After being challenged to believe all of the Bible of none of it at all, I decided to take on the gift of tongues head on - biblically and experienctially.
I studied the passages in the the Scriptures where the gift of tongues occurs and noted its context, purpose, and exhortations therein. Above all I was impressed by the overall purpose of the gift. It was a gift of strategy, of intent. Somehow a person or community that embraced tongues as a part of their life in Christ deemed it as an expressionistic tool for worship and the overall advancement of the Kingdom, both within themselves and in the world.
I had always thought of the gift of tongues as a king of spiritual masturbation of sorts. A selfish way of getting off in the spirit and/or a mark of a self-imposed spiritual maturity.
That being said, if God was on it, I wanted it. So I decided to try it.
One Friday night at Florida Atlantic University I wandered into a vacant field, plopped my fanny in the dirt. I looked up at the stars and said, "Okay God, here I am. You say you're the teacher. Teach me how to speak in tongues."
And I waited. And waited some more. A satellite crossed the sky. Still nothing.
Then I remembered I had heard that you have to initiate the gift with your voice. We were not zombies after all. So I tried that - but fearing I would somehow be praising Satan instead of lifting praise to God, I framed the event with these words.
God I am going to talk in gobble-gook.
It feels stupid, but I want all you have for me.
Guide my words to worship you.
And pressing through all my feelings of acting stupid, being embarrassed, and even tempting God, I activated my voice.
At first I just threw out some words to get the pump started. It was all he needed. He took those words and kicked them into gear. At once beautiful words, powerful words, emerged from my mouth. My heart grew filled with a peace not yet ever experienced until then.
My body, too, began to fill with the presence of God in a unique way that infused my 22 year old, testosterone-laden body with a such a physical rush that I became embarrassed. And more than just that. The mere experience of my body - sensations of lust and "the flesh - freaked me out completely. To me the human flesh was evil. It's lusts and its passions were something to be crucified, not encouraged.
"This is evil. I'm shutting it down."
So I stopped. It was just that easy. I rose from the field, embarrassed that any of it had ever happened, as if I had intentionally participated in sin and was walking away from it, leaving it behind. As I reentered the dorms, I resolved that the gift of tongues was from the devil and I would have nothing to do with them anymore. (So much for the gnostic influence of the Jesus Movement in the late '70's.)
Then I went to Israel. I wound up living in community with 12 tongue speaking people who were my age, loved Jesus, and were really cool. In fact, they were more than cool. Their life's displayed a sense of power that I coveted. They would always tell me things like, "It's the Holy Spirit, Bill." "You need to be filled with him." Or, "Why are you afraid to lift your hands when your worship him? He lifted his hands on the cross for you..."
And other things like that.
One Sunday morning we were worshipping in the Narkis Baptist Center in Jerusalem when the pastor invited us to worship God "free form"in the languages of our origin. The place erupted in a wondrous expression of sounds of spender. People from all over the world lifted their praises and gratitude to God. There were Swedes, Finns, Germans, Africans, Arabs, Hebrews - folks from all over, all engaged with the Holy Spirit and lifting hands to Yahweh. Through it all the music vamped on a a single chord.
This is the most beautiful thing I've ever heard.
I engaged. I said stuff like, "Thank you Jesus. Praise you Lord," and closed my eyes and lifted my heart to God. As the music swelled I heard the singing voice of someone nearby. It was beautiful. The more I listened, the more my heart filled with God's peace.
Who is singing that song? I have got to look around and see who that is.
I opened my eyes. With my ears I followed the floating notes in the air. They went this way and that way until becoming centered just before me. I widened my eyes in astonishment. The song was coming from me. I was that guy!
That experience completely restored my fragmented bias against the gift of tongues. How could anything like that be demonic - especially there in that sacred place, at that sacred moment, in the sacred praises of the saints? This wasn't a selfish experience designed for the individuals' fleshly appetite. This was a communal expression to a mysterious God who is blessed when we enter into his presence with his own mystical language.
Father, you are Spirit. We are flesh. Yet you gift us with capacity to get into your space with the gift of tongues. Whether we come to you, or you come to us, all we know is that heaven is made real - her purposes are crystalized - in the doing of this thing. Teach us to embrace in faith all you have for us. And thank you for your patience when our fears, embarrassment, or even our theology gets in the way of the good things you have for us. In Jesus' Name, and the honor of the Holy Spirit. Amen.