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  • Writer's pictureJoseph Ola

A Cow That Has No Tail: A Birthday Reflection

The best weapon to survive the unending battles of life: A GOOD MEMORY.

When I woke up this morning, all I could do was to remember.

“31 years gone, just like that!” I said to Jesus as I headed to the kitchen to make a cup of tea.

Unlike my birthday routine for the last few years of doing a series of posts counting down to the day, all I wanted to do this year is to remember—remember the highs and lows, the summers and the winters.

While the water for my tea was boiling, I recalled a message I preached recently in church. I titled it ‘EBENEZER’ (Stone of Help). If the message could be summarised in one statement, it’s this:

“The key that unlocks VICTORY in life is Divine Help, and the key that unlocks Divine Help is REMEMBRANCE.”

It’s a simple thought, but a profound one. The idea came from 1 Samuel 7:12-14 where the Israelites experienced one of their most memorable victories. The context of the story, however, makes it clear that this was not a victory that came because of the bravery or strategy of the Israelites; it was a victory rooted in just one thing: THE HELP OF GOD. Divine Help. (The story of my life!)

There is a saying amongst my people,

“Màlúù tí ò nírù, Ọlọ́run ní ḿbá a léṣinṣin.” Translation: “A cow that has no tail can count on God to help it chase flies away.”

I reckon this to be the story of my life, these 31 years.

The ‘Ebenezer’ story actually begins in 1 Samuel chapter 4. The Israelites had faced the Philistines and lost 4,000 soldiers in one day. They re-strategised and thought that if they brought in the Ark of Covenant, they will ‘automatically’ start winning, so they brought in the Ark from Shiloh. They rejoiced at its arrival so loudly that the ground shook and the Philistines were terrified. In spite of this seeming assurance, however, they went to battle and the Philistines killed even much more of them—30,000 in all! And that’s not even the worst bit. They lost the Ark of Covenant in the process!

When Eli heard it, he died.

When Eli’s pregnant daughter-in-law heard it, she went into premature labour and gave birth to a boy which she named ‘Ichabod’ (meaning ‘the Glory has departed’).

For the next 20 years, as Prophet Samuel records, “all Israel was in sorrow because the Lord had seemingly abandoned them.” (1 Samuel 7:2 TLB, emphasis mine).

Samuel led the people into repentance, consecration and worship. And as the nation of Israel were worshipping God, the Philistines came again. (Yes, while 20 kids may not play together for 20 years, there are stubborn adversaries that keep showing up years without end). This time, however, God Himself intervened. He made a thunderous sound from the heavens and threw the whole camp of the Philistines into disarray! The Israelites took this as their go-ahead from God and defeated the Philistines massively. The defeat was so final that the Philistines “didn’t invade Israel again at that time because the Lord was against them throughout the remainder of Samuel’s lifetime.” (1 Samuel 7:13 TLB).

You will recall that when the Israelites made a thunderous roar in celebration of the arrival of the Ark of Covenant in chapter 4, they still lost the battle. Woefully. But when God thundered from heaven in Chapter 7, they won the battle hands down! The implication is clear; there is only one explanation for their victory: GOD. The Israelites are the tailless cows whose God had helped to chase their flies away.

In acknowledgement, Samuel took a stone and named it ‘Ebenezer’ — meaning ‘stone of help’. He said “The Lord has certainly helped us!” (1 Samuel 7:12 TLB).

But why did Samuel do that? What’s the point in picking that stone? And what’s the point in naming the stone ‘Ebenezer’? The reason is not far-fetched. He wanted the Israelites to be INTENTIONAL about REMEMBERING.

The word ‘Ebenezer’ is not only apt in this instance as a one-word testimony for how God brought them victory. The word had appeared earlier in this same book. Guess where? In Chapter 4! Ebenezer was where the Israelites lost 30,000 men to the Philistines. So Samuel is naming their victory ‘Ebenezer’ not only because of the literal meaning of the word, but also as a reminder of the backdrop of this victory: a 20-year-old defeat.

“The key that unlocks VICTORY in life is Divine Help, and the key that unlocks Divine Help is REMEMBRANCE.”

It is for the same reason that Joshua ordered that 12 stones be dislodged from Jordan’s riverbed and piled upon one another as a memorial after the Israelites crossed River Jordan. He was arming the Israelites with their best weapon to survive the unending battles of life: A GOOD MEMORY.

We all need this.

My birthday gift to you, therefore, is a question: Where is your Ebenezer? Where is your Stone of Help? To put it in clearer terms, Can you recall HOW God has helped you . . . and WHY?

  • Your Ebenezer could be a DATE you can’t forget.

  • A PLACE permanently engraved on the walls of your memory.

  • A PERSON (or PEOPLE) through whom God has come through for you.

  • An EVENT or EXPERIENCE that has changed your story for the better.

You want some inspiration to compile your ‘Ebenezer List’? Here’s an excerpt from my copy:

  • I remember ‘EASTHAM D2’. It’s a meaningless phrase that labelled an anonymous credit alert for £100 which came in at a time when £100 felt like £1m. The money was so timely, it could only have been God chasing away some flies of strandedness from my tailless cow. You can read all about it here.

  • I remember ‘GOMBE’. To you, it may be just a city in Northern Nigeria; for me, however, it’s an acronym. ‘God Of My Beautiful Experience.’ In that city, I met my wife and received the beginning of a progressive revelation into my future.

  • I remember ‘FEBRUARY 10, 2012.’ It’s the day Valentine came early for me—the day the first lady I will ever ask to marry me gave me her response. It was neither a ‘yes’ nor a ‘no’. I got a better deal: “I AM READY.” (As I was typing this part of the post, the said damsel walked in, gave me a hug and prayed for me from her heart. I couldn’t hold back the tears!)

  • I remember ‘A PHONE CALL IN FEBRUARY 2015’. The call came from a couple I was yet to meet physically. Our conversation that night made coming to the UK possible as God led me into another phase in His unfolding plans. (Coming to the UK is not the blessing, mind you; the blessing is in being led into the next season in God’s unfolding plan.)

  • I remember ‘AN APRIL VISITOR IN 2012.’ He’s a man of God who stopped by to say ‘hello’ to my parents while passing through our town. As he prayed for us when he was about to leave, he had a message for me. Exploring that message led me to the adventure of abandoning Microbiology and a pending job offer for the pursuit of God’s call for my life. I’ve never regretted the decision.

  • I remember ‘WHO ARE YOU?’. It’s the theme of a 2-evening event I attended while in my first year in Uni. June 2016. It was at that meeting that I became what Yorubas call ‘ọmọlúwàbí’ (which translated, literally means ‘a child born by the Lord of Character’). The equivalent in Christianese is ‘being born again.’ To be born again, of course, is to be born of God—born of the Lord/Master of Character and Virtue.

[There is another saying that highlights this born-again concept in the Yoruba tradition. It goes thus: “Kí ẹrú mọ ara ẹ̀ lẹ́rú; kí ìwọ̀fà mọ ara ẹ̀ níwọ̀fà; kí ọmọlúwàbí mọ ara ẹ̀ lẹ́rú Ọlọ́run ọba.” Translation: “Let the slave know himself or herself as a slave; let the pawn know himself or herself as a pawn; let the ọmọlúwàbí know himself or herself as the child of God.”](Oops! I couldn’t resist chipping in a bit of ‘African Theology’.)

I could go on and on recounting the countless items on ‘My Ebenezer List’, but let’s turn the table and point the question back to you: WHAT’S YOUR EBENEZER?

When you remember what God has done, it reminds you of Whose you are. If you will recognise the Jordan in your rearview mirror, faith will arise as you approach the Jericho in front of your windshield. If you will recall the place where you fell and the lessons Providence taught you from there, you have perspective to face the future.

So join me in creating a trophy room. Let’s create one in our heart. For each victory that comes our way going forward—each provision, protection and answered prayer—we will do well by placing a memory on the shelf in our trophy room. In no time, we will have a room full of trophies that remind us that though we may be like a cow with no tail, there is a God Whose track record clearly shows that He can be counted on to help us chase the flies away.

You are the ‘Flies Chaser’ on my tailless cow. 
You’ve chased away the flies of debts and death. 
Chase away, also, the fly of forgetfulness 
That I may always remember that You are my ‘Flies Chaser’. 
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