Raising Ebenezers

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!

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20 Responses to Raising Ebenezers

  1. Renee says:

    I can remembering thinking I was about to lose my 32-year old husband to cancer leaving me to raise our two young children alone, and yet God was merciful and my husband is still going strong 24 years later. I raise my Ebenezer!

    • I remember this so well! It makes me cry to think how different your life would have been (and mine!). And yet I know that God would have brought you through no matter what. Thank you for raising your Ebenezer here!

  2. Mindy says:

    I remember having lived about 8 years of my life wondering if I would ever get married and witnessing each of my friends get married to wonderful godly men. It entered my mind multiple times to settle for whatever came along, yet by the Holy Spirit’s guidance and grace, he brought a godly, strong leader into my life that almost literally swept me off my feet. Ebenezer!

  3. Debbie says:

    I’m remembering not so long ago,walking with my heartbroken daughter in the midst of a miscarriage (that’s what the doctor’s said anyway) and days later hearing my son’s report of bone cancer (that’s what the doctor’s said anyway). Today we have a thriving baby girl due in October and a cancer-less son who has left those same doctor’s scratching their head’s saying they can’t explain where the cancer went. Ebenezer Ebenezer!

  4. I remember my darkest days when my marriage and greatest friendship literally were crumbling around my ears. Even though I didn’t cling to God like I should, He never let me go. He never once left my heart unguarded. How thankful I am! And I’m here on the other side about to celebrate 11 years together! What an Ebenezer!

  5. Brenda Keck says:

    I remember the lost dreams of post-empty nest adventures together. When my husband’s loss of health left me feeling alone, abandoned and without hope of a future. It seemed it would define us forever. He now is a pastor at Saddleback Church and I have traveled to 5 countries in the last 4 years to minister to missionary families. Ebenezer!

  6. christina says:

    I’m a firm believer in but not-so-firm practitioner of the Ebenezer principle you describe here. My gratitude journal is partly my record of that (as is my journal-journal, which I call Memorial Stones).
    Two big recent ones which come to mind are that a 200-lb workman fell through our garage ceiling onto the bare concrete and walked away with only a superficial scratch and that the Lord changed my beloved’s mind about going to church with me part-time without him even realizing it was a change of mind.

    • These are Ebenezers for sure! I love the term, Memorial Stones.

      • christina says:

        They are all over the OT, including your Ebenezer reference, but see especially Joshua 4 for that phrase.

        Elisabeth Eliot called her college journals Omer of Manna, referring to the sample the Israelites were told to keep in the ark of the covenant as a reminder of God’s provision. That’s what gave me the idea to name mine.

        But you may already know all that background….

      • If I ever knew it, it has long since been pushed back into the cobwebs of my mind, because I don’t remember it! Makes me wish I had been better at journaling – but I hate my handwriting!

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  8. Thanks for sharing. Very thought provoking 🙂

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  10. lizzigroves says:

    Goodness gracious. This is such a wonderful post! Thank you for linking it. Turns out I had no idea what “Raising Ebenezers” meant either. This is beautiful.

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