Lesson #3 – Godly Gates
Nehemiah 1:3 (MSG)
The wall of Jerusalem is still rubble;
the city gates are still cinders.
What gate did you last close?
- Our garden gate
- The dog’s pen
- The driveway to an elegant estate
Last lesson we discussed good and bad walls. This lesson focuses on gates, the hinged barriers that let the good guys in and keep the bad guys out.
We have a garden gate that lets in my husband and me (the good guys) and keeps out the groundhogs (the bad guys). Early this summer, one of the bad guys took advantage of a gap in the gate. He snuck through in the dark of night and stripped the tomato plants. Bad groundhog!
Walls and gates go together. Jerusalem’s walls and gates were destroyed. Likely the gates were breached first, making it easier for the enemy to take down the wall. It would have been wasted work to rebuild the wall without fixing the gates.
I could surround myself emotionally with a high wall and no gate. But if I cut off every relationship in an effort to feel safe, the wall becomes my prison. I need a gate to let others in. I need relationships, the right relationships.
Jerusalem’s wall was torn down, her gates were burned. Stones from the rubble could be used to rebuild the wall. The wooden gates were useless cinders. The gates had to be rebuilt from scratch.
Where did Nehemiah get new wood for the gates?
Nehemiah 2:6-8 (NIV)
Then the king, with the queen sitting beside him, asked me, “How long will your journey take, and when will you get back?” It pleased the king to send me; so I set a time.
I also said to him, “If it pleases the king, may I have letters to the governors of Trans-Euphrates, so that they will provide me safe-conduct until I arrive in Judah? And may I have a letter to Asaph, keeper of the royal park, so he will give me timber to make beams for the gates of the citadel by the temple and for the city wall and for the residence I will occupy?” And because the gracious hand of my God was on me, the king granted my requests.
He boldly asked the king to supply what was needed: new timbers from the trees in the king’s forest.
Symbolically, gates are access points for people and ideas. We can humbly ask God to supply our gates, we can construct inadequate gates out of leftovers, or we can leave a gap open to all people and ideas.
Think back over the years of your life. What philosophies were welcomed through godly gates? What crept in past damaged timbers?
Our Constructive Thought referred to good guys and bad guys. In my lifetime, both good and bad have come through the gateways of our culture. Greater sensitivity to people with disabilities is good; the use of disparaging labels for folks with different viewpoints is bad. The end of “separate but equal” education is good; the sad state of our inner city schools is bad. It is good to care for the poor; it is bad to use the poor for political advantage.
It isn’t always easy to distinguish the good from the bad. When does good prosperity become bad materialism? At what point does our legal system stop seeking justice and start seeking victory? When does a politician stop being a public servant and start being a power broker?
We tend to establish worldly gates out of bits and pieces of our own wisdom. An idea sounds good, and we throw open our gates in welcome. We align ourselves with a political party, surrendering our gates to its platform. A charismatic leader promising health and wealth inspires a crowd to cheer his entrance. We assume that good intentions are enough. But our wisdom is short-sighted, and we sometimes regret the ultimate outcome. Once an idea pervades our culture, it is nearly impossible to round it up and drive it back out the gates.
Truly, we need gates built on God’s wisdom, not our own. We want gates established with the long view of the greatest good. Our problem is distinguishing God’s gates from all others.
Here’s another way to picture it: Our nation has established borders. We have gates of entry. Using man’s wisdom, we open our gates to those who are healthy, intelligent and well-educated—people who will make our lives better. Gates established by God would welcome the poor, the sick, the downtrodden—people in need of better lives. In reality, our nation’s gates are broken down, and the flow over the borders is out of control. The image applies to values as well as people.
Humbly and prayerfully, we must ask God to establish our gates. He is a gracious God, willing to meet our need through his bounty. Our vision for our gates should line up with God’s desires.
Be careful. Don’t come to the King of kings requesting wood for gates that will ultimately keep him out and let in his enemies.
I have personal gates. Some people call them “eye gates” and “ear gates.” They represent what I welcome into my soul and spirit.
Jesus set a high standard for these gateways.
And if your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell.
My eyes can lead me astray. The books I read and the shows I watch influence my thoughts. It is hard to unlearn an image once my eye gates granted it entrance.
The same holds true for ears. What I hear influences what I believe. I can deny that gossip is true, but the idea behind it continues to rattle in my head. I can choose to listen to just one side of a story and thus tilt my future opinions.
The goal is to let God establish my eye and ear gates. He may direct me to see and hear things I would otherwise conveniently skip—injustice and need that I never see don’t require action from me. Before God calls me to serve, he calls me to see.
And he will open my eyes and ears to his scripture (logos – the written word) and his specific instruction for me (rhema – the spoken word).
I can easily fill my eye and ear gates with so much traffic that there is no room for logos and rhema. Gates of my own making can be overcrowded with good things, even godly things. Gates built with timbers from God’s own forest will always open first to him. Other things will follow, in his good time.
Nehemiah didn’t attend just to the gates of Jerusalem. He put God in charge of his personal gates:
When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven.
Fasting is one way to turn our eye and ear gates over to God. We voluntarily close them to other influences and devote them to God’s message.
Some fasting is for a season. Some may become permanent (think of the alcoholic who embraces sobriety, forever fasting from strong drink).
I am an avid reader. God nudged me to fast from certain authors I enjoyed because their stories took over my eye gates. It isn’t that every book I read must have a Christian message. But I should allow God to direct me to content that helps me and does not hinder me.
There are times when God directs me to fast from all reading other than Scripture, or from all internet connections, or from television, or even from food. It clears out my gates to make room for him.
One of my favorite theologians, Oswald Chambers, encourages me to fast, in essence, from myself. His thoughts were directed toward preachers, probably because he was offering his message in a Bible school. We all can take his teaching to heart, closing our gates to our selfish desire and opening our gates to God’s power.
“Real and effective fasting by a preacher is not fasting from food, but fasting from eloquence, from impressive diction, and from everything else that might hinder the gospel of God being presented . . . If it is only because of my preaching that people desire to be better, they will never get close to Jesus Christ. Anything that flatters me in my preaching of the gospel will result in making me a traitor to Jesus.”
My Utmost for His Highest, July 17
Let’s take a last symbolic look at Nehemiah’s request:
Nehemiah 2:7-8 (MSG)
“If it please the king, provide me with letters to the governors across the Euphrates that authorize my travel through to Judah; and also an order to Asaph, keeper of the king’s forest, to supply me with timber for the beams of The Temple fortress, the wall of the city, and the house where I’ll be living.”
The generous hand of my God was with me in this and the king gave them to me.
The walls and gates of Jerusalem are foreshadows of heavenly walls and gates.
Revelation 21:11-12 (NIV)
And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. It shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. It had a great, high wall with twelve gates, and with twelve angels at the gates.
God grants us safe travel through these gates to the eternal house Jesus has prepared for us. The wood that supports these heavenly gates comes from the King of king’s forest. It is the same wood that formed the manger and the cross.
I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved.
Our culture has many ungodly gates. Has God given one or more of these gates to you as a prayer assignment?