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Enjoying God Blog

My spiritual mentor during my college years at the University of Oklahoma didn’t intend to quench the Spirit in my life, but he did. I had rushed back to my fraternity house after experiencing the most profound encounter with the Holy Spirit that I had ever known. I called John on the phone and asked him to come pick me up. As I sat down in his car, he said rather bluntly: “I know what happened to you tonight. You spoke in tongues, didn’t you?” How he came by that I can only attribute to his inadvertent experience of what I later came to understand was a word of knowledge. “Yes,” I shouted back in unbridled joy. “Well, you can’t do it again. If you do, you’ll be removed from your position of leadership in campus ministry.”

All this transpired in October of 1970, at the beginning of my second year at OU. I had just returned from a summer project with Campus Crusade for Christ (now CRU). On the concluding night of our time in Lake Tahoe we were all invited to a bible study. I had never heard of the man who was speaking. He turned out to be a Lutheran pastor named Harold Bredesen. His topic that night was speaking in tongues and I was among quite a few present who silently mocked his words.

I later learned that Bredesen was one of the more influential leaders of charismatic renewal not only in the U.S. but worldwide. After the study, he laid his hands on me (that had never happened before!) and prayed that God would grant me this spiritual gift. But having been raised a strict, cessationist Southern Baptist, I had little interest in what he proposed. That is, until I returned to campus in the fall and spent every night for six weeks from 10 to 11 p.m. praying that if the gift were real, God would give it to me. And he did!

Yes, I was crushed and quenched by my mentor’s comment, and never spoke in tongues again for precisely 20 years. To make matters worse, upon graduation I attended a seminary that reinforced the cessationist argument that such gifts as tongues and prophecy and other revelatory charismata were no longer being given by God to the church. But deep down inside, I knew what I had experienced, but out of fear of rejection and being ostracized by my classmates and professors, I told no one about that night in October of 1970.

In November of 1990, almost precisely 20 years after that momentous encounter with the Holy Spirit, my friend and former seminary classmate, Jack Deere, listened intently to my story and then asked me if I was familiar with 2 Timothy 1:6. I confessed that I wasn’t. He reminded me of Paul’s counsel to Timothy that he “fan into flame the gift of God” that had been imparted when Paul prayed for him. Jack prayed the same for me, and the Holy Spirit blew on that gift that was a barely glowing ember in my soul, and brought it back into a raging fire.

But what does all this have to do with the influence of Jack Hayford? At the time of the renewal of this spiritual gift in my life, there weren’t many helpful books on the subject. And then in 1992 I came across Hayford’s classic work, The Beauty of Spiritual Language. Several statements early on in the book landed heavily on my heart. “Today’s interest in spiritual language,” wrote Hayford, “isn’t prompted by a shallow search for novelty. You’ll find its borne of a desire for God’s fullest resources, borne of a passion for anything biblical that will draw me nearer His heart in prayer, which will assist my exalting Him more grandly in private praise” (9).

Hayford corrected my misunderstanding of Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 13:1 by pointing out that “the apostle was obviously seeking to preserve the practice [of speaking in tongues, what Hayford called “spiritual language”] through correction, not prohibit it by condemnation” (17). Among the many jolting statements in the book, this one has always stood out to me:

“The Father certainly wouldn’t have allowed anything unworthy, unlovely, or unloving to accidentally happen. Speaking with tongues didn’t just crowd in on its own, as though man forced an arbitrary Johnny-come-lately sign upon the church’s birth and into the church’s origins. Neither was this spiritual language an embarrassing surprise to the Almighty! Rather, the supernatural gift of language was given for holy and wholesome purposes, and He allowed it because He created it and completely endorses it. Perhaps we can all afford to be reminded: Tongues – spiritual language – is God’s idea!” (100).

Not everyone will agree with everything Hayford says about tongues, but the differences among Pentecostals and Charismatics on the issue are in fact quite minimal and, in my opinion, inconsequential. In any case, I will be forever grateful for the insightful and biblical way in which Pastor Jack enlightened my own understanding of this precious gift of the Spirit.

But Hayford’s influence on my life did not end there. I can’t remember the year, but it was more than 30 years ago at a conference hosted by James Robison in Ft. Worth, Texas, that I learned a lot about what it means to be a pastor and a Christian gentleman. Pastor Jack was not scheduled to speak that night, but he was present on the platform. Immediately following a wonderful time of worship, a lady in an upper section of the auditorium stood up and began speaking (dare I say, shouting) in tongues. This continued for about 45 seconds, and it felt as if all the air had been instantly sucked out of the arena.

Everyone (and there were several thousand present) sat paralyzed, almost afraid to breathe. No one knew what to say or do. No one except Jack Hayford. He calmly walked to the podium and displayed for all of us the loving and pastoral care that is so lacking in today’s Christian world. He didn’t humiliate the woman. He didn’t rebuke her. After he finished his comments, there is no way she would have felt judged or shamed. I’m quite certain she felt the love of Pastor Jack.

“O.k.,” he said, quietly, “everyone take a deep breath. God’s not offended, and neither should you be.” He then proceeded to instruct us all. As best I can recall, he said something along these lines:

“Ma’am, I don’t know you, but I sense that you love the Lord Jesus with all your heart and desire only to honor Him and bless all of us here tonight. I appreciate your zeal, but we must remember that there are biblical guidelines for how your spiritual gift is to be exercised.”

Hayford proceeded to walk us and talk us through 1 Corinthians 14 and the instruction Paul gave for the exercise of tongues in the corporate gathering of God’s people. I sat in awe of his gentle but profoundly biblical response to what we had all witnessed. I can’t be certain, but my guess is that the lady in question left that night feeling loved and pastored by a true shepherd of God’s flock.

At that point in time, I had been a local church pastor for some 16 or 17 years. But as I left the conference, I kept saying to myself, “I want to be like him!” Pastor Jack modeled for all who were present what it means to minister in the moment with the heart of Christ and a finger firmly planted on the text of Scripture. It was also his book, The Beauty of Spiritual Language, that largely motivated me to write my own: The Language of Heaven: Crucial Questions about Speaking in Tongues (Charisma House, 2019).

If I may be allowed to make use of the terminology from both books, I urge you to carefully consider your perspective on tongues, especially if you are inclined toward a cessationist view of spiritual gifts. Never forget that tongues is a heavenly, spiritual, and when exercised in accordance with biblical instruction, a wonderfully beautiful language. No wonder that the Apostle Paul concluded his comments on spiritual gifts with this critically important, but sadly so often disobeyed exhortation: “Do not forbid speaking in tongues” (1 Cor. 14:39).

I thank God for the life and ministry of Jack Hayford. His influence will continue to spread far beyond his time of earthly sojourn.

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