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Speaking in Tongues – a Prayer Unanswered, or a Gift Bestowed

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I have asked for the gift of tongues twice in my life. Once in high school, when our little Baptist youth group was teaching about it, and once in college.

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The other highschoolers loved me - I had grown up with them.  They weren't trying to prove something to me, and they wouldn't have been able to anyway, since we were such a small group and - I grew up with them.

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There were 3 Christian groups on our college campus.  One was Catholic and attended almost exclusively by Catholics - if for no other reason than the rule of needing to receive the Eucharist, and our other 2 groups didn't have that.  The second group was at least 75% Protestant, with the majority of that being mainstream sects like Methodist, Baptist, etc.  You know... those places with steeples.  We had a few "holy rollers" come in or stay in, but no one spoke in tongues at the meetings and in 4 years of attendance, not much was taught about tongues as we made coleslaw out of our NIVs studying the Bible.  The third group “Agape” was the smallest, and didn't really advertise on campus much, and didn't have a priest or pastor, or even a teacher present as an adult.  That group were the Charismatics, the handraisers, the tongue-speakers, the laying on of healing hands folks.  I think there were even tambourines one time.  I visited that group a few times, as well as the Catholic group.  I had extra time in my evenings and I thought, "If one worship group/bible study was good for me, why not two?"  They weren't unwelcoming, but they pushed those tongues really hard !   Then they committed an error as a group.  They tried to teach me that, since I claimed to be saved but had never spoken in tongues, that the Holy Spirit was not in my heart at all..... ergo - I was not actually saved.  Something like halfway, I guess.  I tried to argue that it says GIFT, not RIGHT TO DEMAND tongues, but they didn't buy it.

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Both times that I asked for this spiritual gift, I had worked really hard inwardly to be in a place where I was earnestly desiring the gift, and ready to use it ONLY in the strict manner that the Bible dictated for this gift.  (As in, never blabbering willy nilly in large churches full of people - for the last two minutes of EVERY praise song - and in the presence of people who were unsaved.  It's the only gift that has rules attached, other than to be really careful if you are a teacher, since you will be held more accountable if you lead someone astray.  There are no "strings attached" or rules to Hospitality or "helps" or service, for example.  
Have at it, at will on those ! )

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But no matter how much I dealt with verses and concepts like James 1:5-8, about doubting, and firmly believed I had mastered not doubting, I still did not receive the gift of tongues.

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5 If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God,

who gives generously to all without finding fault,

and it will be given to you.

6 But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt,

because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea,

blown and tossed by the wind.

7 That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord.

8 Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.

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(Yes, I KNOW that passage says "If any of you lacks WISDOM", and not tongues. But I believe it to be perfectly reasonable to expand all the rest of the gist of it to be for more than asking for that one item. No?)

Was this the Spiritual Gift version of the Soup Nazi from Seinfeld ?  No Soup for You !

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I'm now 25 years out of college, and have spent most of that time worshipping (when I went) in places that don't speak in tongues - more from my penchant for loving traditional hymn music than a conscious effort to avoid the package deal that are charismatics. I have, however, quite enjoyed visits to other flavors of worship, and made sure my 2 sons were exposed to virtually all types of Christian groups - with the glaring exception of that sssnake-handling type of Baptists.

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I still don't speak in tongues, and at this time (never say never) I am set on never asking for that gift again.  I can't say it didn't sting that I didn't receive from the Lord this good thing that I earnestly desired, which was supposed to help bring me closer to Him in worship.  I'm not saying I had a huge chip on my shoulder about it, but I can't say there was never a pebble.  Matthew 7:8-10 stung a bit for awhile, but read on.

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8 For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds;

and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

9“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone?

10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake?

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I do, or did (until snoring took over), have one gift many others didn't have. Not a "bona fide", capital “S” Spiritual Gift from either of the gift lists, but I used it to worship God and to reach His sheep just the same.  I was a voice major back in college, and a Baptist.  We knows us some hymns.  And we're raised to believe that when the congregation is asked to sing, well.... the congregation is SUPPOSED to sing.  Not mutter and mumble.  It does not say "Make a reluctant mumble to the Lord", but a joyful noise.  And definitely Not slip in 8 minutes late, sipping our flavored Starbucks crappaccinos that they serve out in the other room and are now allowed into what used to be call the Sanctuary. ( Don't get me started on how stupid it is to stack all the 14 minutes of dumbed-down "Praise" music right at the beginning of the service, thereby allowing people to regularly be late and the others bored, and some with their backs and feet screaming to sit DOWN.  Too much pain tends to drive out any chance at "worship" after that 10th minute or so.)

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Anyway, I rant-ble on.

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So I used this legacy of a few hundred years of Christian music really well when I got a job at an assisted living place - in the Alzheimer's/Dementia section actually. Did you know that their new memories (like lunch) may be long gone, and even their kids' names, but the oldest, longest memories usually stay ?  And music is one of those things like Smells, I think, where it triggers something really Deep.  More than once when I was singing what I KNEW were the old standards and most loved hymns of THEIR era, some of the lowest functioning folks really paid attention, held my hand, started to cry, etc.  (Maybe I was off-key, haha.) There was one lady who had deteriorated below speech level and couldn't even choose plate A or B in front of her for lunch choices.  But one evening, I brought in my trusty old hymnbook from the little home church of my youth and started with the old favorites.  Margaret came over and started singing WITH me !  An aged but clear, on-pitch first soprano, with confidence.  And she even knew more than one verse !  She consulted the book once or twice at the beginning of phrases - she was READING !!  We didn't believe she could speak (and she couldn't) much less read !

Her face was the most beatific thing I will ever see on this side of the clouds !!!

Immediately upon finishing a hymn, she would revert to that annoying little snippet of song I will hear to my dying day - which she sang with every breath of every hour of every shift of mine. Argh !! No words, just ♫dum de dum de's♫. (You could hear it on the way up in the elevator!) Then if I started another hymn, she snapped back into "intelligent" participation again.

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I have also sung one or two off to death.  (Yeah, maybe I was really off-key, yathink?)  My voice being the last thing they ever heard. (My son quipped, “They left in self-defense.”)   And I "brought one back" from unresponsive once - long enough (a few hours) to say goodbye to his son who was there distraught because he was "too late".  No one had revived this old guy Pete for over a full day, and he wasn't even swallowing dripped water, so dying also of dehydration and the fever that brings.  But my first hymn had him blinking and the second one he held my hand.

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Conclusion:  Maybe I'll never speak in tongues in that "traditional" way.   And I don't know if this is WHY God chose not to bless me with that.   But the music really reaches people deeply, and I'll settle for that.   (Now if I could just fix that snoring.  I no longer have a voice that can fill a room, or even last an entire choir rehearsal.  But I can still sing one old lady off to sleep at a time, my hand on the doorknob, quietly leaving unseen and unthanked, most evenings I worked.)

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