The days passed and the months came. Those experiences 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 day during 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” .
To be continued…