By Titus Chu
The Altar Life
If we lived during the time of Moses and entered the outer court of the tabernacle, we would first be confronted with the altar. We could not skip it and move on to something else that we preferred. It did not matter if the altar was too hot or smelled bad, it would be there waiting for us. This picture tells us that the Christian life is a matter of the altar. As soon as we are saved, God intends for us to begin an altar life.
Consumed and Enlarged
The altar life is a romantic life. On the one hand we are continually being burnt to ashes. On the other hand we are being enlarged. Both happen simultaneously. Watchman Nee experienced this as can be seen in part of his hymn:
In me enlarge Thy measure,
And me to ashes turn.
— Songs & Hymns of Life, #331
In this one verse he said enlarge my capacity and consume me into ashes. When I was young I would sing this hymn, but I couldn’t understand this verse. If we are ashes how can the Lord enlarge us? It seemed to me that if we are ashes, we are finished. Now after many years of serving the Lord, I realize that the more we are ashes, the more we are enlarged. The more the Lord consumes us, the more He establishes and builds us.
The Altar Church Life
Some of us are Chinese and so prefer a Chinese food church life. Many come from other backgrounds and so prefer a church life that matches them. Others have musical training and prefer a church life full of good music. And still others are scholars and want to have a Bible study church life. Some want a tongue-speaking church life and others want a healing church life. But God wants us all to consecrate ourselves to Him so we can have an altar church life. He wants to consume us with all our differences and preferences so He can build us up as His church.
First we consecrate ourselves to God. Then He consumes us and builds us up. At the very time God is consuming us, He is also establishing us. The more we consecrate ourselves, the more we are changed, because we are living on the altar. We may still eat Chinese food, listen to good music, or study the Bible, but these things are all ashes now. They can never be our boast nor can we use them to define our church life. Our boast is the altar and our church life is the ark.
I once visited a large congregation in a small town In China. They had a huge hall that possibly took them seven years and millions of dollars to build. The major room held 5000 people, and the overflow room held the same. The pastor was very happy as he walked me out, saying, “Oh, it’s all the Lord’s mercy.” Then I looked at him and said, “Brother, the tabernacle was covered with badger skin. It was very ugly.” All of a sudden, his face dropped.
There is nothing wrong with building a large hall, but we should be happy because of Christ, not the hall. Badger skin is rough and ugly. There is nothing to be proud of or to boast in. We shouldn’t try to attract people with our outward building, but by the Christ built up in us through our experiences of the altar.
The Experience of the Altar
The church life is a life on the altar. On one hand, everyone is ashes. On the other hand, everyone is enlarged and established. We can no longer boast in our ability or talent. We no longer have self confidence or assurance. Everything we were once proud of has been consumed. We have become ashes, but at the same time, we are established.
This is why Watchman Nee wrote, “In me enlarge Thy measure, and me to ashes turn.” Although these two things seem as though they cannot go together, it is a spiritual fact backed up by our experience. When we are consumed, we are established.
Those who serve the Lord full time know this experience very well. They come with a lot, but in time that all disappears. They come with education, work experience, and Bible knowledge. They are always full of talent, ambition, hopes, and dreams. By choosing to serve full time, they consecrate themselves and begin to live a life on the altar. Not only they themselves, but their spouses also are automatically on the altar with them. It is a hard life.
Over time everything they come with turns to ashes. Some of their former classmates may have become famous, and some of their business partners may have become rich, but they seemingly have nothing. There can be no boast or pretense. However they themselves have been built up. They have become solid people who know what they live for. They have become very useful in the hand of the Lord to supply and support the churches. I am very happy to see these full time altar-dwellers grow and develop so well.
Escaping the Altar
Of course we don’t have to serve full time to live the altar life. Any who consecrate themselves and keep their eye clearly on the ark can have this experience. It is a spiritual interaction between us and the Lord. The trouble is that most have one leg on the altar and the other on the steps ready to climb down. When it gets too hot, rather than get turned into ashes, it is too easy to jump off and take a cooling off period. We limit what the Lord can do by telling Him we will only go so far.
How much the Lord can build in us depends on how much He is able to consume us. The more we can tell the Lord to consume us, the more Lord will be able to build Himself in us. The more we think we are wiser than God and know what is best, the more we will find we are just wandering about with nothing happening in our spiritual life. This is why so many Christians are simply church-goers and pew-sitters. As the hymn says:
To bring thee to thy God,
Love takes the shortest route;
The way which knowledge leads,
Is but a roundabout.
— Songs & Hymns of Life, #348
I met the Lord while in high school and immediately consecrated myself to Him. From that time the Lord began to both burn me and build Himself into me. Sometimes I jumped off the altar, but my original consecration and love for Him always brought me back. The Lord has brought me through many trials and hardships with much suffering. My life has been a life of ashes, but as a result the Lord is so real in me.
Eventually by the Lord’s mercy, all my family has been saved. They all have Jesus, yet for some reason my mother likes to tell me that they are all blessed because of “your Jesus”. It seems to her that my Jesus, whom I gained on the altar, is more substantial than hers. Today even my brothers, who are about as old as I am, are amazed that I still have the energy to fly around and serve as I do. Although my life has been one of being consumed on the altar, it has produced a solid testimony of the Christ who is built up in me.
If we are willing, the altar will become our living. The Lord will burn us and build us, consume us and enlarge us our entire life. We will become ashes and at the same time become solid. Whenever we are on the altar, looking at the ark, this divine work will proceed. If ever we climb off the altar to look at something else, it will stop. If ever along the way we stop to enjoy our seeming spiritual success, we are finished. The Psalmist wrote, “Precious in the sight of the Lord Is the death of His godly ones (Psa. 116:15). To be consumed for the Lord is precious. This is the life of the altar.
A Narrow Way
This is a narrow way. To follow the Lord is not at all a simple thing. First we need to be saved. Second we need to be on the altar. The more we consecrate ourselves, the more the Lord will consume us. The more the Lord consumes us, the more He will build us up. While the Lord consumes us and builds us up, we have to praise Him and continually look at the ark of the testimony. Our lives are for nothing but the ark of the testimony. We genuinely have no desire to develop anything for our own ministry. We don’t even care about it. We honor our ministry because the Lord has given it to us, but the Lord only cares for Himself. When we are for a ministry, we are very low. When we are for the ark of the testimony, we are very high.
We must give ourselves to the Lord and tell Him to consume us and build us up, and to make what is built up in us so useful and profitable to His testimony. We are for the ark of the testimony. May the Lord have mercy.