The older I get, the more I appreciate seclusion and solitude. So much so that I really don’t want to live anywhere near a big city anymore if I can help it. Even subdivisions make me feel like I have to fight to take in a deep breath. What happened to me? I used to love being right in the middle of things. For years we lived and worked in Chicago and all the hustle and bustle never seemed to phase me. In fact, at that time I felt like the more people and activity I could be around the better. For heaven’s sake, I was the consummate extravert for most of my life. How is it that I now live out in the country on the edge of a thousand acres of woods at the end of a quarter mile gravel driveway and absolutely love it? The short answer to that question is this; I’ve learned the value of guarding my eye gates and ear gates.
I find it interesting that there are over 300 references to gates in Scripture. In biblical times, the safety and security of any city of size was determined by the height and thickness of its walls and the strength of its gates. To hold or take a city it was said that you must “possess the gates.” In Judges 16:3 Samson mocked the might of the Philistines by tearing the main gate of their city off its hinges and carrying it away on his back. Gates were the primary access point for either good or evil to enter, so making sure that they were well guarded was accepted by all as a top priority. At one point, Nehemiah commissioned the Levites to guard the gates of Jerusalem. But this time the concern was not their foreign enemies, but rather the hoard of godless merchants who were trying to get the Israelites to buy goods from them on the Sabbath.
When evening shadows fell on the gates of Jerusalem before the Sabbath, I ordered the doors to be shut and not opened until the Sabbath was over. I stationed some of my own men at the gates so that no load could be brought in on the Sabbath day. Once or twice the merchants and sellers of all kinds of goods spent the night outside Jerusalem. But I warned them and said, “Why do you spend the night by the wall? If you do this again, I will lay hands on you.” From that time on they no longer came on the Sabbath. Then I commanded the Levites to purify themselves and go and guard the gates in order to keep the Sabbath day holy. (Neh 13:19-22)
You can put a religious white wash on this account if you want to, but basically “I will lay hands on you” meant, “If you losers come back and try this again, I will personally come down there and kick your ass!” Apparently they took Nehemiah seriously because it says, “From that time on they no longer came on the Sabbath.”
In much the same way, if we don’t get a little aggressive about guarding our eye gates, ear gates, the gates of our mind, heart, and homes, we can lose our place of rest (Sabbath) and quickly become corrupted by the offerings of our increasingly godless environment.
Our eyes and ears are the primary gates to our inner man. But due to our constant over-exposure to evil, we have become numb and thus largely unaware of the assault that is raging against our ability to maintain a soul at rest. Because of the rapid advancement of our technology, and the pervasiveness of our media consuming devices, we have been subjected to witnessing far more evil and vile human behavior than we were created to handle. Now, only the most shocking and repulsive of images causes us to turn away in disgust. Over time, we have developed an unhealthy tolerance of what used to make us cringe.
Guarding the gates is about being intentionally mindful of what we allow ourselves to see, and hear. Jesus said, “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness! (Mat 6:22-23) If we allow a free flowing stream of worldliness into our eye gate, then we must prepare ourselves for the inevitable. We will become like that which we behold. But this does not have to be our destiny. Like Nehemiah, we can choose to rise above our passivity and go on the offensive.
Guarding our eye gates simply means watching what we watch. Even a 30 second commercial can defile our mind and cause our thoughts to be misdirected. I believe it was Bill Gothard who said that “TV is the toleration of great evil in order to attain a little good.” At the very least, we can choose to screen that which streams into our homes. God help those of us who are parents to get serious about monitoring our kid’s access to the internet.
Being aware of what we allow in our ear gate is an equally needful discipline. One crucial strategy is to learn how to be comfortable with silence. More often than not, the Lord likes to use his still small voice. Hearing from the Lord will bring peace and rest to our souls quicker than anything else. If our surroundings are constantly filled with sounds (radio, noisy neighbors, a droning chorus of leaf blowers and lawn mowers) than our environmentally in-bread A.D.D. will often squash any chance of finding genuine rest for our soul. We are thoroughly over-stimulated and thus largely unfulfilled. Just getting somewhere truly quiet on a regular basis can radically alter the level at which we enjoy our lives. Again, I’ve learned to love things like deer hunting and taking a slow walk through the woods for this very reason. Inner peace truly is attainable, but it may require us to sacrifice some of the lifestyle choices we’ve grown accustomed to. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Phil 4:7)
Lastly, we must remember that it is a short trip from our mouth to our ears. By watching what comes out of our mouth, we can guard our heart. Whatever we say will, in turn, reinforce what we’re already thinking, be it good or bad. If we’re prone to speak negatively about ourselves, our situation, or others, then it won’t be long before we reap what our mouth has sown. I used to laugh at the naivety of the “positive confession” camp until I realized that, for the most part, they we’re living better than I was. They were happier, healthier, wealthier… say what you will, the principle works! There is unfathomable power in the spoken word to build up or tear down. Like the head of a hammer, we choose which side to use. Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life. Put away perversity from your mouth; keep corrupt talk far from your lips. (Prov 4:23)
Our eye gate, ear gate, and mouth gate are the key access points to our minds and hearts. Our enemy understands this fact and therefore has mounted a relentless assault against them. We must decide to transcend our culture’s norms and learn to live above their corrupting influence. Our homes should be a place of rest and peace. Our very bodies are God’s dwelling place, and He never leaves the house. It is our responsibility to become vigilant in guarding the gates for ourselves and our families. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is … to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. (James 1:27)