Then Samuel took a stone and set it between Mizpah and Shen. He gave it the name Ebenezer, saying, “The Lord has helped us this far.”
-1 Samuel 7:12
🎶 Here I raise my... Ebenezer?, [what that means I've never known,]
And I hope by thy good pleasure, safely to arrive at home... 🎶
Well, those aren't the exact lyrics for the first line of that verse, but it doesn't matter either way, because if you've ever sung "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing" in a church gathering, there's a chance your mind started wondering because you have no clue what an Ebenezer is (you are prone to wander, after all!). It's a really beautiful song, but you know I'm right. That second verse gets you every time.
I always imagine some guy powerlifting Scrooge, as like a sacrifice to the gods. But I don't believe that's helpful in my spiritual journey.
Recent versions of the song actually deal with this linguistic challenge by rewriting the lyrics completely: Now it's, "Here I raise my highest praises...."
And that's great and all. But that's not what Ebenezer means! Not fully at least.
Literally in Hebrew, Ebenezer means "stone of help." And that checks out. After a big battle due to a Philistine attack in the book of 1 Samuel, the tide turns and Israel prevails. This happens just after the Israelites choose to turn from idols and trust God once again. It's a big, complicated (and rather bloody) story, but at the end, Samuel the priest wants to mark the moment together with something that could be seen and remembered through the generations. So he puts a big rock in between a couple villages as a reminder of God was their rescuer.
So more metaphorically, ebenezer is really about using something physical to mark moments of God's touch in our lives, so that we don't forget. It's a reminder of our past with God to build faith in our future with God. And this is something that I've been thinking about, especially during this unique season where exhaustion and discouragement have a real hold a lot of people (me included, frequently!). I've been remembering how forgetful we are!
In the world of psychology, it is often said that 5 positive interactions in a relationship are required to counteract 1 single negative interaction. For every insult someone gets, they need 5 compliments to be built back up to neutral. Have you heard that before? That means that for some reason, the negatives have a disproportionate amount of power in our lives. A day of struggle can make for a bad week, even if all the other days are hopeful! We remember the empty moments far more than the beautiful ones. We're forgetful.
That's why disciples of Jesus need to raise ourselves some Ebenezers.
Seriously though. We're no longer nomadic, so we miss out on the way the early people of God marked special places of spiritual encouragement as they passed by them. And we're also becoming less and less tactile, with most of our pictures and memories stored on our phones and our digital media accounts instead of on our actual walls. And so we easily forget them. Stones of help aren't common.
This matters in spiritual formation because so much of our faith is just that.... faith, where we can't see much in the moment, yet we still trust in God's care, rescue, and goodness. So maybe we need more stones around us-- more ebenezers to remind us that God has "helped us this far."
Ebenezers can be journal entries written to look back on in moments of despair, reminding you of the times you saw God's provision and care when you needed it.
Ebenezers can be stories told over meals and mugs about that time when you sensed Jesus's love so close that it was undeniable.
Ebenezers can be like my custom lanyard that says "Coach Miller" that my runners gave me, which reminds me of one way that God has opened a door for me to care for my local community doing something I love.
I don't know what they may be for you. But I think we should probably do a better job of collecting "stones of help" and raising them up by keeping them in our views, keeping them in our minds, and looking for new moments to mark the beauty of where Jesus is working. Because when I see your stones, my faith gets strengthened too.
What ebenezers do you already have? What new ones are you making?
Jesus, help me learn to mark my moments with you, to remember them, and to allow others to see them, so that we will not lose heart.