What is Your Ebenezer?

by Pastor Todd Witmer

Ebenezer is one of those funny Old Testament words that I hear occasionally (even sing from time to time – in “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing”) but never quite understood. As a matter of fact, it may be more familiar to me as the first name of an infamous penny-pincher with the last name of Scrooge than in its biblical setting.
The term comes from a time in Israel’s history when Samuel was the spiritual and political leader of the nation. In I Samuel 7, the Israelites come to Samuel asking for help to rededicate their lives to the Lord. They wanted Samuel to cry out to the Lord on their behalf. As the nation gathered for worship, the Philistines seized the opportunity to attack. The sacrifice of rededication took on the added purpose of a call for protection and courage in battle. While Samuel sacrificed the lamb, the Lord “thundered” against the Philistines. Israel won a great battle that day. Samuel set up a stone in the middle of the battlefield. He called it Ebenezer – “stone of help”, to remind the people that God answered in the middle of their struggle as they cried out. 
This Old Testament word took on new meaning a month ago as I was working through my morning coffee. These days I’m listening to a radio feature that I previously missed. A little before 8:30 am, the unmistakable voice of Joni Eareckson Tada brings a devotional thought that often stirs my cloudy, start of the day thinking. For those who are not familiar with Joni’s story, I encourage you to look it up. Simply put, a little more than 50 years ago, Joni dove into the Chesapeake Bay and hit the shallow bottom. Since that time, she has been a quadriplegic.
This morning, Joni’s message addressed the concept of Samuel’s Ebenezer. She went on to explain her “stone of help”. I was expecting her to describe an inspirational event (she has spoken at Billy Graham crusades and countless gatherings worldwide), or perhaps a friend who has been encouraging at a time of struggle. To my astonishment, Joni stated that her wheelchair is her Ebenezer! She went on to explain how she sees God’s help in countless ways through this piece of equipment that is her support and transportation.
I felt an uncomfortable conviction. If I were in her seat, I’m afraid the wheelchair would be a constant reminder of the terrible accident that made it necessary. How could Joni keep her focus on God’s “help” when it looked like a symbol of failure and unanswered prayer? I obviously have some soul-searching to do. What could I be viewing as a symbol of failure or misfortune that, if seen through eyes of faith, would be a reminder of God’s help? It is so easy to feel sorry for myself when my plans or expectations are not realized. What if God is at work, but His answer to my prayer is in an unexpected form?
In this season we remember the greatest “help” God provided for sinful humanity. What looked like total failure became the victory that brought salvation, available to all. May He give us eyes to see his “help” in the midst of our struggle. What is your Ebenezer?


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