For a long time now I have been rather quiet… I have been on a journey. Growing in business and growing spiritually.
I have a special message for you my friends, for it is not right to be given a candle that is shining brightly and then hide it under the table. It is a big one … perhaps to make up for lost time 🙂 For some of you it will be hard to take, but I pray that you at least read it and pray about it so that God can show you the way. Do not hate me for my understanding, but rather use it to grow yourselves in your relationship with God … in your relationship with the Holy Trinity, One God. Our walk in the Garden is after all a journey, yes?
To begin with, let me tell you my story… maybe this will give some the excuse they need to dismiss this message, but it is good to let you know how I came to this message… at least the parts that make sense.
For a long time I have been in consternation and even afraid of the phenomenon of ‘speaking in tongues’. My greatest anxiety has always been: ‘how does one know that they are speaking a tongue guided by the Spirit of God and not any other Spirit? How does one know that they are speaking through the Holy Spirit of God and are praying to God rather than abusing and blaspheming, particularly when they have not idea whatsoever what they are saying?
When I speak of ‘the phenomenon’ I am talking of a group of people praying together and then going into a spiritual state almost in unison, but some a little later than others and all uttering sounds that neither I, nor they understand…. sometimes standing or sitting still, sometimes trembling, sometimes waving hands, sometimes moving around in an uncoordinated fashion…
Many stories abound of foreigners from a distant land walking into a church where the people are praying and speaking in tongues, only to come out looking startled and asking why there are people in the group who are speaking out against Jesus in their (foreigners’) language.
As I sat down one day to begin my Saturday afternoon activities, in the hope of getting a lot of work done before the end of the day, this phenomenon came to mind again. I remembered once again the lesson I had learned about how the apostles spoke in tongues (Acts 2). At that time, there were many visitors in Jerusalem from many countries who spoke many different languages.
After the Holy Spirit of God has descended on the Apostles in what looked like tongues of fire, the Apostles began to speak about Jesus, and each foreigner heard their own language being spoken. The consternation among the foreigners was in the ability of the apostles, to know and speak these other languages. The miracle of the Holy Spirit was in giving the apostles the skills to speak other languages instantly, and the courage to speak about Jesus openly even in the face of persecution.
Key points to note in this event:
- The apostles spoke languages that were understood by other people who were in the crowd they were talking to.
- There were other people in the crowds that were meant to receive the message who understood the languages spoken.
- There was a giver of a message in a language previously unknown to them, and there was a receiver of the message in the same language whom God wanted to receive the message, and who previously understood that language i.e. the language existed among men of flesh and blood already.
That is the central message that I get in the miracle of the apostles speaking ‘in tongues’… that all mankind will be able to hear God’s word in their own ‘tongue’.
Later on (1 Corinthians 12, 14), we see that St Paul writes of speaking in tongues and how there must be an interpreter in their midst to convey the message being sent. The understanding of that message from St Paul needs clarification. St Paul clearly meant for people to make sure that there was clarity in the message for all members of a community when any one of them was speaking in tongues. He was enforcing the key elements of the miracle of the apostles speaking in tongues, which was that there had to be a recipient of the message from the Holy Spirit of God, whether the person speaking understood the ‘tongue’ they were speaking or not.
It was because he understood this key element of the miracle of the gift of speaking in tongues that he insisted upon an interpreter being present to interpret the words spoken by the person with the gift of speaking in tongues. It was because he understood the essence of the gift of speaking in tongues that he taught that it is essentially for the benefit of the ‘unbeliever’ in the community who did not yet know about God and who would realize the power of God in this gift – the person who did not yet know about Jesus Christ and therefore whom God wanted to reveal Himself to.
In my understanding the ‘unbeliever’ at the time was often not from the community of those who already believed, therefore was likely to speak in a different language, hence the power in being able to speak in their language instantly through the gift of speaking in tongues.
He also understood that it was imperative that the words spoken by the person speaking in tongues be found to be words that are understood by mortal men in languages previously understood by mortal men. This was so that when the words were interpreted, the foreigners understand the message and acknowledge the power of God… those whom God wanted to reveal Himself to.
But he took it a step further by insisting that there be interpretation to the language of the community so that the ones who knew about God would also be in a position to acknowledge the message as having been their own experience of God as well, or learn more about God from the message.
Thus the message would be useful to the foreigners, but also to the community even as the leaders and perhaps the community itself confirms and verifies that the message was a true one.
The message had to be useful to someone within the community.
The message had to have a recipient who is made of flesh and blood – mortal man – who is not the same one speaking in tongues.
The message had to be interpreted and understood at the same time it was conveyed.
The message had to be spoken in a language previously known to mortal men.
Yet, St Paul in the same chapter 14:21 says: ‘It says in the written Law: in strange tongues and in a foreign language I will talk to this nation, and even so they will refuse to listen, says the Lord.’
The use of tongues and language in the same statement is certainly confusing. So I looked up the reference St Paul was making.
Yes, it is mentioned in the written Law which we now call the Old Testament in Isaiah 28:11-12. When we look at this Word we find a different translation for the phrase ‘strange tongues’:
Isaiah 28:11 ‘Now, with stammering lips and in a foreign language, he will talk with this nation.’
Isaiah 28:12 ‘He used to say to them, “Here you can rest! Here you can let the weary rest! Here all is quiet.” But they refused to listen.’
It seems that the word ‘tongue’ and the word ‘language’ are perhaps used interchangeably.
However, there is a key element in the message of the two writings: The one who speaks in a strange tongue and the one who speaks with stammering lips are both speaking with some kind of difficulty. The one who stammers has a difficulty with their speech process, but when you listen carefully you will hear what they have to say. The one who speaks in a strange tongue speaks words that they are not familiar with, but if the recipient of the message understands the words they will understand what the speaker is saying.
The bottom line is that at the end of the day, there is a human being who receives the message and understands it, no matter how it was conveyed or what physical or spiritual state the conveyor of the message was in. The words are not spoken for nothing. They are spoken for a human being to understand.
Another key element is that the person who is speaking may have some mental impediment with the speech, either has some difficulty with what they are speaking because they do not understand it with their minds, or with being able to speak it, but there is always a recipient who is expected to understand what is being said … with their minds. The key here is to the one who is speaking, what they are speaking is strange. They can hear it, but may be unable to pronounce it well or understand themselves with their minds. They can however understand in spirit what they are saying.
On the other hand, the recipient of the message is a person, to whom what is being spoken is not strange. The words spoken are familiar and so to them the message is clear. The words spoken are a tongue only to the person speaking and through whom the Holy Spirit is speaking, not to the person to whom the Holy Spirit is conveying a message. The same sounds are a language to those who are supposed to receive the message because the sounds are familiar to them.
In my understanding therefore, when St Paul spoke to the Corinthians, he was pointing out that there must be a giver of a message and there must be a receiver of the same message and both are here on earth. And whoever speaks in the name of God must speak in a language that others around them must understand.
The gift of tongues that the Apostles received was not a gift to allow them to have a special connection with God, but rather for them to send a message from God to the unbelievers, the foreigners who had not yet heard the good news.
And Isaiah 28:12 is telling us that through the message that God conveys, we are taught where we can find rest, where we can bring others to find rest, the peace that only God can give. Through the message conveyed through the Holy Spirit, we are shown where and how we can receive the peace of God. Peace … quiet … not shouting, disquiet, confusion or anxiety, but the peace of God.
So then, why is it that the speaking in tongues phenomenon as we know it today is so enticing and has captured so many? Why is the ability to speak in a language that is unintelligible to oneself and to others, has no hope of interpretation because the speaker has no intention to try and interpret, so widespread among the Christian community and churches? I mention the churches not because I have anything against them, but rather because this is where I have seen and heard of the practice.
And as the birds sing while they fly in the air, and chirp as they sit on the branches of the trees outside, this is the understanding I have received, the candle that I have been given, that is lit and shining brightly.
We all yearn to be special to the ones we love, and more importantly, the ones we look up to. We want to be special to our parents…we want to be special to our older siblings… we want to be special to our grandparents … our spouses. And so we do what we can to make sure we are noticed by them. We do what they want, we obey them, we do special things for them, we try our best to attain and keep a special connection to them that says to us that we are special to them. In fact, if we do not receive this reassurance we stop giving, become angry … make mistakes … go to extremes … make decisions we eventually regret. This is a fundamental element of life, and growing up.
So when we discover God, or are taught about God… when we finally understand that God is a loving and forgiving God, whether it is because of a negative event that God has healed, or because of some other way that we come to know God, we immediately begin to yearn for God to show us how special we are to him. Does He answer our prayers? Are we sinning too much for God to forgive? Did we obey what God has taught us? Do we have a special connection with God?
Yes, a special connection with God. When we reach the point of seeking a special connection with God, yes, we pray, but also we seek other ways in which we can be specially connected to Him… and it is at this point that confusion sets in and we are taught how to do this… by speaking in a language that only God can understand, for this is the way that makes us special, to God, before God, and before man. It makes us special like the Apostles…. hmmm… confusion does not come from God, does it? Or is this not confusion?
No more is it about the community we are in and how we can share God’s message with one another. No more is it about a message that God is conveying to His children… it is now all about ‘me’ and ‘my relationship with God that is unique … special’.
No big problem with a unique relationship with God, so long as we are also cognizant of our greater community. No problem … until it is so unique that ‘only He and I know what we are communicating’, and yet ‘I myself do not know what I am communicating to God, but the ‘Holy Spirit’ knows what it is I need that I cannot express in human words’. Hmmmm….
When God speaks to us, He speaks in a language that is clearly understood either by us, or by the person to whom God is sending the message through us. Why then would God need or want us to speak to Him in a language that is not clear to anyone within our reach? It is the search for individual gain to the exclusion of all else and all others that leads to this… a path of selfishness in the spirit.
… and because we are now so special to God and have a special connection with God, we can do just about anything… including making others do what they did not plan to do themselves… because our special connection to God makes us powerful. Yes, power, the second trap in the gift of tongues phenomenon as it is practiced in many Christian communities. No, this did not start today.. it started with the Corinthians… and St Paul’s writing is a lesson to us to learn from their mistakes and use God’s gift correctly.
You see, by being special to Dad or mum or brother or sister or husband or wife or son or daughter or grandparent or our boss, we know we become powerful… we can do almost anything and get away with it… we can ask for almost anything and we will receive it. The power of a special connection to God is almost edifying. How powerful can that be? Look at what the apostles and prophets were able to do…was that not because of ‘a special connection with God’?
Yet God tells us continuously and repeatedly… He loves everybody, yes, even those that have sinned and continue to sin. He loves everybody equally because we are all His creation. This does not mean that He does not abhor sin, but means that He knows that with every opportunity to sin, each and every one of us has the opportunity to overcome sin and return to Him.
Yes, God knows that with each step we make and each decision we have to make, we have the opportunity to turn back to Him even when we sin and so He loves us and is guiding us continuously. Oh how wonderful life would be if we would just listen to Him.. in His Holy Word. Because when we obey God, just obey Him, He has made special promises to us that He will fulfill. That is the true and correct ‘special connection with God’ – loving God with all our hearts, souls, minds and strength; and loving our neighbors as ourselves, and as Jesus loved us.
In the end there is no need for a special connection with God that gives us power beyond other human beings… only a love for God that is beyond human understanding, that brings you closer to Him in faith, in obedience to God in our daily lives, and in prayer. Love for God and love for our neighbor… that is the best connection to God that we can live. After all, does God not know what we need? Does the Holy Spirit of God need to speak to God through our mouths for God to understand that He speaks on our behalf? Is the Holy Spirit of God, not God that He has to go through us to reach God our Father in heaven?
Let the Holy Spirit of God speak for us with a sigh too deep for words. It is enough … so long as we live our lives as God wills, in faith, obedience, love and honesty.
But when God deems it fit, and has a message for us to give to those within our reach, and uses the Holy Spirit to speak through us to them, let us pass on the message correctly, seeking guidance from God and the leaders He has granted us, and trusting that with the right intention, and with the grace of God we shall indeed make God’s Holy word known and understood by others. When God gives us the words to speak through His Holy Spirit, those words we speak will be understood by someone and so be interpreted correctly. For those of us who obey and pass on the message? Through this gift, the blessing and joy of being a conveyor of God’s message for a moment is ours to receive… for a moment.
Fortunately for us, in today’s world, those within our reach are global, our community is now global. We also have the ability to record our words and find out their meaning from translators all over the world, before we pass on the message to the rest of our communities – to those within our reach that God has granted to hear His message.
St Paul’s message was clear – when the Holy Spirit of God grants a person the gift of speaking in a tongue they do not understand, they should make sure they have someone to interpret the words for them, for the message is not from them to God, it is always a message from God, to man.
… and when we get the interpreters we will know whether we spoke by the power of the Holy Spirit of God or not. If those words cannot be interpreted in a language known to a ‘foreigner’ on this earth, or if the message is in conflict with God’s love and Holy word, then we should know we need spiritual help, guidance, prayer and healing.
Come … walk with me in the Garden.
Copyright © 2013, Ophelia Swai. All Rights Reserved.
Bible passages taken from ‘The New Jerusalem Bible – Pocket Edition’. Published 1990