In the book of Joshua, the nation of Israel is making their slow journey to the Promised Land when they come upon the Jordan River. I’ve never seen the Jordan River in real life, but if its anything like the Roaring Fork River here in Colorado then I wouldn’t want to be carrying my belongings and baby across it. But, God commands Joshua to have the priests place a stone on their shoulders and stand in the middle of the river.
As these people wade into the water, it dries up.
Everyone crosses safely. A miracle of God has been witnessed.
Before the Israelites left the Jordan River, the Lord commanded Joshua to take those twelve stones and create a memorial “so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the Lord is mighty, that you may fear the Lord your God forever” (Joshua 4:24).
Can you imagine the look on the face of a little boy who sees raging water dry up beneath his feet? His emotions probably go from fear to disbelief to awe in a matter of seconds. Yet, how long do you think it took before this little boy and the rest of the Israelites gave way to fear, believing God wouldn’t answer their next crisis in the same way?
I’ve been in that place emotionally. I have experienced difficult seasons where I begin to wonder when God is going to show up and sop up a river for me. I’ve seen him heal, reconcile, and win victories over my daily sin; but when I find myself in the desert land, I begin to wonder where He is and if He really can defeat the enemy.
It’s not a coincidence that the Lord asks Joshua to build an Ebenezer, a collection of stones as a reminder of Israel’s deliverance. It’s a strategic act knowing that His people would forget his faithfulness otherwise. God didn’t ask us to build stone memorials to remember what He does in our lives. He gave us the power of the Holy Spirit to remind us of His presence. But, I find that I need a literal stone memorial as a physical representation of the wonderful things the Lord has done.
A real artifact that reminds us of events where God has shown His mercy amidst our trials.
Our brains are wired to associate memories with objects and God taps into this. A recent study by Timothy F. Brady, an MIT cognitive neuroscience professor, explains why we are so quick to forget. In his experiment, he showed participants 3,000 pictures of objects and later showed the participants two photos and asked which object they had seen before. Surprisingly, the participants scored 90% or above on their ability to recall the correct images. Yet, when asked to recall a name of a product their spouse asked them to pick up at the grocery store, they couldn’t seem to remember because they were recalling the name from their memory without a visual reminder.
Where the Israelites had stones, I want to have mementos that will help me and my community remember what God has done in that moment. When the year is over we can look back and worship God for the miracles, the desert lands, and the everyday answered promises. I want to display the trinkets in a memory box in our home. So that when our family and friends ask what they mean, we can tell them of the wonderful deeds of God.
For those who desire more literal representations, you might host a little ceremony with friends or family and use actual stones. Each person can share what God has done and place their stone in the center of the circle. After everyone has spoken, you can look and see the massive pile of rocks and pray thanks to God.
For others, maybe you also write them down in a journal and pray over the memories with another person. How fun would it be to have a “God Stood in the River for Me” journal that you could look back on every year? Where some might make resolutions at the start of the new year, I challenge you to think in reverse and recall what God has accomplished thus far in your story.