Tuesday, January 5, 2010

I am Thankful for the Gift of Tongues

[I am Thankful: Part 5]

I am thankful for the gift of glossolalia, speaking in tongues as the Spirit gives the utterance. It is for me the abiding sign of the Spirit’s charismatic presence in my life. As I read the New Testament there are three functions for speaking in tongues: a sign to unbelievers (I Corinthians 14:22), the edification of the church (I Corinthians 14:5-6), and personal communion with God (Romans 8:26, I Corinthians 14:14, Ephesians 6:18, Jude 20). It is to this last function I am referring.

When I was baptized in the Holy Spirit, speaking in tongues was a major hurdle in fully surrendering to God. I wanted God to forcefully take control of my tongue and begin uttering a language out of my mouth. I expected it would be like losing consciousness and waking up speaking a foreign language. It is amazing how much Pentecostals back then talked about the power, beauty, and importance of speaking in tongues without ever discussing the individual’s personal initial experience.

My experience was that glossolalia was a step of faith. I felt God’s presence in a special way, but he wouldn’t take control of my tongue. As I cried, prayed, and praised, a single syllable kept repeating over and over in my mind. I was afraid to say it because it was nonsensical and I didn’t want to let Satan start me down a counterfeit pathway. It was then I heard God whisper, “Do you feel my presence? If I am so real and upon you, why can’t you trust me to speak through you? Give me the syllable.” I spoke the syllable and joy began to flow through me as I repeated it over and over. Soon it became two, and then three syllables bubbling out of my mouth. In a few moments it was like a vocabulary had developed. I was euphoric with His presence and I wanted to stay there forever.

Another challenge came the next day. I knew I needed for the initial experience to become a part of my life; the encounter had to become a relationship. It was a struggle to pray through to that same fullness of the Spirit. In the end it was the same question I had to answer, could I trust God to be at work in and through me? Could I step out by faith and trust the Spirit to give the utterance as I offered up prayers that transcended my ability to articulate my newfound knowledge of God. Simply put, the challenge was to answer the question of whether glossolalia begins with me, my initiation of learned nonsensical speech, or does it begin with the prompting of the Spirit. And the answer was “yes.” Speaking in tongues as the Spirit gives the utterance is a partnership between a human and his/her creator. It flows from the human spirit and the Divine Spirit in union.

I soon learned that if my heart is right with God and my desire is to please Him, whenever I struggle to express myself to Him in English it is good to just begin to speak in the language He has nurtured in me. This is an act of reverent faith. In this I trust God to commune with me and pray for me. When this happens it is as if a floodgate opens and my innermost being is poured out before God. I feel wrapped in His loving presence and somehow I know He is carrying me through the situations of my life.

I prefer not to call my experiences with tongues a “prayer language.” I recognize my utterances have taken on characteristics of a language, i.e., patterns of repetition, and they are a form of prayer. In a very real sense this language resides in me. However, to me that term implies I have learned it and can start and stop at will without regard to the Spirit’s presence in my life. I never want to speak in tongues without a consciousness of God’s presence in my life. While I am fully aware of what I am doing, it is an act of trust in God that He is with me and He will not let me act in a way that defiles the Spirit. In this act I acknowledge the limits of my ability to know and communicate with God (reasoned speech) and I proclaim His grace to transcend that gulf, to know me and empower me to know Him beyond the limits of my self.

In truth, it is not the act of speaking in tongues that I cherish; repetitive gibberish is of no value to my soul. I cherish the communion of the Holy Spirit which sometimes expresses itself in tongues. If the Spirit is not joined with my utterances in a symphony of praise and petition it is an act of delusion bordering on blasphemy.

Yes, I am thankful for the gift of tongues. It is for me a theophony of communion with God that transcends reason (without negating it) and embraces my whole being. It expresses my faith in the power of the resurrection and the veracity of the Scriptures. Through this gift I return to the womb of God where I am nurtured and healed. I have a personal audience with the Creator of the Universe, my heavenly Father. In this act of worship, my past and future are woven into a single garment of praise.

Cleveland, Tennessee
January 5, 2010

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