God loves people and places

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Cotswold Terrace at the University of Bath UK

Almost every story or revival is the story of a place that has been changed by divine activity. As I reflect on God’s love for places I think of locations I have encountered through the years that in some way appear to have been impacted by the presence of Christian community and prayer – to such an extent that people feel the influence of the presence of the Holy Spirit, simply by entering the location.

I remember reading the account of a Fleet Street journalist sent to report on the 1904 Welsh Revival. He said that as soon as the train crossed the border into the Principality of Wales the atmosphere shifted. He wrote: “It was like entering a haunted house!” Perhaps that’s not the feeling we would expect to associate with a place of Christian revival, but it echoed the descriptions of the feeling of being on the Hebrides during the Hebrides revival.

Maybe more familiar is the feeling of warmth and peace that people often report when they enter a Christian home or a place of prayer. In my own life I have witnessed the power of that peace in a room, in a house, at an agricultural college which mysteriously sent people into Christian ministry. Ask me, and it will be my delight to tell you these stories.

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Ffald Y Brenin – a retreat centre in Wales. A story worth
knowing. Read about it in the book “The Grace Outpouring”.

But my first awareness that God might sanctify a place for a particular purpose was at the University of Bath.

I spent my first year at Bath Uni living in a humble shoebox of a room in a hall of residence on campus, 93, Cotswold Terrace! At the end of the year some friends came and helped me pack up my room and cart my stuff back home for the summer recess. Surveying the empty room we were all gripped with an idea that was quite novel to us. We felt that the Lord wanted us to bless the room and dedicate it to him. This wasn’t part of our theology and we didn’t really have any language for it. We just knew that under my stewardship the room had been a place of worship, hospitlaity, sharing of the Gospel, ministry to others. We simply prayed that that would continue; that the room would continue to be at the Lord’s disposal that way. “And,” we said, “If the person who get’s the room next year isn’t a believer, may your presence here turn their thoughts to you and send people to the room to share the Gospel and bring the person to you. Then use the room again for your wonderful purposes. Amen.” That was the gist of it.

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I didn’t think any more of it until a year later I was visiting the Christian Union at Bath Uni one Friday evening. I got chatting to a young student by the name of Owen – Owen Griffith. I soon realized that he was a fairly new believer. “When did you come to faith,” I asked him. “Oh it was just after I moved onto campus really,” he said.

“Yes,” he continued. “I moved into my room and just began thinking about God. Then after a week some people visited the room and asked if I wanted to come to the Christian Union to find out about God. So I said yes. I came along and they introduced me to a church where I found believers who I could tell had something real – and I gave my life to Jesus.”

“And which room was that?” I asked him.

“93, Cotswold Terrace.”

Of course I lit up and told him, “Owen, there’s a reason all that happened!”

And so I relayed the story.

“Well, we have to go back and do it again!” said Owen.

I felt this might be pushing our luck but I didn’t want to dampen the enthusiasm of a new convert. So we went back to the room and repeated the prayer of a year before.

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A corner of the University of Nottingham – the Trent Building
Home to the Theology Faculty

I didn’t think any more of it until a full five years later. At that time I was studying at the other end of the country in the city of Nottingham. I was studying at St John’s Theological College in Bramcote, but to balance my social life I had adopted a hall of residence at the campus of the University that was home to our degree faculty. There I befriended Donald. One evening I was enjoying an evening beer with Donald –  my friend – and with an out of town friend of my friend and a friend of the friend of my friend. And I shared the story I just shared with you.

When I concluded, the friend of the friend of my friend said, “And the person who had the room after Owen??? He became a Christian too?????”

“Oh I don’t know,” I told him. “That’s as far as my knowledge extends.”

“No,” he said. “I am telling you. The person who had the room after Owen became a Christian too. I know because that’s who led me to Christ!”

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My mind was blown!!! Not only that God could answer such a prayer and impact a place in such an amazing way. But that Our Father clearly wanted me to know!!

Since that time I have always made a point of dedicating the places where I live and work and seen wonderful fruit from the practice. How to theologize it?? Maybe it is simply a story of the power of God responding to prayer. Maybe it is a reminder that God loves the creation he has created and that, as Apostle Paul writes in Romans 8, the whole of creation eagerly longs to see people come to salvation. Maybe it is just a micro-example of the phenomenon of revival – bearing in mind that almost every revival is – at one level – the story of a place altered by the activity of the Holy Spirit.

My experience with 93 Cotswold Terrace has given me an awe for God’s power and an open eye for places that God is graciously using to change and impact lives. I have seen even more amazing things since. Ask me about the Green Room, “Omega House” and the story of the many waters. I will be happy to tell you. God’s ways are often beyond our comprehension.

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Owen & me – catching up after a 31 year gap
September 2016

This month (September 2016) it’s been a great joy to catch up again with Owen and tell each other the story that links us. He was 19 when we last met face to face. Now he’s 50. The three converts in the story now represent three believing families. Who can tell what else may have flowed from that “moment” back on campus at the University of Bath?! One day we must meet up with the friend of a friend of my friend and maybe we will learn a little more of the wonderful ways in which God answers our prayers.