The Encounter, Part Two: The Matter of Tongues

For part one, please click here.

Unfortunately the rest of our evening did not proceed as pleasantly. It was an interdenominational setting in which each participant brought a distinctive contribution. I had chosen to lead the discussion that evening on an area in which my background and experience gave me something special to offer: I shared about praying in tongues.

As I explained my views to the other students, I was careful not to suggest that this is the most important gift from the Holy Spirit, or that those who pray this way are better Christians than others. Instead I said that I believe tongues offers a valuable dimension of prayer, a way to pray from the depths of the heart beyond what we would normally verbalize.

Everyone appeared enthusiastic to learn more about tongues except two students-of whom one was Médine. But I believed Scripture was clear, so I forged ahead, recounting my first experience with speaking in tongues fourteen years earlier. I told how tow days after my conversion, as I entrusted my life more formally to Christ as Lord and Savior, I experienced the same sense of God’s awesome majesty I had felt during my conversion. I was so overwhelmed by God’s presence that I had to thank Him, yet I could not praise Him worthily enough unless He gave me the best words for that-and of course God knows lots of languages! As I worshiped, the words came out in a language I did not know. I had never heard of this experience and did not know that there was a name for it.

“At that first experience,” I said, “I worshiped in tongues for perhaps an hour or two, shuddering with deep, cathartic laughter while my academically oriented brain tried to scrutinize the grammar of the new language. When I finished I felt somehow different.

“For years up to that point I had tried to discover meaning in life analytically,” I added, “but during that intense spiritual experience I discovered that I’d found in God the very purpose for which I had been made. I would give God everything that was in me.”

When time came for group discussion after my talk, I grew certain that there was no potential for a relationship with Médine. She was outspoken and quick, challenging and contradicting my words. Tongues was a very valuable gift in my life, one that I hoped some other students would want to share. Her firm rejection of it left no possibility of anything more than friendship between us. Worse, I was still very sensitive to conflict, and the last thing I wanted was an argumentative relationship.

Still, I did not want hard feelings between us. A few days after our disastrous public disagreement, I gave her a gift: a T-shirt with a slogan protesting apartheid.

“It’s to make up for our disagreement the other day,” I said, handing her the shirt. She laughed and let me sit with her, rather nervously, during the lecture we were attending at her church, the Presbyterian church where I had heard the study on Hosea.Afterward I walked her to a nearby grocery store, but she looked so stunningly attractive that I questioned my motives and hurried home.

After this, Médine and my other African friends invited me to their various gatherings. I enjoyed those times, but the cultural differences were significant. One night Médine and her Kenyan friend Mary were finishing preparing fish for dinner, and told the rest of us to go ahead and start eating the food that was hot on the table.

We kept urging Médine and Mary to join us, over their protests. Finally, I joked, “ They’re waiting because the food is poisoned.”

Everyone fell instantly silent. I realized that my feeble attempt at humor had failed severely.

“Sorry,” I added quickly. “ I meant not poison, which is French for ‘poison,’ but poisson, which is French for ‘fish.’”

Médine was the only one who laughed.

This content is by Craig Keener, but edited and posted by Defenders Media.

For more, please check out Dr. Keener’s Impossible Love.

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