What is an Ebenezer anyway?

I’ve never been able to remember what an “Ebenezer” is. It always bothered me when a song leader would say something about “raising an Ebenezer” in the middle of a worship set and confuse 90% of the congregation (much less the outsiders who are visiting that day).

I don’t think I’ll ever forget what Ebenezer means again.

Samuel and Ebenezer

I want to briefly share two stories. One is a recent experience of God’s faithfulness to us and one is a story of God’s faithfulness to a group of Israelites who were huddling together in fear in a town called Mizpah nearly 3,000 years ago.

With the threat of attack by the Philistine’s, Samuel the prophet reminded the Israelites to abandon their worship of other gods and to worship and serve the One True God.

So, the people gathered together at Mizpah, turned from their idols and fasted and confessed their sins. The Philistines took advantage of the fact that the Israelites were all together in one place and decided to attack them at Mizpah.

However, Samuel continued praying that God would deliver them and God threw the Philistine army into such confusion that they fled before Israel. Israel pursued and defeated the far superior army that day because of God’s faithfulness.

Verse 12 records the following:

Afterward, Samuel took a stone and set it upright between Mizpah and Shen. He named the stone Ebenezer, explaining, ‘The Lord has helped us to this point.'”

What is an Ebenezer? An Ebenezer is a reminder of God’s faithfulness. It is literally “a stone of help”. It is a marker that reminds us that even in the midst of difficult circumstances God has not abandoned us.

Entering the Desperation Zone

My own experience with an Ebenezer happened not long ago when my wife and I moved to Queens, NY. We moved because we believe God has called us here to start a church. You may have already read our story of how God miraculously provided an apartment for us when we first moved. But one month later, we were already wondering how God was going to provide another month’s rent. With no job and virtually no ongoing financial support, my wife and I spent several days after Christmas praying and fasting.

God used this trial to draw us close to Him (James 4:8) and to each other. He gave us a hunger for His Word, for influence in our new community, for power in prayer, and to be “fully supplied” in our life and ministry (Philippians 4:10-20). He was also humbling us and reminding us that “you can do nothing without Me” (John 15:5) which includes efforts to make disciples, plant churches, and provide for our family.

A few of the passages of Scripture that God pointed us to in that time were Psalm 67:1-2, John 14:12-14, and Philippians 4. Specifically, Psalm 67:1-2 says, “May God be gracious to us and bless us; look on us with favor so that Your way may be known on earth, Your salvation among all nations.” Our prayer was that God would bless us because we knew at least six people who do not follow God who had heard us give God the glory for providing our apartment. We felt that it wouldn’t just be an embarrassment for us if we couldn’t pay rent on time but that it would be a contradiction of our earlier testimony of God’s faithfulness.

In short, this trial accomplished much in our lives.

But there we were the day before our rent was due without the slightest indication that we would be able to pay.

To be honest, in spite of all the lessons we were learning my wife and I were on the verge of despair. We had even considered asking her parents (who live 15 minutes away) for help. There’s nothing wrong with that but I couldn’t understand why God would bring us to New York, provide an apartment for us, and then fail us at such an important moment, but I must confess that I began entertaining alternate solutions.

We decided we would make a final decision about what to do after church on Sunday morning, which was also the first of the month.

That morning, the sermon was entitled “Our God, Our Help In Ages Past” which is also the title of a song that was written by Sir Isaac Watts in 1719.

The text was 1 Samuel 7.

As the pastor began telling the story of Samuel and the Israelites at Mizpah, I immediately recognized that God was using His Word to speak directly into our lives. When I was reminded from 1 Samuel 7:12 the meaning of “Ebenezer” (the Lord has helped us to this point) I knew instantly what our family would do: we would wait patiently for the Lord to accomplish His will even if that meant that for some reason His will was for us to be late or unable to pay our  rent.

After church, my wife and I compared notes on the sermon. Almost all of the passages of Scripture that we had been meditating on had been mentioned in the sermon (Psalm 67 and Philippians 4 specifically). Whether God supplied our need or not, we knew that whatever happened next was according to His will. God had already proven that when we present our requests to God that He would supply us with His peace which “surpasses every thought” (Philippians 4:6-7)

Spoiler Alert: God Provided

Well, God didn’t just provide, He got creative! I think God was listening to our prayers and rolled up His sleeves and said to Himself, “I’m gonna have some fun with this one.”

First, our landlord called us and told us they were away on vacation. They told us not to worry about paying rent until the 3rd or 4th.

Secondly, after a long time of prayer on the 3rd, I went down to check the mail and there were two unexpected checks in the mail that brought us up to about half of what we needed.

Finally, we had also been praying that God would show us if there was anything He wanted us to do. He answered clearly that we were to cash in all of our savings and trust Him for the future. The process was supposed to take up to 10 days but we went ahead and zeroed out the one account and started the process. The money cleared our bank account the very next morning.

On the fourth, our landlord returned from vacation and our rent check was waiting for them when they arrived.

What is an Ebenezer? This post is an Ebenezer. An Ebenezer is anything that reminds us that “The Lord has helped us to this point.” I share this story with you more for my benefit than anything else. I want to record stories of God’s faithfulness for those moments when I tend to forget.

What is your Ebenezer? What reminds you that God loves you? If you’ve got a couple of minutes, feel free to write the story of your Ebenezer in the comments below.

Nathan is the pastor of City Life Church in Ridgewood, NY. He and his family are committed to making and multiplying disciples in the most diverse county in the US. Read more about Nathan here. Visit the City Life Church website here.

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