How I learned to speak in tongues, and then never do it again Part II
Part 1 HERE
The days passed and the months came. The dissapointments had taken a spiritual toll on me and I began to withdraw myself from Church functions and other ecclesial events. I had become a youth leader at the Church I was attending. Whereas initially I had been outwardly enthusiastic and committed, inside my mind was roiling. I began to grow non-committal and distant. I was the one guy who didn’t speak in tongues. I was the one guy who couldn’t get it together. I was singled out by the Lord as unworthy of his gift and unworthy to communicate with him in this manner. Hell, I probably wasn’t even saved. The impact that had on me was devastating, and it meant I had to live a lie for a long time.
During Church services we usually had people come up and give prophetic messages. They would say “Thus says the Lord our God…..” and then proceed to give a message in tongues. Sometimes we would leave it at that and the pastor would thank them and we would continue as normal. Other times he would tell us that God told him that someone here had the interpretation, and the service would grind to a halt until someone spoke it. Oftentimes I thought I had the interpretation. I was taught that after someone gives a word, if you clear your mind and focus on the words, that a thought would pop into your head. That thoughts was almost always the interpretation, and that we should stand and give it. I had spiritual things mulling around in my head during those times, and one time I ventured a guess. I stood up and said [approximately] “Thus says the Lord, I love my people and I am pleased with their worship.” And then I sat down as fast as I could. The Pastor stared at me from across the room, and then said “That was good, but that was not the message that the Lord wanted to give us. Anybody else?”
I sat there with my ears red and my face burning, stewing in my own shame. After a few minutes one of the women elders in the Church, our go-to interpreter, stood up and said [approximately] “Thus says the Lord, I am coming to do a new thing. I am coming like a flood to wash away your impurities, so long as you walk in the new things. You cannot put new wine in old wine skins, and you can’t put old patches on a new shirt. So come to be and give me your hearts, humble yourselves and seek my face, and I will heal your land and bring prosperity.”
I was mortified that I had gotten the message wrong. Later during my midweek discipleship time with the pastor he told me that I was acting in the flesh when I stood up, because it didn’t make sense that someone who couldn’t speak in tongues could interpret those tongues, as only “spiritual could interpret spiritual.”
I never ventured an interpretation again.
Then one Friday night youth group something happened. March of 2004., It was my practice that however long the youth service lasted, I would arrive early and pray for a corresponding length of time. During the prayers I felt troubled and uneasy. Agitated and mentally wandering. Probably the best description would be “angst”. My heart felt like it would overflow and burst with angst and recreancy.
The service began and I sat there, leaning with my back against the wall, listening to a few praise songs, then watching and brooding as the worship leader began to lead a song in tongues. Disappointment and disillusionment welled up and broke the dam. Even my worship was defective. Deficient. Incomplete. Inadequate. Flawed. The hollow ache finally overcame me and I wept. Weeping and sobbing out of sheer frustration and futility. One of my friends came and put his hand on my shoulder, probably surmising that I was having an encounter with God, when the exact opposite was true. It was an awful, tortuous experience.
Then, in one last ditch effort, I bit my tongue as hard as I could, and blurted out something, anything. In my mind it was my final effort to speak in tongues. Sheer desperation. I was tired of crying. Tired of trying little speaking in tongue tricks. Tired of trying to make my mouth and lips do things they wouldn’t do. Tired of trying to force the issue. Tired of the constant awareness of inadequacy. So here it was- my final offering upon the altar of God’s faithlessness and indifference.
Out it came.
I was saying the words “God forgive me, God forgive me” over and over again, and I could think myself saying them, but I heard other words come out of my mouth. It wasn’t English or a language that I knew, but something altogether different. It bubbled forth and spilled out of me. It sounded like “Sundaya-kasho-run-daya sho-ko-tototo”. Even all this time later I can still repeat those words and feel the familiarity wash over me. I gasped. The music was blaring from the front and I could feel the fuzzy reverb bouncing inside my chest. I was hot and sweaty and exhausted, but all of a sudden I felt alive. Given over to reckless abandon and joy. I stopped speaking, waited a few seconds, then tried to say something again. I tried to say “Is this for real?” but all I could say, in my state of exhilaration and rapturous wonder was “shandya-ra-so-tototo-shun-da” .
After that night I would speak in tongues often. I could conjure up this heavenly language in a heartbeat. I would start praying “I love you father- you are so perfect and good, you are the shunda-ra-saka- to-to-to…” and off I went. It was a seamless transition between my worldly, untamed tongue into my redeemed, holy tongue.
When I was at home, on the bus, in line at the supermarket- everywhere. My pastor told me a story of man who went and visited a pastor in Africa. The man greeted him and they spent several days together. While the pastor was friendly and conversant, the man noticed that whenever he wasn’t speaking out loud, his lips would always be moving- all throughout the day. Finally the man asked the pastor what he was doing, and the pastor replied that every second of every day that he wasn’t talking to people he was speaking in tongues quietly and talking to God.
That story resonated with me and that’s who I wanted to be.
I wanted to be that kind of person and for a while, maybe a few weeks, I felt like I was living it. It was a beautiful month. On one level, in one particular way, it was the nearest I ever “felt” to God. So many burdens lifted- so many of the old aches, scars, and spiritual cigarette burns began to heal and clear up. I began to engage with the Church again. Whereas before I was sullen and quiet in worship, now I was bouncing up in down on my feet in the front row- hands raised high. In fact, I even grabbed a flag from the bin up front and started waving it until my arms were spent, speaking in tongues between sets, the first and only time I have ever done that. I would participate in fire tunnels and when it was my turn to pray and prophecy, I would speak in tongues and people I touched would fall to the floor. It was a sacred and awesome power. I witnessed and shared my faith more, speaking in tongues before and after the encounters. I began going to all night prayer meetings [From 8pm to 8am] because I knew that I could just sit in a corner and speak in tongues and the time would fly as I connected to God, blessed by these charisms that he had bestowed upon me.
Most importantly though, I felt saved. I felt like a child of God. I didn’t feel like a disappointment to him and in that period I was able to “forgive God” for how I felt deserted and unloved because he never spoke to me. It was, as I look back, a fragment of my life that was wholly unique.
But slowly things started to shift. I realized after a few months that the elated feelings began to fade and that the high I was riding was beginning to level out. I thought that If I was speaking directly to God in a language that only him and I understood, that surely that would be more than sufficient to keep me in a state of peace and worship-that I wouldn’t experience the emotional and spiritual lows and highs, but rather would always be high. And yet here I was, falling….falling….falling.
Coupled with this is that I realized that my tongues-vocabulary wasn’t very big. I mean, I would essentially say the same 20 words over and over again, just in different arrangements and sequences. I brought this to the attention of my pastor and he told me that even though I was saying “shundara” over and over again, that because it was a private prayer language, each time I said it it meant something different. And so even though it sounded to me like I was saying the same phrase repeatedly, in reality I was not, and in fact was saying all sorts of things in the spiritual realm.
I also found myself praying and speaking in tongues, running through a favorite phrase at breakneck speed, when suddenly I was at a loss for words. It was a jarring stopgap that yanked me out of the heavenly places. Silence would interrupt me and I would have to think for a moment about what I wanted to say next, and then resume where I left off.
This whole process continued for a year, a slow decline into uncertainty and uncomfortable realities. I could still speak in tongues, but it had none of the energy, vitality, and rush that it had once brought me. While speaking in these tongues brought me a small comfort, in some ways I began to grow disillusioned with them because they seemed more forced as time went on, and none of that emotional spark was there. I didn’t feel like I was talking with God in a private prayer language- it just felt like I was saying “shundara” a lot, over and over, without that connection to something deeper and more profound.
[Note, I’m skipping tons of story here which relates to this, but long story short, I began to realize that much of the teaching from the pulpit was deceptive in nature and was more imaginative than biblical. I was becoming increasingly alarmed at some of the things that the Pastor said and taught which I believe did not line up with the scriptures. I began to learn enough about basic theology to know that not all was well. I left the Church I had been attending for years, after a showdown in the sanctuary with my Pastor over something he said that I found intolerable and what I late found out to be heresy in its highest form. Very shortly after this, I moved away from that city.]
I arrived in my new city a bruised and battered reed. I felt lied to, betrayed, burned, and keenly aware of my own ignorance. I felt far from God and felt like I really didn’t know him- that I only knew him emotionally and experimentally, but not intellectually or theologically.
I knew how he made me felt during worship, but not how my worship meant to him.
I knew how I liked to think about him and describe him, but not how he described himself.
I eventually began working the night shift at a local retail store stocking shelves. The job was simple enough and so to pass the time, I would load my iPod. I would scour iTunes and the internet and would load up hundreds of hours of sermons at a time and would play them all night. It didn’t matter who it was- I didn’t know who was good or bad, who was sound or unsound. I listened to everyone across the spectrum, from seeker sensitive pastors, to latter-rain prophetesses, to independent fundamental baptists,usually for fours hours a night. The other four hours I would listen to the audio version of the Bible. I did this for almost 4 years. Sometimes I would listen to the Bible for the whole week, about 36 hours. Other times I would load up Lutheran homilies, which are about 15-20 minutes each, and would listen to 5 years of that pastors sermons in a matter of days. Other times I would load up lecture series from Christian universities and would listen to 25 lectures on “Christian life in the 8th century” or 18 lectures on”Reformed apologetics”. Still other times I said to myself “I want to listen to the Book of Galatians today” and then loop it for the next 6 hours.
I listened to thousands upon thousands of Bible and sermons in this time frame, and it didn’t take long for my life to change. As it relates to this story, I very quickly began to gravitate toward reformed preachers and teachers. Men like John Piper. Matt Chandler. R.C Sproul. James White. Phil Johnson and most importantly John MacArthur. [the last sermon marathon I listened to was about 30 years of GTY sermons, all the way from the beginning, which took a little under a year]
I drifted away from the Joyce Meyers, Rich Warrens and Jack Hyles of the world and clung to those guys. These were men whose sermons most closely reflected what I was hearing from the Bible. It seemed they took it extremely serious, and took the greatest pains to exegete the texts rather than prooftexts to score points. That’s what really stuck out to me. And these were mostly men who, to varying degrees, did not believe that the gift of tongues was active and present today, or if it was, was in qualified terms. That they were mostly all cessasionists and were able to argue and articulate why that biblically is was incredibly disturbing and challenging for me. In fact, early on I was outright hostile to this part of their beliefs, believing them pretty knowledgeable on most things, but definitely missing it on this one. This was a difficult spot to be in. These were my heroes, and yet they were saying that what I was experiencing was not legitimate. [These men’s teaching is also how I transitioned from a hyper-charismatic arminian belief system to a reformed doctrines of grace one]
I began to do research, and as I had in this time developed the ability to study and exegete the biblical texts, found their argumentation extremely compelling. I did my own research and poured over tomes and ancient primary sources, fervently researching and investigating the glossolaia. I listened to the best defenses and argumentation for speaking in tongues, desperately wanting them to offer an excellent refutation and positive presentation of why biblically they were still for today.
What I found crushed me. My speaking in tongues side, from my perspective, had nothing to offer. They were soundly refuted. The arguments that I used to regurgitate for speaking in tongues seemed to me all of a sudden silly and a little bit embarrassing. I understood what tongues were in the Bible, in that time frame, and how it vastly different than how its practiced now. In short, I became convinced from the biblical evidence that speaking in tongues was an early Christian phenomena that was unique to that period and was not in play today. It was a painful time of self-examination and self-doubt, as I desperately tried to search my heart and figure out what was going on, and how had I gotten there.
And so what was my experience?
Some people say it’s demonic. Others say it’s emotional hysteria and gibber-jabber. I look back at myself, all my friends and my entire former Church, many of whom spoke in tongues, and I at this point I don’t believe it was demonic. Was I caught up in the moment and due to emotional manipulation worked myself up to the point where it burst forth? Was it a psychosomatic reflex- my body birthing what my mind wanted so badly? I don’t know.
In retrospect I can see how maybe that initial gift of tongues may have been bought about by a heightened emotional state, but afterwards? On the bus? At work? Was I that self-deceived?
I have come to terms with the fact that I probably was a learned behavior. I think I was encouraged to produce sounds which my brain could then take hold of in an unconscious way and create strings of syllables to speak forth, and once I learned how to do that I was able to keep it up. I think that might account for the riffs and improvisations that I tended to use. I think that’s probably about it.
The point is this. I became convinced that it was not for today, and because I am committed to binding my conscience to the word of God, I’ve stopped speaking in them. It was an achingly hard thing to do- when everything in your experience tells you that its good, and right, and holy, and an angelic prayer language to the creator of the world himself, and in fact you can start speaking them right then and there- to have to take that and say “regardless of what my feelings, desires and experiences tells me, I have a higher authority and I must be obedient to it.”
Its been about six years now since I’ve spoken in tongues, and I have no plans to every try to speak in them again. In the years since any and all desire to speak in them has pretty much waned and dissipated. I don’t think of them as a private prayer language that I let go cold and die from disuse, but rather as a childish thing from another life that I’ve shrugged off and have been set free from.
[Contributed by Dustin Germain]