The Thin Place of the Spiritual Battleground

The Thin Place of the Spiritual Battleground

The Thin Place of the Spiritual Battleground.

“ The thin place is where the veil between this world and the next is so sheer that it is easy to step through.” (Barbara Brown Taylor, Home By Another Way).

This term from an ancient Celtic tradition has stood the test of time. The idea of a thin place between heaven and earth has captured our imaginations, and yet is not just a metaphor.  Thin places are literal as well.

The traditional thin place as the Irish understood it has been described in many ways:  where the veil between heaven and earth is so thin as to be porous, permeable, practically transparent; where the space between the divine and the human has narrowed; where eternity and time intersect; where the boundary between heaven and earth has collapsed; where the wall between heaven and earth have become indistinguishable; where the doors between heaven and earth have cracked open enough to walk through, if only temporarily; the place where eternity and time seem to join together.

Those descriptions of thin places have recently been expanded to include… wherever God has chosen to reveal Himself and make Himself known with unusual intimacy; wherever the sacred interaction with God’s presence is more pronounced and accessible; wherever the Holy Spirit is released in a particularly powerful way; a physical space where one can more directly and intensely experience God’s presence. I like to think of a thin place as when the Spirit of God opens the skylight of the earth’s roof and helps us climb through it into the cellar of heaven.

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power… For this struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 6:10-11).

Thin Places as Battlegrounds. In Scripture, the battlefields often turned out to be holy wars, where heaven and earth intersected to form a thin place. Divine intervention was practically commonplace in these biblical battlefields, and there didn’t seem to be any boundary between the divine and the earthly. There are too many to  mention, but here is just a short survey that does not even include Deborah against the Canaanites in Judges 5, when the enemy’s chariots all got stuck in the God-sent mud; or Gideon against the Midianites in Judges 7, when the confused enemy all ended up killing themselves; or even David when he marched against the Philistines in 2 Samuel 5, but only after hearing the angels marching on the tops of the mulberry trees; or Elisha going up against the Arameans in 2 Kings 6:15-17, when his servant had his eyes opened into the spiritual realm and he witnessed an angelic army surrounding and protecting them, complete with horses and chariots of fire. And now come some additional battlegrounds that were also most definitely thin places, where heaven and earth intersected:

  • The Israelites vs. the Amalekites (Exodus 17), when Moses was on the hill, overlooking their fierce battle soon after starting their journey in the wilderness. As long as Moses could be seen by the troops with his arms and hands raised, the Israelites would take the advantage. If Moses’ arms started to lower in fatigue, the Israelites would begin to lose heart. Many believe that Moses was raising his arms in prayer and worship. As long as he was interceding for the Israelites and praising Yahweh, God was enabling the Hebrews to be victorious. Moses here is a clear picture of a prayer warrior, a leader engaging in intercessory prayer and adoration. The Israelites were victorious as heavenly worship was triumphant over earthly warfare. “Aaron and Hur held up the hands of Moses, so that his hands stayed steady until sunset. Thus Joshua defeated Amalek, putting their people to the sword.”
  • The Israelites vs. Enemies in the Promised Land (Deuteronomy 20:1-4), when the Lord gave very specific instructions regarding the inevitable warfare. “‘When you go out to fight your enemies and you face horses and chariots and an army greater than your own, do not be afraid. The Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, is with you!’ When you prepare for battle, the priest must come forward to speak to the troops. He will say to them, ‘Listen to me, all you men of Israel! Do not be afraid as you go out to fight your enemies today! Do not lose heart or panic or tremble before them. For the Lord your God is going with you! He will fight for you against your enemies, and He will give you victory!” When preparing for battle, the very first thing to do is have a priest address the troops. The Hebrew priest turned each battlefield into a thin place, a holy ground.
  • Joshua vs. Jericho (Joshua 6:20), when Joshua’s instructions were to “make a joyful noise of praise” (Ruwa)as the Israelites engaged in their first battle in the Promised Land. “So the people shouted (ruwa) and the priests blew their trumpets; and it came about when the people heard the sound of the trumpets, that the people shouted (ruwa) with a great shout (ruwa), and the walls of Jericho fell down flat… and the people took the city.”
  • Joshua vs. the Amorites (Joshua 10), when the Amorites attacked and besieged Gibeon, and Joshua had no choice but to respond. Joshua rode his men hard through the night on their midnight march to rescue Gibeon. When they first met up with some Amorites, God sent huge hailstones down upon the Amorites, “hailstones from heaven” they were called. The hailstorm, “artillery of heaven,” ended up killing more Amorite soldiers than were killed by the Israelite army. Joshua wanted to finish off the Amorites right then, so Joshua made his outlandish request of the Lord…. “Sun, stand still over Gibeon, and moon over the valley of Ayalon.” Astoundingly, the day was lengthened by additional sunlight, as Joshua’s forces succeeded in completing the rout of the Amorite enemy.
  • David vs. Goliath (1 Samuel 17:41-47), when young David was outraged that a pagan Philistine would challenge the troops of Israel. Goliath was taunting Israel, he was strutting his impudence to Israel and to Israel’s God. David couldn’t understand why this heathen was allowed to defy “the armies of the living God.” When David confronted Goliath, the giant sneered and cursed David by calling on the names of his pagan gods. Goliath called on those demonic spirits they worshiped. David confidently challenged Goliath in the Name of Israel’s God, Yahweh-sabaoth, the LORD of the Angel Warriors. “Today, Yahweh will deliver you into my hand; and the whole assembly shall know that Yahweh does not give victory by means of sword and spear – for Yahweh is Lord of the battle and He will deliver you into our power.’” The spiritual war had begun! And in the strength of Yahweh, David was victorious. Above the earthly battle between a giant and boy was a spiritual battle, and Yahweh-sabaoth defeated the enemy on holy ground.

Surrounded ( Fight My Battles ) – UPPERROOM (

The astounding story of King Jehoshaphat deserves a special deep-dive. He was one of the most faithful and devoted God-followers in the royal history of Israel. He led a national revival and “brought the people back to the Lord God of their fathers.” (2 Chron. 19:4). At one point he was faced with a threatening coalition of powerful Canaanite forces. It was abundantly clear to everyone that the forces of Judah were vastly outnumbered by this enemy coalition of warriors, that they were helpless against what the Bible called “a multitude, a vast horde” of enemies. Jehoshaphat’s response to this threat was to declare a fast throughout the nation, to seek the help of Yahweh. He stood in the Temple in Jerusalem, and he humbly uttered a prayer that has inspired countless readers ever since. Some of his prayer’s highlights: “O Yahweh God of our fathers, are You not God in heaven, and do You not rule over all the kingdoms of the nations, and in Your hand is there not power and might, so that no one is able to withstand You?… If disaster comes upon us – sword, judgment, pestilence, famine – we will stand before this Temple and in Your presence, and cry out to You in our affliction, and You will hear and save… Oh our God, will You not judge our enemies? For we have no power against this great multitude that is coming against us, nor do we know what to do. But our eyes are upon You.” (2 Chronicles 20:6-12). Jehoshaphat offered these memorable words to God in the presence of all the people of Judah. We could all stand to memorize his words… If we meet with affliction, we will cry out to you, Lord, and you will hear us and save us. We don’t know what to do, Father God, but we look to you for help. After a trusted prophet of Yahweh assured him that the battle was the Lord’s and that He would defeat their enemy, King Jehoshaphat gathered the people again and declared, “Believe in Yahweh your God and you will be able to stand firm! Believe in the Lord’s prophets and you will succeed!” (v. 20). At this point we witness in this passage the spiritual genius and faith of King Jehoshaphat, and we become inspired by the three elements that led to his victory: Worship, Music, and Mercy.

WORSHIP: In preparation for battle, Jehoshaphat first appointed a choir, a choir of all things, to approach the battle lines and sing to Yahweh. This choir was to shout their praises and sing to “the beauty of holiness.” (v. 21). That phrase has two different translations, depending on the version of the Bible. One version translates it as meaning to praise the splendor of His holiness, to exalt Him in His beauty, to worship the One majestic in holiness. Or the other translation would be, to worship Him in holy attire, in sacred vestments, in clothing that sets them apart from everyone else in service to God. There is, however, no controversy of the Hebrew word for “praise” in this passage (yadah). To praise Yahweh here means to worship the Lord with hands extended. Setting the stage here in the valley before battle, if you were an enemy of Israel and waiting for the war to begin, what is the first thing you would see on the front lines? Instead of soldiers breathing fire, you would see a marching choir out in front, wearing priestly clothing, with arms extended outward, singing and shouting and praising their God Yahweh! It would seem that the enemies of Judah would be dumbfounded, to say the least.

MUSIC: Music on the battlefield? On the first line of defense, the front lines? Actually, what would inspire the troops better than music lifting up the power and love of their God Yahweh? This reminds us of David, “the sweet psalmist of Israel,” singing his songs of victory and deliverance, “You shall surround me with songs of deliverance. You shall encircle me with joyous shouts of victory and rescue. Like garlands of hosannas, you shall enfold me with songs of salvation.”  (Psalm 32:7).  Jehoshaphat’s prophet said exactly the same thing. In other words, watch Yahweh do all the heavy lifting in this battle! Sure enough, after crossing the Red Sea, what’s the first thing Moses sang in praise to the Lord? Moses and Miriam referred to God as “Yahweh the Warrior!” Much like David and Moses and countless other biblical heroes, Jehoshaphat believed that God is a conqueror, and He can vanquish the foes of His Chosen People. And there is something about music that inspires the heart, enlivens the mind, and activates the will. Music has an indescribable impact on the human being. Music can’t really be defined, it can only be experienced, loved and lived into. Apart from the Bible’s hymn book, the Psalms, there are well over thirty songs recorded in Scriptures. We even see a strong connection between music and the works of prophets, confirming the spiritual nature of music. “When you arrive at Gibeah of God, you will meet a band of prophets coming down from the place of worship. They will be playing harp, a tambourine, a flute, and a lyre, and they will be prophesying. At that time the Spirit of the Lord will come powerfully upon you, and you will be prophesying with them. You will be changed into a different person.” (I Samuel 10:5-6). So in light of the nature of music, and its history in Scripture, it is not necessarily surprising that Jehoshaphat chose to put his choir on the front lines, singing about the mercy of Yahweh God.

MERCY: “They went out ahead of the army, singing, ‘Give thanks to the Lord Yahweh, for His mercy continues forever!’ And what was the choir singing about as they confidently walked into battle against a fierce foe? What was the most important thing they could think about at that particular time? Yes, they sang what has been called the eternal song of the saints. They lifted their voices and triumphantly sang about Mercy. God’s Mercy. The Hebrew word for mercy in this passage is the rich word hesed. It is a rich feast of a word. Hesed needs to be described, not defined; lived into, not merely thought through. HESED: completely undeserved mercy and loving-kindness; practical and eager love-in-action; steadfast and loyal compassion; unending favor; the ardent desire to do good for someone; the deep love reserved for someone in an intimate relationship, and if there is no prior relationship to treat someone as if that relationship existed; covenant faithfulness; a merciful generosity that goes above and beyond what is expected.

Hesed, translated as mercy or loving-kindness in most Bibles, is named by many scholars the most important word in the Hebrew Bible. Hesed is used over 250 times in Jewish Scriptures (unfortunately called the Old Testament by most Christians), and rabbinic tradition declares that mercy is the outstanding attribute, the central quality, of our God. Is there any phrase repeated more often in Scripture than “His mercies endure forever,” or more accurately, “His mercy is everlasting.” This soul-changing phrase is repeated at least forty times in the Hebrew Bible. The Hebrew of this phrase doesn’t actually say the word “endure.” It simply says, “mercy everlasting.” In other words, God’s mercy doesn’t simply “endure” by the skin of its teeth, mercy doesn’t just hang in there to survive, it doesn’t have its existence hanging in the balance or threatened in any way. Mercy just is. Mercy is an indispensable, permanent part of the universe, always there like the sky. There has always been mercy. There will always be mercy. Mercy just is. Because God just is. “Beyond all mystery is the mercy of God. It is a love, a mercy, that transcends the world, its value and merit. To live by such a love, to reflect it, however humbly, is the test of religious experience.” (Abraham Joshua Heschel, God In Search of Man).

Victory. As it turned out, the battle of Jehoshaphat wasn’t even close. No contest. It ended before it began. The enemies of Israel didn’t have a chance, because the Lord decided the battle was His to win. The singing, shouting and praising confused the enemy forces, and they somehow, with the Lord’s help, caused them to destroy each other! All the enemy soldiers turned against each other, and completely destroyed each other. “When the army of Judah arrived at the lookout point, all they saw were dead bodies lying on the ground as far as they could see.” (v. 24). The “vast horde” was defeated, and the army of Judah didn’t have to lift a finger. The Kidron Valley was nicknamed the Valley of Beracah, which means Blessing, because the plunder from the enemy after the defeat was more than they could carry away. There were vast amounts of equipment, clothing, and other valuables, and it took three days just to collect it all. The people of Judah gathered together in that valley after the plunder was taken away, and they thanked the Lord for this unexpected blessing. If ever there was a battlefield that turned out to be a thin place in Scripture, it was Beracah.

The Thin Place of our Spiritual Warfare Today. “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For this struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm, then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.” (Ephesians 6:10-20).

When a country declares war, the citizens don’t have much choice… the citizens are called to go into battle if one wants to remain a citizen. When someone starts following Jesus, that believer becomes a citizen of God’s kingdom. In our fallen world, the kingdom of Satan has declared war on the kingdom of God, so warfare comes with the territory. Only, Satan’s fighters in this spiritual battle don’t have bodies, they are invisible. These fighters of Satan are headquartered in the heavenlies where Satan has his hideout, and conduct constant warfare on Christian believers here on earth. So our war is not against flesh and blood, it is fought with spiritual weapons in the unseen world. God has given us all the supernatural weaponry we need, which includes the armor of God. Most of the armor is protective equipment, but two are aggressively offensive in nature: the Word of God and the ability to pray. These two spiritual weapons are empowered by the Holy Spirit and are divinely effective in the unseen battle.

There are two traditional ways of picturing our part in spiritual warfare… the military version and the priesthood version. St. Paul focused on the believers as soldiers ready to do battle against the powers of darkness. But there is also the version which puts the believer in the role of priest in our inevitable spiritual battles. Both pictures of the armor of God are helpful to us, since as soon as we believe in Jesus Christ, we find ourselves on the devil’s radar. In his pride, Satan doesn’t yet accept that he has been forever defeated by Jesus, so he continues to wage these after-battles to make things as miserable for us as possible. So on the one hand, we believers are pictured as soldiers of the Cross, engaging in battles in the spiritual realms. On the other hand, we are in the fellowship of the priesthood, wielding the power of the Lord to put up a stiff resistance to Satan and his demonic horde. What makes this armor of God interesting, which is all protective equipment except for Scripture and prayer, is that in Paul’s classic Ephesians 6 passage above, the spiritual equipment could be understood as the clothing of either a soldier or a High Priest.

Battle-Tested. How can we apply these battle scenes to our Christian walk? We are not usually fighting physical enemies, but what kind of battles do we engage in? Maybe our battles are more personal and require us to be more on the offensive, fighting against our ego and pride, our anger and our self-indulgence. Maybe our battles are more interpersonal, and we wage war against our impatience and a critical spirit, our unforgiveness and a judging spirit. There is no doubt that woven into all these battles is the fact of spiritual warfare. In these battles, we put on our armor, ready for battle: truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation, and the Word of God. The constant battle strategy in all these battles is prayer. So we pray to practice self-control; pray to become a more loving person; pray for God’s protection against the powers of darkness; pray for the ability to listen to God, obey Him, and to grow in the wisdom needed to receive His battle plans loud and clear.

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