Upon her husband’s death, a woman learned that he had left her a moderate financial legacy of $20,000. Shortly after the funeral the woman informed a friend that she was broke. The friend was surprised and inquired as to what had happened to the $20,000. The widow answered, “Well, the funeral and rental of the church building cost $7,000, and on top of that I spent $500 on food and drink for the wake.” With her friend still listening the widow continued, “The remaining $12,500 went toward a memorial stone.” The friend interjected, “Wow, $12,500 for a memorial stone! My goodness, how big is the stone?” Extending her hand the widow said, “Three carats!”

Joking aside it is a good thing to mark and memorialize significant turning points in our lives. Remembering God’s goodness and mercy, providential protections and provisions, the love of one’s family, and the kindness of others is a spiritual discipline that helps us be more grateful, faithful, and hopeful. The more we recall of God’s past dealings in our lives the more we can thank God for the past, trust God in the present, and hope in God for the future. While we ought not to live in the past, the past ought to live in us as a memorial to the trustworthiness, kindness, love, and guidance of God. The Psalms would teach us that faith recounting leads to faith rejoicing, which in turn leads to faith renewed (Psa. 42:5-6; 66:16; 77:10-11; 103:1-5). As the Puritan Thomas Adams insightfully noted, “Much good comfort is lost for want of a good memory.”

This principle and paradigm is worked out in the life Israel and the ministry of the prophet Samuel as shown in 1 Samuel 7:12. Here we read of a tremendous turning of the tide regarding Israel and their nemesis, the Philistines. After twenty years of languishing and losses, the nation turns to God under Samuel’s leadership and for the first time in a long long time defeats their perennial enemy the Philistines. As a result of the win, a stone monument is erected to commemorate and celebrate that victory (1 Sam. 7:12). The monument was called the Ebenezer stone, which means, “Thus far has the Lord helped us.” Evidently, the monument was an expression of thanks regarding the past and an expression of trust regarding the future. Looking back helped them to look forward with renewed optimism and trust.

Taking our cue from this story, we will serve ourselves well by erecting a few Ebenezer stones of our own. We need to keep alive for our families, churches, nation, and even ourselves the memory of God’s gracious dealings and faithful acts toward us. Why? Because a faith that looks back is a faith that is able to press forward with confidence and clarity (Psa. 63:7-8; Lam. 3:21; Acts 26:22). Remembering what has been helps us cope with what is, and to dream of what yet can be.

Today, build some Ebenezer stones by giving thanks, by celebrating significant days and dates, by revisiting significant places, by decorating your house with memorials, by telling family stories to the next generation, or by keeping a journal!