Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Speaking in Tongues: Prayer

There's this interesting passage in Acts about the churches speaking in tongues, and there's a great debate today over whether these tongues are real or not and whether we should be speaking in them. The truth is, however, that we're all speaking in them. We all have our own tongue in which we understand and express God. We each have our own God-language, and where we do not understand the many tongues in which we speak God, we really have the power to wound each other. 

I'm not speaking here of traditional languages, of the formation of words by syllable. I'm speaking of the spiritual disciplines and the engagement of man with God, which manifests differently in each of our lives.

One of these God-languages is prayer.

Some people pray first. Their natural inclination is to start speaking to God. They don't feel silly about such things, and in fact, they know that God hears them. They hear Him, too. So many of the books we read about prayer suggest how simple prayer can be, how it doesn't have to be so formal, how we can 'pray even in line at the grocery store.' There are actually people who pray in line at the grocery store!

For those who speak the language of prayer, there is no better way to draw near to God than having a conversation with Him. An actual conversation, just as though they were talking to you or me. Just as though God was standing right there. The language of prayer is so often also the gift of presence, as those who speak in this tongue seem to be keenly aware of just how close God is.

And while we are all called to pray - and we must - it just doesn't feel so natural to those of us who do not speak this tongue. For those who do not speak in the language of prayer, prayer, I think more than any other language, feels like a foreign tongue.

Do I have to start with Dear Lord? Do I have to end with Amen? Are my eyes supposed to be closed? What about my hands? I don't speak the King's English very well. Does that matter? Which is Thee and which is Thou again? Talking to God simply is not as meaningful for all of us.

It's a matter, I think, of how the language influences our experience of prayer. Those who do not speak the language of prayer have all these lingering questions about this discipline. What is it really all about? What difference does it make? How do we even know God hears us? Without the tongue of prayer, most of us spend our Christian lives praying and only hoping God can hear us. Those for whom prayer is their primary language don't have to hope; they know.

What can sometimes be frustrating in this language barrier is that we so often turn to each other for counsel in our toughest times. We turn to our Christian friends for advice, for companionship, just for a shoulder to cry on. And where those who speak the Word may quote Scripture and those who speak worship may reference a song, those who speak prayer will invite us to pray. Right then, right there. What's difficult about this is that at the very moment we want someone to speak to us, someone speaking the tongue of prayer starts speaking to God! About us! It feels like a disconnect.

But it's not.

This person is just doing what we all do. He's taking his experience and putting it in a language he understands. He's making the moment meaningful in the only way he knows how, and since prayer is such a deep and powerful experience for him, he's trying to share that with you. He's trying to make a deep and powerful experience for you through prayer, not understanding that it may simply not mean as much to you. Not comprehending how it couldn't.

Are you noticing a pattern yet? Do you see why understanding your God-language is so important? It's because we're all doing this. We're all speaking in tongues around each other. It is here where we are in the most danger of wounding one another, of discouraging, rather than encouraging, each other. But there's a beautiful opportunity here, too, and we're getting to that. (Friday. Stay tuned.) 

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