Monday, June 15, 2015

Speaking in Tongues: The Word

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.

For example, there is the language of the Word. Now, God's Word is something that we all have a responsibility to read, to know, to feast on. But it's clear that there are some among us who find the taste of the Word more satisfying than others.

These people can quote Scripture off the top of their heads. Lots of it. They can cross-reference verses and tell you where the Old Testament and New Testament draw on the same themes. They know the author and situation of every verse that's been written. They know, probably, the original languages and how the authors used wordplay to get their points across. These people can recite footnotes as if they were part of the story. If there's the tiniest little nuance in Scripture, they know it. 

And you know they know it because this is how you hear them speak God at every turn. 

For those of us who do not speak the God-language of the Word, this is very painful. It's because we know we're supposed to be into the Word - and maybe we are, maybe even every day, we're into the Word - but we're just not into the Word like that. The Scripture-speaker quotes a passage at us with expectant eyes, hoping it will strike a spark in our minds an hearts, hoping maybe we'll say, Oh yes, I love 1 John, too! But we can't. The words sort of sound familiar, and we are pretty sure we read them somewhere, but beyond that...nothing. Then we feel like we should know more, like we should know better, like we, too, should have a quiver full of Scriptural arrows at the ready, that we should be able to quote the Word so freely. We feel bad about ourselves.

But we shouldn't.

The church has placed a lot of emphasis, at times, on memorizing the Scripture. But what the church fails to understand is that we don't all speak the language of the Word. And while we absolutely must read the Word, it is just not going to mean as much to some of us as it does to others. It's not how we understand God. It's not how we draw close to Him.

And I don't think these Scripture-speakers are intentionally trying to make us feel bad about ourselves. It's hard sometimes to be in the same room with those who speak this language, particularly in a Bible class or some other church setting. Their answer to every question goes back to Scripture. Every word out of their mouth is the Word. Sometimes, it feels like they're just throwing in our faces that we don't know as much as they do about the Bible, that we aren't as disciplined as they are, that we are somehow lesser Christians because of it. It's taken me a long time to understand what's really going on, and that's why I'm sharing these stories this week - so that maybe it will help you understand. 

It's not that these Scripture-speakers are trying to throw the Word in our faces (sometimes, they are, and that's pride, and that's sin). What they are doing is translating their present experience into the God-language they speak. See, the Word makes so much sense to them. It's how they understand God. It's what means the most to them. Confronted with a God question, they put that question in their own language and answer it in their own tongue. It's a deeply meaningful experience for them.

And like anyone speaking any tongue, they can't understand how it's not so meaningful for the rest of us. They can't understand, as powerful as the Word is for them, that there are Christians around them who do not 'speak' the Word. 

But there are. Not everyone has the God-language of the Word. And that's okay.

What I'm saying is going to be very unpopular with some, and I know that. But I don't think that makes it any less true. God is this incredible multi-dimensional being, and there is so much to the experience of Him. Some of it is more meaningful to us than others. It doesn't excuse us from the parts that are less so, but it does invite us to grace for those who speak a different language than we do.

For the next several days, I'm going to be talking about some of the languages in which we speak God. The Word, of course, is one, but there are more. So stay tuned. It is my hope you'll uncover your own tongue and speak God boldly into your world. 

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