! Remember the other days when you felt this way, and lived to tell about it. Remind yourself of the great faithfulness of God to be with you through the trials to strengthen you, help you and cause you to stand (two other great hymns referenced there, by the way).
How great it would be to have the presence of mind in the midst of the furnace to say with anticipation, “I sense another Ebenezer coming on! What wondrous things will God do in and through me?” Lord, I believe! Help my unbelief!
I rarely ask for comments (I hate to sound needy!), but I would love to see you list an Ebenezer, or 10. Let us shout our praise to the God of Ebenezers!