I still remember the first time I learned that “ebenezer” was more than a scrooge-y character in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. I was taking an Old Testament class in seminary, and when I came to 1 Samuel 7 I read about God’s saving intervention in the face of great peril. 1 Samuel 7:10-11 recounts,
While Samuel was sacrificing the burnt offering, the Philistines drew near to engage Israel in battle. But that day the Lord thundered with loud thunder against the Philistines and threw them into such a panic that they were routed before the Israelites. The men of Israel rushed out of Mizpah and pursued the Philistines, slaughtering them along the way to a point below Beth Kar.
In response to God’s faithfulness Samuel does the following:
Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen. He named it Ebenezer, saying, “Thus far the Lord has helped us.” (v. 12)
When I first read this passage I loved the visual, the idea of marking the spot where God had been faithful. Not only did that stone remind Samuel of God’s faithfulness, but whenever Samuel’s ancestor’s would pass by it, they too would remember God’s love.
That’s when I decided to begin doing the same.
Ever since I learned about the story behind the ebenezer, I have periodically paused to raise my own ebenezers, vowing to remember God’s faithfulness whenever He has helped me. And this year, as 2012 draws to a close, I can’t help but raise one now.
2012 has been a year of tremendous blessing for me and Ike. As I have looked back on the last 12 months, it has been clear that God “made our paths straight” (Prov. 3:6) by going before us in a number of different ways. I want to share some of those acts of faithfulness with you because they are nothing short of awesome, but before I do I want to say two things.
First, I am not sharing these blessings in order to brag. Instead, I am taking note of God’s faithfulness because not all years will be like this one. Some years will be difficult and even awful. But that is exactly why we need our ebenezers. They ensure that we remember God’s character when we are tempted to doubt. Like the Israelites in the desert who forgot the Lord’s faithfulness soon after they were delivered from Egypt, I find in myself a tendency to do the same. Which is why remembering and praising God must be an intentional habit.
Second, the blessings in my life do not suggest greater favor with God than anyone else. I believe that God blesses different people, in different ways, at different seasons in life. We are not meant to compare our blessings, but simply to rejoice that God is infinite and so is the manifestation of His goodness in each of our lives. There is no exhausting the many different expressions of His glory in our lives.
With that in mind, here are some snapshots of God’s goodness to me and Ike throughout the last year:
1. Academic/Professional Guidance
Not many people know this, but Ike and I chose to attend Trinity in spite of quite a few deterrents. At the time we applied, Trinity’s systematic theology program was seeking to fill some vacancies in its faculty and there was not a specialist in Ike’s field of study. Meanwhile, Ike was accepted to another school where he could have studied under a great theologian who did. The choice should have been easy, but the Spirit led differently. Between prayer and godly counsel, we were quite sure that God wanted us at Trinity.
The first two years were hard for Ike. Although we knew God wanted us there and we really did love Trinity, Ike continued to wrestle with the gap between his research topic and available expertise. He often wondered whether he had made the right choice.
This year, however, we began to understand why God led us to Trinity. This past fall a professor rejoined the faculty who is a perfect fit for Ike’s dissertation. Before we ever came to Trinity this man had already influenced Ike’s theology and thinking greatly, so we were thrilled to hear about his arrival.
Last summer he agreed to be Ike’s dissertation advisor. Since then he has given Ike his patience, wisdom, and guidance at a key time in Ike’s doctoral studies. His presence has been an amazing answer to prayer and we couldn’t have planned it better ourselves.
2. Financial provision.
Since Ike and I are both in school, you can probably guess that we’re not exactly rolling in the dough. We had prayed about starting our family and felt that the time was right, but we were a little unsure about how the financial details would work out.
As providence would have it, we were presented with an opportunity to become custodians of a house where we now live for free. Amazingly, I was already pregnant when we interviewed for the position, but we didn’t know it yet. We moved in shortly after the interview, and freed up our finances just in time for our new medical expenses..
In addition to that amazing timing, our school changed insurance plans less than a month before Isaac was born. Had we been on the original insurance plan we would have owed thousands of more dollars, but because the school switched to a different plan we were spared a majority of the bills.
3. Isaac’s Birth
Some of you will remember that my pregnancy was standard and low risk the entire 9 months. That is, until the end. I became high risk about 20 hours into labor when I developed pre-eclampsia. In addition to this complication, I wasn’t progressing well and Isaac’s heart wasn’t responding well to the contractions. As time went by, we became increasingly worried about our baby, and we also feared I would have a C-section.
Somewhere around the 28 hour mark I was still only dilated 6 cm and we thought a C-section was inevitable. We were both concerned about Isaac, exhausted by the labor, and overwhelmed by our fears, so we decided to stop and pray. We gave the whole process to God and prayed for the peace to trust Him with it.
Within an hour and a half I dilated from 6 to 10 cm and I was ready to push! The delivery itself only took about 20 minutes because Isaac came right out, and he was perfectly healthy.
In retrospect, it felt as though God had led us to make the right decision each step of the labor. We couldn’t have anticipated the complications so it was impossible to have planned for them, but God directed our steps. And since that day, we have been delighted by our precious baby boy. He has brought so much joy to our lives, and he is truly the shining light of this year’s many blessings.
God has been faithful to us in many other ways as well, but when I look back on this year those are the events I will truly remember. In each circumstance we experienced periods of fear, uncertainty, and doubt, but God was faithful and He led us through it.
Not every story ends on such a note of joy, but in the messy seasons of life when I can’t see the light and I am tempted to despair, I want to remember my ebenezers. I need to remember them. They remind me that God is faithful and trustworthy. He intends good for His children, and His love does not falter.
2012 was the year of tasting God’s goodness again and again, so here I raise my ebenezer. Because thus far the Lord has helped us, and I am certain that help will never cease.
What are your ebenezers from the year?