HOW I STUMBLED INTO A THIN PLACE
I was a replacement for Loren Cunningham—which clearly did not please the congregation. It was my first time to be the preacher for a Sunday service. Even though it was a small church in a farming town of no more than five thousand people, I was nervous!
Loren had invited me to travel to a few churches in the Midwest of the USA, but after little more than a week, he informed me that he had two commitments for the next Sunday, one in Chicago and one in a small town in Iowa. He suggested that I should go to Iowa and then “see what opens up after that”. So that was the end of my travels with Loren!
AN APPARENT FAILURE
I did my best to preach a good sermon that morning, but with no training and no previous experience, I knew it did not go well. After that one Sunday meeting, I had no place to go and no money to travel, so on Monday morning, I asked the pastor if I could stay awhile. Though he was not that thrilled about the idea, he agreed, and suggested that we have an evening meeting for the youth of his church and the Methodist church the following evening.
What followed was way beyond what I could have imagined. Towards the end of that youth evening, the Holy Spirit gently fell on the dozen young people who remained, and they all came to a recognition that they needed a saviour. That was followed by individual repentance and then a joyful awareness that they had been forgiven and that they were “clean” in God’s sight.
The next day, those young people returned to the small house where we had been the night before, and they brought friends. The same thing happened again! And so, a pattern emerged. They would come at lunch time and again after school and then again in the evenings and each time God’s presence would apprehend them and especially the friends they brought. The ministers of the town met with me and asked that the evening meetings be held in the churches, rotating from one to the next each evening. So, that’s what we did, but the Holy Spirit would come on the youth when they came back to the little house after the church meetings.
Over a period of three weeks, several hundred young people came to faith. They were driving in from towns around the region as the news spread by word of mouth and through the local newspaper.
I had stumbled upon a “thin place”, a specific location where the veil between heaven and earth has become “thin”.
I had heard about this happening before because Duncan Campbell, who was the catalyst preacher for the Hebrides Islands revival, had been a teacher in my School of Evangelism a few months earlier. From his teaching, and subsequent reading about revivals, I knew that somewhere, someone must have prayed until the veil was thinned out. But I never met that person.
WHAT A COINCIDENCE!
About 25 years later, I was reading a book on Spiritual Gifts, by C. Peter Wagner and he listed “intercessory prayer” as one of the manifestations of the Holy Spirit. He gave an example of a person who exercised that gift and mentioned that she lived in that same little Iowa town! I was amazed at the coincidence, but also delighted to fill out the picture of what had happened there, because I knew I got to reap a harvest that I had not prepared.
FRUIT THAT REMAINED
After another 15 years, and with the development of social media, I received an inquiry. “Are you the Lynn Green who was in this Iowa town 40 years ago? If you are, would you come back for the 40-year anniversary of that move of God?”
Marti and I did make the journey back to Iowa and met some of the “young people”, now in their 50s and 60s. They were people whose lives were turned right side up four decades earlier. It was thrilling to hear the stories of those who had gone on to pioneer new Christian ministries or had been serving in local government or education or some other sphere of society.
I don’t think “thin places” develop in some arbitrary manner. For example, prior to the Hebrides revival, two elderly ladies engaged in sacrificial prayer until they received assurance from heaven that a breakthrough had been secured. Then Duncan Campbell arrived, and the presence of God grew powerful and people were spontaneously converted. It was reported that fishermen coming into port experienced conviction of sin as they neared the island.
CHANGING THE YOUNG PEOPLE OF HER TOWN FROM A NURSING HOME
On that fortieth anniversary trip to Iowa, we discovered that the intercessor was a lady in a nursing home. She suffered from multiple sclerosis, but the young people in the town knew her because she was unrelentingly encouraging and welcoming to all who would visit her. The light of Jesus shone from her. They told us that she instructed the nursing staff to wake her early each day so she could get through her daily prayer list. She was the lady that Peter Wagner wrote about in his passage on intercessory prayer.
IT CAN HAPPEN AGAIN AND AGAIN!
Surely, we all love the idea of a “thin place”, a place where God’s presence is so strong that people’s lives are changed just by being there. But I remain convinced that these things do not occur because of some arbitrary and mysterious divine decision. Jesus instructed us again and again in the Gospels to keep on praying; to not give up; to cry out day and night; to fast and pray until our prayers are answered.
Jesus instructed us to pray, “Thy kingdom come…” and what could be a clearer expression of the Kingdom than the multiplication of “thin places”? Is it possible that some who read this article could be called to prepare the way of the Lord through sacrificial prayer until His presence saturates their town, or church, or nation? Could that be you?
Lynn, please tell me the name of the little town in Iowa!
Such an encouraging story! I too would love to know the name of the town.
It was Eagle Grove
I have read of some people referring to an “open heaven” during times of revival. Do you think that would be the same as a “thin place”? If not, how do you think it would differ?
Yes, I think they are used synonymously.
That was very encouraging Lynn. I and three others are praying every week at various places around Langford, our town. Sometimes its tough to keep on praying but we are expecting God to move into the area. Its the fastest growing town in Canada..
Good to hear from you, Tim! Keep it up—-keep knocking, keep asking, keep seeking!
This story brought me to tears. We have been prayer walking our city for twenty years and are starting to see the fruit people are getting saved healed and delivered right on the streets in the down town area. Even on the spot baptisms in the park. Keep praying don’t give up you will see the harvest. The plowman shall overtake the reapers. As the presence of God falls on your city it will pick up momentum.
I love it. A thin place. I am believing for God to do the same for Penang, Malaysia. Thank you.
Hi Lynn, Interesting article! I know am late to the party with this comment but I was very curious about the gift of ‘Intercessory prayer’. Of course prayer is a vital part of the Christian life but the idea that someone is gifted in it intrigued me. Reading Wagner his argument for this gifting relied heavily on experience as opposed to a Biblical text so I was wondering where you would go to in the Bible to show a believer this is a spiritual gifting that God has given the Church? I would love to have somewhere I can ground this specific gifting in God’s word. Blessings!
I don’t think the NT is explicit about the spiritual gift of intercession. I think Peter Wagner tended to assume that there is no passage to indicate the gifts, or manifestations, or ministries of the Holy Spirit are exhaustively listed in the various passages on the subject, such as 1 Cor 12, Eph 4 and Romans 12. On the assumption that the Holy Spirit has consistently empowered His people to do a a wider range of gifts than those listed, he then looked at the fruitful practices of the Church now and historically. In that way he came up with quite a long list–I can’t remember exactly how many because it has been more than two decades since I read the book. I think that is an acceptable way to approach the subject, but I would not criticize those who assume the only gifts/manifestations are those explicitly listed.
All that to say that I cannot point to one passage or another to confirm that intercession is a spiritual gift, but I certainly know many people who have a greater ability to intercede than most of us!
Thank you for your answer. I can see how labelling ‘extra’ biblical gifts can help when someone can see their ‘functions’ (such as how the name ‘Trinity’ is great succinct way to describe the way God reveals himself in the scriptures). That was helpful to determine where Wagner’s recognition of the ‘Intercessory Prayer’ gifting comes from.
Also, I appreciate your experiences in which you have met people with this gift. Though I must say I do have a few reservations concerning some of the consequential beliefs which arise from believing that there are individuals who have a greater ability to intercede. I would love to share them with you and see what you think.
It appears that if there are some gifted in intercessory prayer then there must be those with a lesser ability to intercede and see breakthroughs occur. Furthermore if those who are praying create these areas of ‘thin place’ “a place where God’s presence is so strong that people’s lives are changed just by being there”, in place that are not being prayed over, does it mean God’s presence in these areas is weaker and thus the Holy Spirit works less effectively? If that dear lady had not been praying would God have been hamstrung trying to bring those individuals to him?
Are these valid concerns or is there something I am failing to understand, which the Bible illuminates? Blessings
Think of it like this: we are all exhorted by scripture to evangelize, but not all are evangelists. We are all able to prophecy, but not all are prophets.
Prayer can be the same. All are exhorted to pray, but some are gifted intercessors. I know a few.
There are many examples of “thin places” in the history of God’s work. That could be applied to the tabernacle and, later, the temple. In Church history, you can read about the Western Desert in Egypt, or the Monastery of St Katherine, or the Hebrides revival period. In each case one can find a direct connection with sacrificial and persistent prayer. I wouldn’t say God’s presence is weaker elsewhere. The term ~”thin place” is a good descriptive term–the “veil between heaven and earth” is thinned out. That is still just an effort to use concrete language to describe a spiritual reality and that is always just approximate.
Thank you again for your reply and your patience with me! I must confess though I found the example of the tabernacle and the temple being a ‘thin place’ a bit confusing. Especially in light of the role that the temple takes in the New Testament, as through the sacrifice of the Jesus and the curtain tearing (Mark 15:38) the physical geographical ‘holy of holy’ dwelling place of God becomes obsolete but the ‘indwelling of God’, which made it so holy, transferred into us all as both the Church and as believers, (Eph. 2:21, 1 Cor. 3:16, 1 Cor. 6:9, 1 Tim. 3:15). From your answers though I don’t think you are suggesting that we are all ‘thin places’ (!) So I found the temple an interesting example and thus its continued use as an example for geographical ‘thin places’, despite its’ physical function being made redundant by Jesus.
Furthermore, looking at some of the consequential beliefs that arise, if we are to suggest that the tabernacle/temple is a ‘thin place’ and sacrifices and cleansing routines then we acknowledge that sacrifices and cleansing routines had to be undertaken, otherwise God’s wrath would come upon them such as in the cases of King Uzziah (2 Chr. 26:16) and Aaron’s sons (Num. 3:4), due to His dishonouring. However, if we say the Iowa town was indeed a ‘thin place’, and the other moments of history which you mentioned do indeed fall into that category are you suggesting we must need to continue to appease God in order for these places to appear, such as through incensory prayer? Furthermore, to those whom are not reconciled to God, are they able to receive the same blessings directly, when the temple/tabernacle functioned for Israel, to then bless the nations?
To stress again, I’m grateful for each reply, I’m sure you’re a busy man so thank you for engaging with me as I try and learn more on this topic. I find the concept very interesting so thank you for helping me to try and work it into a conceivable theological idea, as opposed to just a standalone idea with no backing in scripture. It is a great act of worship when we look at our theology and see how it all intertwines I’m sure you agree.
This will have to be my last comment on this subject.
There are many instances scripturally when God’s presence was intensified. You might say that any location where that occurred was a thin place, either for a short period of time or longer. For example, Moses and the burning bush, Joshua on the plain east of Jericho. In each case God ordered them to take off their sandals because they were on holy ground. My guess is that was a temporary phenomenon.
God promised that he would meet with his people at the tabernacle, and then the temple. However, it was conditional upon them seeking him and not worshiping other gods. I think it’s fair to conclude that that was a multi-generational thin place, but it eventually came to an end.
In church history there are various locations where it seemed the veil between heaven and earth was thin. I am most familiar with the western desert of Egypt I have taken several groups to that region and saw evidence that my guess met with God in unusual ways. For example, they experienced deeper expectations for subjects they had been praying about, or they received answers to questions they had been asking the Lord for some extended period prior to the visit. I felt that the generations of worship and praying believers in the monasteries there had created a multi-generational thin place.
Other revival locations seem to have lasted for only a generation or even shorter times. The place I described in Iowa experienced an intensified divine presence for a period of months, then the evidence suggests it came to an end. The intensified presence lasted for many months in the Hebrides Islands in the 1950s.
The way I have referred to a “thin place” is, as you can see, a general term for people experiencing an intensified, and for many, an unexpected, awareness of God’s presence. No doubt a more academic approach could be developed to categorise these phenomena in some detail, and the general way in which I have employed the term may not satisfy academics but is serves by purpose in this context.
Then this will be my final reply, thank you very much for engaging with me.
I must be honest your reply about the tabernacle/temple, further perplexed me. Regardless of the nature of the ‘thin place’ I would have assumed the overriding function of the Tabernacle/Temple takes precedent: that it is the structure in which God commanded Israel to build for him to dwell in. Therefore the reason it came to an end was the sacrifice of Jesus, the curtain splitting, the fulfilment of the Old Testament law and consequentially the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. It stopped being about geographical locations, as the church moved to encompass gentiles from all nations and tongues. Whilst it may a place in which God dwelt more intensely, that must surely be a description, as opposed to any prescribed divinely orchestrated movement proposed by ‘thin places’.
In this same vein whilst I do appreciate your quantity of experiences and your readings of Church history I must reiterate again that our experiences do not guide our reading of scripture. The concern is not how to categorise such experiences or what proper language should academics use, rather it is how the theological concept plays out in everyday life, and how to relates to the nature of God, in which upon reflecting on your answers I have continued to struggle as to how I would reproduce this teaching to a larger audience and keep it biblically coherent.
By your own words you “remain convinced that these things do not occur because of some arbitrary and mysterious divine decision.” From this, and other responses, it appears you are saying our prayers and acts of faith have the ability to cause God to move to which again I do not see how that works out biblically, especially when we serve an omnipotent God who knows our best interests and it would deem to be foolish to bow to our whims, provided it did not serve his best interests. We are always told to ask for things according to his will, which will glorify him. (John 15:7-8, 1 John 5:14).
Of course there are descriptions in Old Testament accounts of God ‘being moved’ by individuals such as Joshua or Abraham, yet, as well as being chosen, exceptional individuals (it was never commanded to the church or the people of Israel), if one says that the great orchestrator of the Universe, whom is outside of time and from the beginning had the plan of Jesus in effect, was to be swayed by our prayers (and indeed gave individuals more power to sway him through their intercessory prayers the that would cause his desires to not come into effect) then we must question if that God is all-loving and all-powerful.
If I am to conclude my final thoughts on our discussion I would say this: You have obviously had some experiences where God has moved mightily and it seems you have found a factor for that to be individual (or collective) people praying. Reading Church history you have also seen this. However, upon finding this ‘formula’ (I struggled to find a better word) you have struggled to see it in the Bible, but attempted to suggest that whenever God has interacted with the world this can be called a ‘thin place’. It doesn’t surprise me that each example was from the Old Testament as Jesus himself was God incarnate. He was God, intensely, in the world, (and by your logic) a walking thin place. And before his sacrifice on the cross he promised he was sending another helper, whom was the Holy Spirit received at Pentecost. This allowed for God to be intensely in the world, through all believers and the Church. (See again: Eph. 2:21, 1 Cor. 3:16, 1 Cor. 6:9, 1 Tim. 3:15).
It does not take an academic to see that, and what’s more, it is a far more exciting reality! We do not have to strive and pray to see ‘thin places’ but we can rejoice that we carry the ‘thin place’ in us wherever we go! We can walk into the spiritually darkest areas of the world and enjoy because the light of the world is inside us. That’s a relief to any missionary, I’m sure you would agree.
So thank you again for the dialogue. I’m afraid we will have to agree to disagree on this topic. I do hope you continue to pray for thin places as you feel convicted to. I will continue trust that God will divinely and mysteriously work all things to his glory, with or without my help, and seek to live a life confident of my future, and grateful for my present.