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 weeks 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. Very shortly after this, I moved up here to Fort McMurray.]
I arrived here 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 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 pass the time. 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 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 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. John Macarthur. Matt Chandler. R.C Sproul. James White. Ligon Duncan and D.A Carson. 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 men who, to varying degrees, did not believe that the gift of tongues was active and present today. 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.
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 re-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 its either 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 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 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.