So, I'm not really getting anywhere with singing in tongues. So, I try (and I mean I really tried), to focus on God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit.... I invited the Holy Spirit to come into my presence. Sang "I Love You Lord" (since it's one of the few songs I know all the words to, and kind of captured what I was aiming for), and did my best to focus on the goodness of God. But, in the end, singing in tongues turned out not to be for me.... so I just hummed along in key.
After a number of minutes of this, then we were invited into a time of prayer, where Sandy and two other members of HTB's staff, went around praying for us. Since I was one of the last people they got to, I spent my time just trying to get deep into prayer. I won't tell you what others were doing in that room during this time... that's a matter for them to divulge. All I know is that I did my best to enter into prayer.
But it was very, very difficult.
One, I was genuinely afraid of what might be coming. I didn't want to bark like a dog or fall down in a heap, or do any of the things I've seen others do... mostly on TV. And the fear of what might be coming, kind of made it hard to really concentrate on speaking with, and listening to, God. Anyhow, I was sufficiently scatterbrained, when finally, Sandy Miller himself popped over to pray for me.
Now, people in that room, except for one guy who has become a good friend and desires this kind of religious expression for me for a lot of good reasons, weren't concentrating on me. But I'm the class skeptic... the guy who went to the "liberal" school who generally is concerned first and foremost with how we treat one another in the world of ours, above and beyond most other things. I know I'm the tough nut to crack, and more than one person in there was hoping that today would be my day to take faith "to another level".
So, I'm praying, or trying to pray, Sandy Miller come up, and asks if he can pray for me, and I say "yes". And then he asks, "What do you want me to pray for today?"
"I really don't know."
"You don't know", he replied.
"Well, I'm a little freaked out right now, so why don't you just pray... I'm sure whatever it is you pray will be fine."
Miller looked perplexed. "So, would you like to pray in tongues today?"
"Not today, thanks."
Miller, visably surprised, says, "Oh Bryan! Why not?"
"Well, the singing in tongues didn't go so well, so I think maybe I need just need to do some listening today."
"Well, that's fine", said a smiling Miller. "Just let me know if you change your mind. But if you praise God with all you are, I think you will run out of words in English to do so."
"Well sir, that might very well be true. But I'll just do the best I can in English today."
"One last time.... All you have to do Bryan, if you want to speak in tongues, is just do it. Are you sure?"
"Sir, I just think I need your prayer. I'm sure whatever you say will be fine."
What followed was really a beautiful prayer, where Sandy asked that God annoint me again with a sense of renewal for God's service and call, he prayed for each member of my family, for me to hear with new ears, speak with a new lips, read with new eyes, and reach out without fear.
To be honest.... it was moving. For the remainder of my time praying, to be honest, I didn't do any speaking. Instead, I just listened. And what I heard was the crying of children who were hungry and sick, and the anguished prayers of mothers too poor to do anything about it. And I heard these words, very clearly:
"If I speak in the tongues of angels, but have not love, I am but a clanging gong or a banging cymbal".
It was also clear that I was to be obedient to the teachings of Jesus, to love God and love my neighbor, so that others might be profoundly changed and challenged. Challenged to the point that if they thought or believed that speaking in tongues, barking like a dog, standing on their head, or maybe, working fewer hours, extending a little grace, concentrating on the people they love who are hurting, or doing whatever would lead to a better life for all would be seriously considered. Changed in that they would allow their life to move in a different direction.
And then, I was done praying.
Others weren't, so I excused myself outside where I enjoyed fresh air and beautiful London weather (high sixties and sunny... like fall at home). And then it was all over. Now, in retrospect, here is what I learned:
1) I learned that there is nothing to be afraid of in the charismatic world. It's not all fake, and it's not all real. It just is what it is. People I respect and love believe in it intensely, and they do so for the purpose of bringing greater healing and understanding to the Christian community and the world. In this world people shouldn't be judged by whether or not they raise their hands in worship, or not. The important thing is that we intensely love God with all we are, which starts by appreciating all that we have been blessed with in this life, so that we might begin to know him better. I learned that God is grieved by mothers who can't help their hungry or sick children, and by people who don't take that reality seriously.
2) I learned that what is really dangerous in charismatic thought and practice is the possibility of abuse and manipulation. For all the good HTB does, and make no bones about it, they are doing good things, I see real possibilities for problems. An example:
At the class that morning for the potential ordinands, during the break a young woman approached me, and asked if I was one of the Americans observing that day. I said yes, and she immediately looked relieved. 18 or 19 years old, someone associated with HTB spoke at her church (in America) last summer, and gave her a "word of knowledge" that she needed to come serve in a new church plant of HTB's in London. When I asked if she was enjoying her time here, her response was that she had been miserable since moving here in August, and really wished that she had just gone to college like she had planned before this encounter. Of course, I believe you can learn things about God and yourself in difficult situations, but, I also believe that doors can close and it's OK to leave. It seemed like that hadn't really occurred to her, but she's so young and impressionable, I just don't think she's got the life-experience and self-assurance to say, "I'm going home". If a charismatic ministry doesn't have the best interests of the people who follow them in mind, then abuses can be legion, but that is the case in any situation where there are leaders and followers. I've just seen (in particular, one person I used to work with in a past job) people use their "spiritual gifts" to take advantage of others, and that's what I'm wary of most of all.
3) Will I ever be a tongue-speaker? I don't know. I think maybe there are more important things to worry about, but I'll definitely spend more of my time loving God directly and intentionally. That you can be sure.
4) I love all the members of the BP Class of 2006-07, and appreciate how patient they are with one another. Together we are pushing the boundaries, and are all profiting greatly.
5) The forces, spiritual or otherwise, who shape a world where children get sick or hungry and mothers can't doing anything about it because they are too poor, need to be opposed in a spirit of obedience to Christ who told us that if we looked at things through his eyes, that we'd be made fools of, we'd be rejected and maligned, and that the first would become last and the last. How far do you think God will go with you if you step out with Him to help make these things happen?
Be careful... how you answer that question will largely define what you believe is possible, and not. Just a little something to think about.
Finally, look for another new blog (with promised pictures, now late), talking about today's trip to Oxford (where I ate fish and chips in the same seat C.S. Lewis used to hang out with J.R.R Tolkien and G.K. Chesterson) and the musical "Wicked" (which we saw this evening... it was fantastic).
Until tomorrow... rest easy mates!