Growing up in the church, I understood an ebenezer to be a marker set up to remember something God has done in the past. The word is only mentioned briefly in Scripture. In 1 Samuel 7, Samuel raises a monument and calls it Ebenezer, which seems to mean a “stone of help.” It has come to mean, at least in some Christian circles, something set up as a reminder of God's character or provision for His children.
God often instructs His children to remember and even gives physical signs to aid our remembrance of His character and provision. For instance:
"When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth” (Gen. 9:16, ESV).
I don't plan to erect stone monuments to the Lord as Samuel did, but I do take note of the ways God has provided for me and what He has revealed to me of His character at different points in my life. I write them down. I journal them.
For me, some of my journals have turned into books, and each of the three books I've published are ebenezers to me, monuments that remind me of particular aspects of God's character and provision that He revealed to me at specific times in my life. Practical Theology for Women reflected the revelation that I need to know exactly what I believe about God because knowing Him matters to daily life.
When my husband lost his job for a year and then needed open-heart surgery right after moving to a city where we knew no one, understanding the character of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit became as necessary to me as oxygen. Practical Theology for Women was the fruit of that journey.
By His Wounds You Are Healed was written as I was emerging from a negative church situation, recognizing in the aftermath that using the words gospel, grace and Jesus doesn't mean one actually understands or acts consistently with what the Bible teaches about the gospel, God's grace or the Person and work of Jesus Christ. The gospel of Jesus has to mean something when conflicts arise. The beauty of the gospel, God's grace and Jesus shine brightest in the midst of sin and conflict, I learned through that study of Ephesians. By His Wounds reflects all God was teaching me of the profound meaning of grace as I studied His Word at that time.
The Gospel-Centered Woman was born out of walking through painful circumstances that never seemed to resolve, both personally and with close friends. The biggest trials and struggles of many of my closest friends seem directly tied to things God has declared good and a blessing in women's lives. How do we walk forward in this fallen world when God declares good the very things that bring such pain in our lives?
The disconnect between what God intended in perfection and our reality after the fall seems insurmountable. And actually, it is for us. But God declared good news through Jesus Christ—that Jesus summited what seemed insurmountable to us. He has made a way for us to live as overcomers in the midst of the kind of things that should destroy us. They that lose their lives shall find it. As I wrote The Gospel-Centered Woman, I loved meditating on the gospel and thinking through how very relevant it is as we yearn to be equipped to deal with hard things in life as women.
Along with several well-marked Bibles, my books are my ebenezers, particularly my personal, well-worn copies with the Scripture all marked up. You too probably have something well-marked representing times in the past where the Lord moved in your heart concerning His character and goodness. Whatever things you have around your home that contain physical reminders of how God has previously worked in your life, they are an important part of God's instructions to sustain us for the long, hard, persevering walk of faith.
Some days I am dry and thirsty, and I feel I can barely open my Bible in my discouragement, let alone tackle some new passage I'm supposed to be studying. On those days (which sometimes last for long seasons), ebenezers are gifts from God. He gave us great wisdom when He gave us the instruction, “Remember!” For myself, I find opening an old study Bible or my well-marked copy of my study of Ephesians a conduit of great grace to me.
If you are in a hard season, it's easy to forget or diminish what God has done for you in the past. “If God really worked for me in the past, why am I having such struggles now? Shouldn't it be getting better?” But that has never been the nature of this journey of faith.
Never, ever in Scripture is faith portrayed as a steady positive climb. It's portrayed as mountains and valleys, raging rivers and dry deserts. He leads us by still waters where we can drink deeply. But it is in preparation for walking through the valley of the shadow of death. His instruction to remember is key for surviving the drought and enduring through the valleys.
If you are struggling right now in such a season, I offer the simple suggestion that you go find some ebenezer from your own life. Engage with the reminders of how God has worked for you in the past. I believe you will find water for your thirsty soul that equips you to endure for the future.
I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your wonders of old. —Psalm 77:11
Adapted from Wendy Alsup's blog, theologyforwomen.org. Wendy has authored three books, including The Gospel-Centered Woman. She is also a wife, mom and college math teacher who loves ministering to women.