And he moved from there to the mountain east of Bethel, and he pitched his tent with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east; there he built an altar to the Lord and called on the name of the Lord.– Genesis 12:8
After a hard journey from Haran to Shechem, Abram had learned to have God as his shoulder and his strength. He enjoyed a sufficient supply and an enjoyable living with God. However, the Lord desired Abram to advance. Though He could supply Abram with so many riches, He would still ask the question, “How about Me?”
All of a sudden, you realize: the blessings here, the riches here, the strength here are all centered on me. No! Lord, I want to carry on with something of You. Lord, I advance so You can be satisfied.
So you come to the second place: Bethel, the house of God.
You advance. Where do you advance? From self-centered to God-centered, from self-gain to mutual gain, from my satisfaction to Christ’s satisfaction. God asks, “Yes, I totally satisfy you, but can you take care of My need for the house of God?” Then you say, “Lord, what do You want?” It’s very simple. God says, “I want a house. I want my church. I want my church to be testified!” Once you see this, you are not after any humans, human favors, or institutions. You are after the house of God that totally satisfies God Himself! Eventually, you have to realize that everything you have gained in Haran and Shechem will be used to become the substance of the house of God. They are not for you. Every Christian needs to grow from how “I” can be strengthened, and grow into what the Lord wants. Now you see that Abram was very spiritual because he began to consider God’s need and he advanced to Bethel.
However, there is another city called Ai, meaning “heap of ruins.” Ai is the world and all it can supply. When Abram got to Bethel, he looked at all the herds, cows, and possessions he had, and began to have mixed feelings. He may have thought, “If I’m in the house of God, I need a proper supply.” Abram’s thinking was very simple: if I come here, the supply will be very low, so how about I come down from the house of God and build an altar that’s not too far from Ai?
Now, Abram is not that simple anymore. He says, “God, I’m totally for You, but I rely on the world.” Isn’t that a funny offering? Think about how well he offered in Shechem: “God, I offer everything to You!” God was very clear: “I will make you a blessing!” But then he came to the house of God. This should be the highest point. This is where you and Christ live together, where God can make a habitation among His people. Surprisingly, there’s Ai beside you. This little Ai is scary. Ai is a place, a heap of ruins, but it provides everything you need.
You can be very much for the house of God, but be unwilling to give up your status. Brothers, if we have some consideration of Bethel, then we build an altar right in-between Bethel and Ai because we need a supply. Shechem is very simple, but when you come to the house of God, you consider Ai. Ai is going to say, “I’m your supply, I can meet your need, I can provide your university, your job, your house, your car…”
Who’s more spiritual, the one in Shechem or the one in Bethel? You have to say that the one in Bethel is more spiritual, but all spiritual men are very practical. Once you come to Bethel, you realize that you need a supply to continue properly. Here, you can either trust in the Lord or in the world’s convenience. The altar in Shechem is for yourself, but the one between Bethel and Ai is for God’s house. When you’re by yourself, it’s simple to follow the Lord. When you come to God’s house, everything becomes complicated. Unconsciously, you have compromise. We can be for the church… if the Lord pays our bills. We are willing to give ourselves to the church life… if the Lord gives us the perfect spouse. So again, we see that Abram is complicated. He sees a vision of God’s house and is for that, but is still close to Ai. Because of this, God’s hand comes in: I want you to advance more. This advancement is not what you expected. I’m going to advance you to a higher place where you can be so one with Me.
We should pray, “Lord, we want to satisfy You. Tell us what You want rather than what we want. Give us a real consecration to only care for what You want. Have mercy upon us!”
– Compiled from message notes on Titus Chu’s speaking
“Have mercy upon us” is indeed one of the mottos of our Christian life. The experience Abram had building an altar between Bethel and Ai characterizes the struggle that we go through when following the Lord. We may desire to be fully for the Lord, but also realize that it’s not as easy as we may have thought. What’s interesting about Abram’s journey is that God never told him that he was wrong. Instead, he allowed a famine to force Abram to Egypt so that he could learn a lesson and advance more in his faith. In the same way, we often make compromises in our Christian lives, and the Lord has to work in our environment to purify us so that we can be wholly for Him. All we can say is “Lord, have mercy on us; That in every experience, every compromise, every shortcoming that we have, You are still with us and can give us a real consecration to only care for what You desire.”