My first real exposure to the concept of speaking in tongues was at youth conference when I was in my teens. The speaker mentioned this fantastical possibility, this new, exciting and necessary part of the Christian faith. I remember him encouraging us to speak in tongues and telling us how important it was. He spoke of how it would radically change our prayer life, our sin life, and our personal walk with God. At the time I was dealing with some pretty heady stuff and I had been taught a lot about this gift and there was nothing I wanted more than to receive this.
For the last few months I had been having a lot of spiritual teaching regarding this. In fact my pastor devoted hours working with us and teaching those who hadn’t received the gift yet some techniques to start speaking in tongues. He told us that first we had to clear our minds of any thoughts. This was because our minds wouldn’t understand what we are doing and would want to war against and question what our mouth was doing, and so it was important not to overthink it, or think it at all. Then he told us some methods that would help get us going. He used the analogy that it was like starting a car on a cold day. Asking to speak in tongues was like turning the key, and all you needed was a little kick to help the engine turn over and get it to start roaring. These were some of his suggestions:
1 If you know a foreign language, start speaking that and ask God to transform it into a different one on the go.
2. Repeat the words “shoulda-bought-a-honda-couldove-bought-a-honda. or “shabbada-shabbada shaka-whaoh” over and over again. This will train your mouth and your tongue to lose control and get used to making strange sounds.
3. Pick a phrase from the scriptures and say it over and over again, as fast as you can, until the words become unintelligible in your mouth. When you can’t say it any faster take a leap of faith and say the first things that come to your mind-oftentimes this will be your new tongues.
4. Start making intercession with groaning that can’t be uttered. Start to groan and moan while curled up in a ball on the ground, from deep within your chest, and visualize your sounds transforming into words.
5. Read Bible verses but take out the vowels from what you’re reading, and try to pronounce them all the while asking God to give you the gift- this oftentimes acts like a kickstart.
6. Hold your hands over your ears so that you can’t hear yourself speaking, and start saying words and making sounds as the spirit leads, and then have a friend come over and listen. The reason you are plugging your ears is because as you are getting disappointed with the English words that are coming out of your mouth and then losing faith, which will kill it. If you do start speaking in tongues, your friends will be able to hear it and confirm it for you.
I spent months practicing these things, trying to get my mouth to turn over, but to no avail. I especially tried the groaning one, where I would crawl into my prayer closet and start to heave as I pushed my hands against my chest, growling and moaning and making sounds that I didn’t know I could make. I was warbling by tongues and lips in between guttural gasps in an effort to make something happen.
But to no avail.
Consequently I had become hopelessly disappointed. I had gone to the altar on a weekly basis for prayer and rededications- my cheeks wet with tears as I sobbed and wept and asked God why everyone around me could do it, but I couldn’t.
Didn’t he love me enough to help me speak in tongues? I had been told that it was one of the main proofs of salvation, and my heart was becoming a ball of confusion and distress. I wasn’t good enough. I didn’t have enough faith. I didn’t repent enough. I didn’t tithe enough. All these things rocked my little ship of faith. And then this conference happened.
It had been two days of manic worship music, ultimate frisbee, and sleep deprivation.We just finished singing the same song, “Let it rain” for almost half an hour. A man with a bald head and a beard appeared on stage and said that he was going to slay us all in the spirit, and when we awoke we would have the gift of tongues. The room was hot and sweaty and the stench of stale body odor was everywhere. Under blue and pink lights he approached us and had all thirty of us line up around stage and starting left from right. Once were were all in a row he would put his hands on my friends and almost throw them to the ground.
Thankfully there were adults behind us who would catch us as we fall, to ensure that the impact of throwing a body gone limp would not crack our skulls on the floor.
“SHANDALA-HUNDARA!” he screamed as he picked us off one by one.
Boom! Boom! Boom!
Bodies were hitting the floor as if being cut down in a swath. I could hear some of the girls who had gone first starting to rise and stir as sounds of giggles filled the room.
Finally he came to me. I couldn’t breathe with anticipation. Finally it was going to happen. I knew it was. Oh. My. God. This was going to be amazing. All I could think about was the coveted tongues. I wanted it so bad, and the knowledge that I would go under and come up a new man was exquisite. He gripped my head with his hands. I braced my soul. He blew a rush of air and spittle in my face and then yelled “Spirit be released in Jesus’ name!”
But I did not fall as almost every other had. No- instead I felt none of the impartation that I had hoped for, that I had built myself up for. I wanted my knees to go weak. I wanted my legs to buckle. I wanted my mind to be assaulted by a hundred million senses and to come up for air with new words and a heavenly language and the powerful rapture of being so close to God that we shared a secret language that only we knew. Instead my legs remained strong. I did not bend or bow. Instead, despite being nearly hurled towards the carpet, my instincts kicked in and I twisted my body in such a way that I was able to catch myself on the front row chairs as I reeled back.
The speaker, content with seeing me displaced, went back to the center and compelled the praise band up to keep on playing while my friends and strangers laid with their backs on the floor. Their hands were raised slightly at their side and facing heaven, weeping and laughing .
I could hear the sound of garbled voices while I sat there. Heads in my knees. Begging God’s forgiveness for being such a disappointment to him.
Part II to follow tomorrow…