(From 1 Samuel 7)
For a long time they had half-heartedly believed in their God, giving him lip service and imagining they loved him while experimenting with the intriguing gods of the people around them. Was their God really the one and the true? These others seemed easier, more comfortable, less demanding. At least at first.
For a long time the presence of God was among them, waiting patiently. And then the people began to “lament after the Lord.”
If you’re serious, said Samuel their leader, get rid of those other gods. Serve the Lord only. Till now, this command had seemed impossible for this people surrounded by enemies who wanted to destroy them. They lived in constant fear, and a great way to handle that was to compromise. “How about if we serve our God and your gods? See how adaptable we are?” Besides, those other gods seem pretty attractive.
But no amount of compromise satisfies a god who wants all of you. This is the way of all gods. You can’t serve them only in part. You can’t give them half. The gods will war over your soul, and you will be torn in pieces.
And so this compromised people remembered their first God, the God who wanted all of them but who gave them all of himself in return. The God who loved them. They lamented for what could have been and now was lost.
They still feared their enemies. But their longing for God outweighed their fear. They did what Samuel said. They put away their gods, came together to seek their God.
Leave it to the enemy to strike just when we are making things right, just when it seems we are back on the right track. The Philistines heard the people were together, worshipping. They pounced. And the people were terrified.
But God is for the people who are for him. He threw the enemy into confusion. He protected his people. The enemy withdrew.
But the enemy did not go away. The Philistines were still there, lurking, menacing. The people were still afraid. What if they come back? What if next time we fall? How can we rest when the enemy is watching?
And so Samuel put up a stone. A reminder. He named the stone Ebenezer, or “Stone of Help.” “Till now the Lord has helped us,” Samuel said. Whenever the people passed by that rock, they would remember how they had turned to the Lord and how the Lord had helped them.
Yes, the enemies are still there. Yes, they still want to see you destroyed. The future is unknown. But your God is still here too. His promises are unchanging. And till now the Lord has helped you. Till now he has not failed.
Sometimes “till now” may be all you have to hold to. The future is unknown, the enemies are all around, and fear abounds. It’s tempting to compromise. But you can look at your Ebenezer, and you can keep saying it, “Till now the Lord has helped me.” Step by step, moment by moment in the presence of your enemies.
He wants all of you, but he gives you all of himself, all the way to death and beyond. He is stronger than death, stronger than hate, stronger than fear, stronger than any enemy.
This Thanksgiving, find your Ebenezer and set it up where you can be reminded of his help, his faithfulness and patience, his constant presence. Remember all the “till now” moments and claim them. Watch your enemies be subdued.
Here I raise my Ebenezer
Hither by Thy great help I’ve come
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure
Safely to arrive at home
Jesus sought me when a stranger
Wandering from the fold of God
He, to rescue me from danger
Interposed His precious blood