BISHOP LEVI CLARKE’S 2021 NEW YEAR’S MESSAGE

“And the children of Israel said to Samuel, Cease not to cry unto the LORD our God for us, that he will save us out of the hand of the Philistines.

And Samuel took a suckling lamb and offered it for a burnt offering wholly unto the LORD: and Samuel cried unto the LORD for Israel; and the LORD heard him. And as Samuel was offering up the burnt offering, the Philistines drew near to battle against Israel: but the LORD thundered with a great thunder on that day upon the Philistines and discomfited them; and they were smitten before Israel. And the men of Israel went out of Mizpeh, and pursued the Philistines, and smote them, until they came under Bethcar. Then Samuel took a stone, and set it between Mizpeh and Shen, and called the name of it Ebenezer, saying, Hitherto hath the LORD helped us” ( 1Samuel 7: 8-12).

On the eve of our global 21 Days Fasting and Prayer the Lord laid this passage on my heart to share with our church community.

Contextually it would be good to look at the entire chapter 7 which is a story of how Samuel lead Israel in a revival. After twenty years, Israel is now in a spiritual condition to receive the ark and gain victory over their enemy, the Philistines (1 Samuel 7: 1-2).

However, I would like to place special emphasis on (v. 12) of the text, “Then Samuel took a stone, and set it between Mizpeh and Shen, and called the name of it Ebenezer, saying, Hitherto hath the LORD helped us.” The name Eben-ezer means “stone of help.” One commentator said that it was a stone of remembrance, looking back  to the past. It was a stone of recognition, a stone for the present. A stone for the future, [up to this point, up to the present time] God has helped us!

It is customary around this time of the year for us to look back over the past. This year in my reflection on the past I cannot help but remembering the COVID-19 PANDEMIC – the infections to so many, the deaths, the distancing from families and loved ones, the economical effects, just to mention a few; however, the other side of the coin calls for thanksgiving and praise to the Almighty God. Our lives have been spared. The apostle Paul reminded us: “Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.”

Having arrived that this point, the questions then we must ask ourselves are:

Has God brought you through up to this point?

Is He leading you today?

Do you feel His guiding arms around you today?  

If the answers to all of the above is a resounding “Yes,” then we can say, Hitherto has the Lord helped us. He will continue to do just that and more for us in the future.

There are at least three very fundamental points in this passage to be observed and understand about Israel’s quest for victory: (1) Israel repenting of their turning away from God to Baalim and Ashtaroth, resulting in the ark been taken away from them. For twenty years they wept and cried for the return of the ark; but notice if you please, as important as the ark was it was not until Israel begin to “TURN”  with their whole heart to God and away from idolatrous worship of Baalim and Ashtaroth that God begin to hear and answer their prayer. The ark was important to the nation of Israel, in it was the oracles of God’s divine presence; however, they were to understand that God is too big to be contained or limited to a little square box. I cannot help at this point but to reference on how the COVID pandemic has affected all areas of our lives; even restricting us from our house of worship. For many the restrictions made us feel like God had turn his back against his people; however, I say, thank God, we have quickly realized that our God is omnipresent, and is not merely restricted to our physical church buildings, our eyes have been open to other means such as Zoom and other social means to carry out ministry, and what an awakening that has been! (2) Samuel that was both prophet and judge of Israel willingly sacrificing to the Lord the suckling lamb (vv. 7-8). “The children of Israel said to Samuel, cease not to cry unto the LORD OUR GOD for us, that He will save us out of the hand of the Philistines.”  There is no telling what God will do for his people when he sees that their hearts are in the right place (3) and final point is the ultimate victory of Israel over their enemy – the Philistines (vv. 8-12).  The children of Israel were at their lowest spiritual point; but their willingness to confess and turn to the Living God brought them victory. This was a very significant battle for Israel. It is said that a stone is now standing in memory of this battle, approximately three to four miles northwest of the city of Jerusalem. This is indeed a sobering reminder to us that regardless of how far we have drifted from God he still loves us and his waiting for us to come back to him with a penitent heart , and the victory will be ours!

Conclusion

It is very easy to allow the perplexing and difficulties of 2020 to zap us of a spirit of optimism and bright hopes for 2021. My encouragement to everyone is to shift gears to a spirit of faith and optimism in the God who holds tomorrow for 2021.

The lyrics of the song, “He did not bring us this far just to leave us” by: Brandin Reed j is a clear testament of God’s sovereign love for his people. Yes, Eben-ezer – hitherto [up to this point, up to the present time] God has helped us. And He will see us through 2021.

Therefore, I say as the psalmist: “O give thanks unto the LORD, for he is good: for his mercy endureth forever. Let the redeemed of the LORD say so, whom he hath redeemed from the hand of the enemy (PS. 107: 1 -2).

 

From our hearts to yours, HAPPY NEW YEAR to you and your family!

 

Levi Clarke

Mid-Atlantic Regional Bishop

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