The book of Nehemiah in the Bible serves as a great metaphor for living the spiritual life. In the book, the Temple represents our heart (where God meets with us); the city of Jerusalem represents our mind; the walls of the city represent our spiritual walls and the health of our relationship with Christ, and the gates of the city represent our eyes, ears and mouth.
Nehemiah built the city walls and installed the gates to protect the city and the temple. Walls keep bad stuff or bad people out. Gates allow good stuff and good people in. But sometimes, the gates allowed bad stuff and bad people in. It’s not what the gates were designed for, but it happened because those in charge of the gates weren’t guarding them like they should.
Apply the metaphor to our spiritual lifes. We build our spiritual walls each day as we engage in spiritual disciplines (reading the Bible, praying, obeying God…). We put a lot of work into building those walls, because we want to do our best to follow the Lord. But there’s a problem. Sometimes, we don’t do a very good job of guarding our gates (our eyes and our ears). We allow bad stuff to come into our city (our mind), and give it access to our temple (our heart). All the hard work we put into building our walls is now compromised, because we didn’t guard our gates.
The Enemy will get into our hearts and minds any way he can. If we’ve built strong spiritual walls with no gaps in them, he’s going to attack us at our gates. We need to be as diligent about guarding our gates as we are about wall-building. So, the question is, are we?
I think we underestimate the power of media in our lives. Not just “the media,” though I’m including them. I’m talking about all the types of media that we watch or listen to in a given day or week. Music, television, magazines, newspapers, email, advertisements, gossip… We let that stuff into our brains! Are we being selective enough?
We shouldn’t be naive about this. There is programming going on. When we open our eye-gates and our ear-gates to the media around us, it gets into our brains. If enough gets in, it will make its way to our hearts. That’s okay if we are only opening our gates to God-honoring messages. Program away! It will help us walk straighter. But most of us are not guarding the gates carefully enough, and bit by bit, we are filling our minds with things that don’t honor God.
When I teach kids, I do an illustration of this with a large bowl of water and some food coloring. I tell them that the bowl of water represents their minds as God created them – pure and clean. The food coloring represents some of the bad stuff we can let into our heads – profanity, the Lord’s name used in vain, music with inappropriate themes, movies with inappropriate scenes, jokes with inappropriate punch lines, stories told from inappropriate motives…
Each time I mention a new bad thing that can get into our minds, I have one of the kids drop a little food coloring into the bowl. By the time I’m done, the pure, clean water is dark and murky. It doesn’t take much to spread all throughout the water – just like it doesn’t take much bad stuff in your gates before your thinking starts to change. “It’s not so bad.” “Everyone is doing it.” “You can’t get away from it – you just have to ignore it.” “That’s just the way things are these days.”
Our brains are incredible. They can hold more data than any computer on earth. But the bad news is that they never purge all the bad information and images we put in them. Once it’s in, it’s in for good and forever. Our only hope is that we can dilute it by allowing more good stuff in our gates. That’s hard work, and it takes time.
Nehemiah set up rules for guarding the gates of Jerusalem, and he got rid of all the riff-raff that were hanging right outside the gates. Maybe we should do the same. A few gate-keeping rules might do us some good.
* For more articles about spiritual gates, check out these links: