(given July 20, 2008)
Sometimes there is an experience we have in our lives that just stump us and we have no real understanding of what that experience means. Maybe that is an understatement. Maybe I should say that we have many experiences in life that we do not understand. One such personal experience happened to me during one of my summers in Bonne Terre.
The first summer in Bonne Terre was filled with new experiences. One of the experiences placed me in the position of serving as a substitute minister while he was out of town for a meeting. A member I met the night before died suddenly and I was flagged down to go to their house. That experience taught me that you simply must turn yourself over to God and let him work through you. I know I was not prepared for that roll at that time, but I did it.
One of the spookiest experiences I had was a meeting of young people. The members of the group were not just part of the Methodist or Christian churches with whom I was working, it was a broader, more ecumenical group. I had met a couple of them and knew the family in whose house the group was meeting. Everybody got in a circle and started sharing, but something changed. I could not understand a word! I realized that these people were talking in tongues, or at least they said they were.
I was 19 years old, and I was frightened. I had absolutely no idea what to do or what was going on. I felt uncomfortable. I wanted to leave. All I knew is that I had to get out of there and fast. I had heard of speaking in tongues, but mostly from various scripture readings. I certainly did not know what it was or how it worked. Sometimes my mom would talk about speaking in tongues, but I had never heard her do it or say she had that gift. The sound was like a series of clicking sounds, and I could not make any sense out of it.
As soon as I could work my way out of the house, I did. The house was only a couple of blocks from the home I was staying in and it certainly did not take me long to get home and get in bed. I thought that was the end of the day and I would no longer have to deal with it. I was wrong. Before I had drifted off to sleep, I was interrupted when the housekeeper let in a small group from the meeting. Now she had no idea what had happened or why I had hurried off. Yet these young people wanted to know why I had left. They tried to explain that the Holy Spirit was present among them and surely I knew that. The evening ended when I escorted them out the door. I have no idea what I would have done if they had not left or had started talking in tongues again. I was simply not prepared for that experience.
When I read today’s scripture, I decided I needed to understand the context better. The suggested reading was Romans 8:12-25. Now in my Life Application Bible, that is part of two different sections and they did not really seem to go together for me. So I went back and began with the first verse in the chapter. The sub-headings for the chapter begin with “Life Through the Spirit” which covered verses 1-17. The second sub-heading is “Future Glory” covering verses 18-27, and the final section is “More Than Conquerors.”
In the first section Paul tells the Romans, who he has never met, how much better life is when you focus on the Holy Spirit rather than the flesh—or the secular world. By presenting the Holy Spirit as an alternative to the secular world, Paul tries to explain the difference beginning in verse 9:
You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who live in you.
Now, I am not sure how you feel about that set of verses, but I still think it is confusing. I think it could be said so much more simply so I turned to The Message version:
But if God himself has taken up residence in your life, you can hardly be thinking more of yourself than of him. Anyone, of course, who has not welcomed this invisible but clearly present God, the Spirit of Christ, won’t know what we’re talking about. But for you who welcome him, in whom he dwells—even though you still experience all the limitations of sin–you yourself experience life on God’s terms. It stands to reason, doesn’t it, that if the alive-and-present God who raised Jesus from the dead moves into your life, he’ll do the same thing in you that he did in Jesus, bringing you alive to himself? When God lives and breathes in you (and he does, as surely as he did in Jesus), you are delivered from that dead life. With his Spirit living in you, your body will be as alive as Christ’s!
How does this all connect to my experience with the speaking of tongues? Well, I had always had this image in my head that if you had the Holy Spirit in you, you could speak in tongues, especially after my Bonne Terre experience. These verses in Romans help me to understand that the two are not necessarily connected, and more importantly they are not required to be connected.
I think verse 26, in the next section of the chapter; the Holy Spirit is explained even better. I also think for today’s culture, it reads better in the Message version, too:
“…God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. He knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God. That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.”
(By the way, the pregnant condition refers to that difficulty of waiting for eternal life while dealing with the difficulties of our earthly life.) Paul’s explanation of how the Holy Spirit works in our lives certainly seems to simplify our life, too. I wonder, now, if those young people in Bonne Terre understood this.
Think about how the Jewish people had been living. They had all those laws given to them in book after book after book. They were so afraid to do anything that their lives were filled with drudgery. Here Paul is sharing with the Romans how much easier life is when you believe in God and that God died for our sins. We have been given eternal life and all we really have to do is believe John 3;16—“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (the NIV).
With the understanding I now have of the Holy Spirit, I feel much more confident. The Holy Spirit replaces the earthly me when I get into a situation of which I am unsure, and the Holy Spirit causes me to act as God would want me to act. Speaking in tongues is not a requirement nor is speaking in tongues something to be scared of. Speaking in tongues is one of the many diverse gifts God grants to some of his people. During lay speaking training, I had my second experience witnessing someone speaking in tongues. This time I was not frightened, I was witnessing God’s gift in a different way. This time the experience was heart-warming and I no longer feared speaking in tongues.
In the Spirit-Filled Life Bible, I found an explanation of the trinity:
“We understand the Scriptures to teach that the triune Godhead is coequal, coeternal, coexistent—one God, three Persons. However this unity does not eliminate the special function of each member of the Trinity: the architect is the Father, the contractor is the Son, and the carpenter is the Holy Spirit.”
Isn’t that an interesting explanation, one that makes sense to me. If we trust that God gives us the plan, Jesus will set everything up to work, and we simply are there to do the work. We cannot do God’s work without the Holy Spirit acting through us.
I may not speak in tongues, but I no longer fear it. I believe in the Trinity and am so thankful that the Holy Spirit is within me. Each day as I begin my earthly routines, I know God is watching over me, guiding me, and in me.
Dear Heavenly Father,
Thank you for allowing the Holy Spirit to work within and through me. I pray that each one of us knows you personally and understands how important it is for us to follow you, God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit. –Amen