I grew up in the Pentecostal church and I am not ashamed of that. I believe in the continuing, active gifts of the Holy Spirit. I am inclined to believe that many people who reject manifestations like speaking in tongues, interpretation, or prophecy are not doing so with any malevolence, but because it doesn’t make sense to them. I would quickly respond that there is a long list of things that I don’t understand about how God works and why He does the things that He does (or doesn’t do some things I think He ought to), and if tongues and the like is on that list then it’s in good company.
With that being said I think there is a way we can speak with the tongues of angels without ever letting a single unintelligible syllable pass through our lips. In John’s gospel Jesus refers to the Holy Spirit as “the Comforter” four times in the span of two chapters (Jn. 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7). The word that Jesus uses to describe the Spirit is parakletos, which refers to someone who comes to your side, especially in the context of coming to the aid of someone who needs help. This isn’t a groundbreaking point, but it was as I was reading something today about communication that I remembered Jesus’ chosen description of the Spirit. I was reading a book about conflict management and a section on communication. One of the methods of listening that the authors referred to was “supportive listening.” This kind of listening is designed to provide comfort to someone, hence the connection with Jesus’ character-name of the Spirit.
There are at least two ways to have a conversation with someone, you can collide with them or you can come alongside them. Both have their place, but I fear that we Christians prefer the fireworks and smoke that the collisions provide far more than the patience and sacrifice required in coming alongside someone. The Holy Spirit wasn’t promised as one who would come to the earth like a meteor and leave a huge crater, but as one that you would notice at your side in the moment that you thought you were alone. I just have to wonder if that isn’t who we should be as well the majority of the time. Certainly, for you rabble-rousers, there will be definitive moments when we must stand in the face of certain things and collide if need be (and please don’t assume that you know what those “certain things” are until you scrutinize closely the moments that Jesus did this same thing). But we never really get to know anyone if we go around colliding with everything we disagree with or everything that looks or sounds different than us. We only really get to know how people are thinking when we fall into step with them and look in the same direction they are looking. Suddenly the things they are afraid of become real to us instead of remaining caricatured issues that we read about in the news. When we come alongside someone we also begin to feel some of the weight of where they’ve come from instead of just criticizing it.
Christianity is not about turning life into a spiritual sumo wrestling match where we slam into those who don’t agree with us as hard as we can. Jesus called 12 guys not to a sumo match but to take a walk, side by side; the most important walk of their life. We become imitators of the methods of the Spirit and Jesus when instead of arguing with someone we ask them to take a walk. Jesus did this after His own resurrection with two of His friends walking home to Emmaus (Luke 24). And earlier than that it was at Matthew the tax collector’s calling that we see Jesus winding up at Matthew’s own house. What kind of weird conversation is that?
Jesus: “Matt, come follow me.”
Matthew: “Um, okay. Where are we going?”
Jesus: “To your place for some barbequed sheep.”
(obviously this is a paraphrase of my own creation, but it’s an accurate account of Matthew 9:9-13)
Essentially what I’m saying is this: we act like God when we take a break from arguing with people and start coming beside them to walk and talk and face the same direction. What I believe we might find is that as they realize that we actually care for and sympathize with and have compassion on them they just might be inclined to walk with us all the way to God’s house.