Rom. 8:32 – Before I started my sermon, I expounded the thought that if the living holy and sinless God was willing to deliver His Son over to all the evil and suffering and finally taking our sin upon Himself that He did, then how much more will He give us spiritual gifts!?
INTRODUCTION – – Most of you know that a few months before my 20th birthday I rather abruptly moved from Knoxville, TN to San Jose, CA – desperate for change and breakthrough in my personal and spiritual life and journey with Christ. That first year in San Jose I devoured the Bible like never before; and then I believe in my second year met my wife – Anne, who through similar life circumstances and desperation for change was also becoming a beaver for the Bible. The combination of our daily quiet times and scripture memory, involvement in small group Bible studies, and attending a very strong Bible teaching church brought a much needed stability to our lives.
That lifestyle continued through our years in San Jose and then in Dallas while I attended Dallas Theological Seminary.
I tell you all of this to say: in all of those years of reading the Bible through multiple times on our own, and being in untold Bible studies, going to conferences and seminars and being under strong Bible teaching at our church, and then in Seminary – with all those classes – – we never in any meaningful way came to terms with I Corinthians chapter 14. By the time I graduated from Seminary and we headed off to Hong Kong as missionaries – I wanted a hole in the head more than I wanted to speak in tongues; I pretty much agreed with the lie that anyone who speaks in tongues has a loose screw somewhere; and I had bought the lie that prophecy today is merely proclaiming the truth of scripture.
Now it turns out Anne had spoken in tongues when she was first saved. But when she applied to attend Seminary, and they asked on the application if she had ever spoken in tongues, and she honestly answered yes, she was asked to read several books on the subject. And then she had to assure them that she would not pursue such things again. But even with that experience early in her Christian life, Anne had no real grid for the present day prophetic gifts.
By the time we got to Hong Kong, I had read first Corinthians through a number of times; I had memorized some of its verses, and I had studied it for a full semester in one of my Greek classes. But I Corinthians chapter 14 was just not on my radar screen, except that I was probably aware that one of the two passages in the New Testament that seem to say women are to be absolutely silent in church was in that chapter.
So fast forward to somewhere near the beginning of our 2nd year in Hong Kong and we by then had developed a pretty good feel for what God had done and was doing through the vast and diverse missionary force in our small nation state of about 6 million people. Sadly that feel was more negative than positive. Most missionaries were working among the middle to upper class of Hong Kong Chinese and making little impact.
But there was a glaring exception, who happened to be a female. Her name was and is Jackie Pullinger. I think it is safe to say this many years later in all that we have read and observed – that Jackie’s impact on that former British territory far surpasses the impact of any one other person in the history of Hong Kong. She has been repeatedly recognized by the government there for consistently feeding the poor, getting the homeless and prostitutes and drug pushers or at least drug addicts off the streets; invading the much feared Triad gangs with the gospel of Jesus Christ; and helping countless heroin addicts get free from drugs through the power of the Holy Spirit and the purifying blood of Jesus,…… and the gift of tongues.
Jackie had served there for probably 20 years by the time we got there; so she knew the missionary force pretty well. And thus she knew that some of us – even though we came there with missionary organizations that were not pursuing operating in the prophetic gifts or maybe even outlawed such things – – some of us were hungry for more, but didn’t know what to do with that hunger. By this time Anne and I both were longing for more.
Well a few veteran missionaries there – primarily a couple with the Mennonites of all groups – – talked Jackie in to starting a weekly gathering in their flat (or apartment) for we rogue missionaries. Anne heard about this gathering; knew she couldn’t attend because of her responsibilities with Joshua; but knew I could – even though I maintained that I couldn’t, and like in so many other disagreements with her – she eventually won, and I began to attend.
So here I was a Navigator trained, Master of Theology (at least by earned degree) – sitting in a room with maybe 12 missionary types being taught the Bible by a lady…..who never attended Bible school or seminary and couldn’t even speak English! (She was British). We met for maybe 6 -8 weeks I’m guessing; and week after week Jackie would teach out of I Corinthians 14; and week after week a light bulb or two would go off in my over educated brain, but undeveloped spirit; and week after week a Vineyard trained young man named Mike Polk from one of the original Vineyard churches in So CA, who was working with Jackie, would come straight to me when ministry time started – after the Bible study – and would begin to pray – initially not for me to receive the gifts – but rather against things he discerned were hindering my progress like pride, fear of man, inhibition, control, shame and other things I had no idea resided in me.
So allow me to share about a few of the light bulbs from those weeks in Tim and Su Ann Sprunger’s flat.
I suppose the first light bulb to go on was the role one’s private practice of praying in tongues plays in a believer’s edification or spiritual growth. The edification or building up of the believer and the body of Christ is a huge concern and theme in the New Testament. That was no secret to me. I was very familiar with the exhortation in Jude vs. 20 for example that reads, “But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit,”. Well vs. 4 of I Corinthians ch. 14 clearly says “One who speaks in a tongue edifies himself.”
Now you need to know at this point in our ministry in Hong Kong I was keenly aware of my need to be built up and for my faith to be strengthened. We had recently moved out to a new high rise town that was growing fast, but the church was minimally present and minimally effective. My ability to speak Cantonese was still choppy. And we were the only missionaries we were aware of living and ministering in this town.
So even though I had read this verse many times in the previous 10 years, this was the first time I was ever able to really grasp its meaning and importance.
If you’ve followed Joshua’s last two sermons re: this chapter you know that Paul speaks of two different gifts of tongues. A private one that is referenced in vs. 4 and the beginning of vs. 5 and in vs. 18. And a public one that is referenced in ch. 12 and in ch. 14 at the end of vs. 5 and throughout the next 15 verses. The public one has to be interpreted. The private one is just between us and God. And somehow – this chapter teaches us – when we pray in our private prayer language at the leading of the Holy Spirit – our inner man is built up and strengthened.
The second light bulb that went on for me was what it really meant to be “ungifted” as we see in vs. 16 and vs. 23 and 24. ”Otherwise if you bless in the spirit only, how will the one who fills the place of the ungifted say the “Amen” at your giving of thanks, since he does not know what you are saying?” “Therefore if the whole church assembles together and all speak in tongues, and ungifted men or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are mad? But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an ungifted man enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all;” .
Again I had read this passage a number of times before. But when Jackie began to explain that the ungifted are folk, who though born again and indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and who are perhaps operating in some spiritual gifts like maybe teaching or giving or leading or administration, but are not yet able to operate in the prophetic gifts, I for the first time realized that I was such a believer.
This word “ungifted” never appears anywhere in scripture but in this chapter. It clearly is referring to people who have not received any of the more prophetic gifts. And I at that point had not. Paul is not in any way in this passage shaming or rebuking the ungifted. Rather he is warning those who are prophetically gifted of not unduly offending the ungifted when we gather in our public worship services.
The last thing I want to touch on is the light bulb that eventually went off in my brain and experience regarding the role praying with the spirit or praying in my private prayer language played in being able to truly pray without ceasing. I’m referring to vs. 15, “What is the outcome then? I will pray with the spirit and I will pray with the mind also; I will sing with the spirit and I will sing with the mind also.”
Having taken up the challenge to devote myself to prayer right around my 20th birthday due to having read – E.M. Bounds book – “Power through Prayer” – – I always struggled with the command to pray unceasingly. How in the world practically speaking can we do that? Well a close look at those words in the Greek reveals that Paul did not really mean for us to pray non stop 24/7, but rather to pray at every possible opportunity. Well even that proved to be a challenge for me in my 20’s and into my early 30’s. Sometimes I just didn’t know how to pray. Sometimes my mind wandered. I was easily distracted.
What do you do when you are driving down Los Osos Valley Road towards SlO and you know you need to pray during that trip and you want to pray and you start out praying, but then realize when you get to Turri Road you are thinking about a conversation you had with someone earlier or you are thinking about what you are going to cook for dinner? Well I go from praying with my mind to praying with the spirit. I go from praying in English to praying in my prayer language. And then after a while when there are specific things now clearly in my mind I need to pray for I revert back to English. I do this walking around on my property all the time. I might be watering plants or weeding or just out there pacing, but if I can’t concentrate in English with my mind, I’ll probably pray in tongues; if I can concentrate and know I need to pray about a specific thing or pray for a specific person or situation I will pray in English with my mind. And sometimes it is not a matter of concentration – – I just sense I need to pray in the Spirit or in my prayer language.
Many of us who pray over people on a Sunday morning or in a small group setting or in a spontaneous setting somewhere have learned that there is a time to pray over them in our native tongue with our mind; and there is a time to pray over them with the spirit or in our prayer language. And the more we mature in hearing the Lord’s voice and operating with spiritual weapons and spiritual gifts – the more we know when to do what.
Praying in tongues has been an important spiritual discipline to practice throughout the day so that my inner man is built up and my soul is vibrant and strong. Praying in tongues has been a huge boost to my ability to pray unceasingly. And I’ll always be grateful for this wonderful gift in that regard.