A few yeas ago I went to a women's retreat where the speakers were the Women's Ministry Director from out church, Lisa Harper, and an amazing woman named Eva Whittington Self. It was a great weekend but what I remember most is a talk Lisa gave on 1 Samuel 7. Basically, the story goes like this:
Under Samuel's direction, the Israelites had assembled at Mizpah against the Philistines. Though God's people had repented, fasted, and poured out their offerings and their hearts to the LORD, they were still afraid when the Philistines came out to attack them. They begged Samuel to keep crying out to the LORD on their behalf and he did. That day, when the Philistines came near, scripture says that "the LORD thundered with loud thunder against the Philistines and threw them into such a panic that they were routed before the Israelites". There's lots of rich stuff there but the part I remember most is what Samuel did next.
Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen.
He named it Ebenezer, saying, "Thus far has the LORD helped us."
The word "Ebenezer" actually means stone of help. Lisa had big bags of flat river stones that she poured out on the table. She invited each of us to come forward and pick up a stone and a sharpie and to write something on the stone that would remind us of a time when the LORD had helped us. I participated in the exercise and I can still remember what I wrote on that stone. In fact, I still have it. I kept it in a drawer for a while and it amazed me that every time I looked at it, I remembered what God had done. (Guess that's why they built altars back then, huh?)
Why is it so hard to remember anyway? I can't even remember what I had for lunch yesterday. You'd think it would be easy to remember the Lord's goodness but can you recount three times recently that the Lord helped you? And I mean in a way that goes beyond I got the kids to bed early, or I made it home from work safely. I'm not saying those aren't important, but what are the times that should be memorialized? The biggies that will help you get through hard times in the future?
All throughout scripture God admonishes Israel to "remember" and I wanted to make sure that I remember too. So I had an idea. I went to Hobby Lobby and bought a big decorative bowl, a couple of bags of large flat river rocks, and a black paint pen. I put them in the bowl and then put my one old rock on the top of the pile. I placed this "Ebenezer" bowl on the table in our entry where everyone could see it and I asked God to remind me of the other "Ebenezers" in my life. Over the next couple of days, I would remember, pick up a rock, and write something down. When the girls had prayer requests they saw answered, I let them get a stone and write it down. Through the years, we have filled our bowl with "Ebenezers".
My favorite thing about this bowl is when someone sees it on the table and asks what it is. It has been such a great tool for giving testimony to others about our awesome God. I also treasure the times when the girls want to bring it to the dinner table and go through them. They love hearing the stories behind each rock. When we get discouraged, we go to the bowl and talk about the times God has been so faithful when when didn't understand the trials we were going through. I strengthens our faith to remember how faithful God has been. (I guess that's why he keeps telling us to remember!)
So back to the beginning. We've had lots of Ebenezer's this past year and still see more to come. It's been a difficult, stressful, challenging, wonderful, encouraging, blessed, amazing twelve months. I look forward to sorting through my stones with you. And I invite you to start your own Ebenezer bowl so you can say with confidence and hope, "Thus far the LORD has helped us!"