Recently someone introduced me to the phrase known as “a thin place.” This person used it to describe a special place of retreat where she often goes to refresh her soul by spending deliberate time in the presence of God. Curiously, I learned that many Christians came to know this phrase originating from a story in Ireland around 500 AD. A Celtic Monk named St. Columba stood on a hill overlooking his community on the Island of Iona and was moved to pray. He would later liken his experience to that of a thin place – a place where heaven and earth seem to be only thinly separated.
Like St. Columba, I believe there are special places on the planet where earth seems thin and heaven seems thick. Being a Christian camp and retreat director for over 10 years, I completely understand the idea of retreating to special places in order to “fast from the familiar and simply draw near to God.” Often camps and retreats become special places where God feels extraordinarily close and we can experience supernatural peace, healing, understanding, wisdom and often direction for life. But I never heard it described as a thin place.
Over the years, I have come to find some of my own “thin places.” Places where I would retreat to His presence and refresh my soul. In the early years of my teenage faith I recall a think place at the top of Kelly Butte in Springfield on Sunday evenings before youth group. I would sit on a curb overlooking the city as Michael W. Smith would quietly serenade me from the cassette player of my VW Bug. Years later it became a spot on the South bank of the Willamette River near Skinner’s Butte Park. It was there I could seek refuge from the chaos of my work day by using my lunch break to read my Bible or sit quietly before returning to work. Still years later my thin place morphed into a gravel pullout next to a country barn just off an I-5 exit ramp before Salem. It was there in the fog of an early morning commute that I would let praise and worship bubble out of my heart and into a recorder that later became original songs I played on my guitar.
Though the settings, activities, and places have changed, one thing remains the same: The need to minimize the noise of the world and maximize the presence of Jesus. A “thin place” may be a location, but I have also come to understand a thin place to be a condition of my heart that longs to seek, and a willingness of my soul that wants to be found. Often it is through the intentional seeking of the Lord where my soul can mature on the inside, so I can be better equipped for life circumstances on the outside. As we become “thin,” I believe we are more receptive to God’s voice and leading by maturing our inner world to better handle the complicated life circumstances of our outer world.
As you continue your journey as a devoted, loving, generous and contagious disciple of Jesus Christ, I want to encourage you to not be afraid of times when you feel thin. Rather, what if desperate times or seasons of weakness could become a time for greater invasion of His Spirit? What if thin places have more to do with the condition and intensions of our souls and the direction of our focus? What if the difficulties and challenges we face actually help us to foster a greater realization of His Divine presence? Simply put, what if our times of weakness can become thin places where we purposefully look for His strength?
I pray that thin places can be times where you can declare the reality of Jesus with John the Baptizer, “He must increase and I must decrease.” Be creative, try something new, or go somewhere unique where you can get quiet and alone with God. As you do, I trust that He will meet you with “peace that passes all understanding,” and give you new perspective as you move through the present stresses in your life.
Philippians 4:6-7 NLT
6 Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. 7 Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.
2 Corinthians 12:8-10 New Living Translation (NLT)
10 That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
Isaiah 40:28-31 NLT
28 Have you never heard?
Have you never understood?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of all the earth.
He never grows weak or weary.
No one can measure the depths of his understanding.
29 He gives power to the weak
and strength to the powerless.
30 Even youths will become weak and tired,
and young men will fall in exhaustion.
31 But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength.
They will soar high on wings like eagles.
They will run and not grow weary.
They will walk and not faint.