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January 27, 2014 / brockbruce

Tongues and the New York Times

This week I’m going to be posting some articles and resources that I hope encourage you to be open to letting the Spirit help you pray. Paul says in Romans 8 that “the Spirit helps us pray”. He prays with us. We pray with Him. 

In my sermon yesterday I quoted from two New York Times articles on speaking in tongues. Portions of the articles are shared below with links to the original posts.

T. M. Luhrmann, a professor of anthropology at Stanford (NY TIMES) 
LAST month I was in Accra, Ghana, to learn more about the African version of the new charismatic Christian churches that have become so popular in the United States and are now proliferating in sub-Saharan Africa, especially Ghana and Nigeria. What struck me was how much people spoke in tongues: language-like sounds (usually, repeated phonemes from the speaker’s own language) thought by those who use them to be a language God knows but the speaker does not.
I went to services that lasted three hours and for most of which people prayed in tongues. People I interviewed spoke about praying by themselves in tongues for similar stretches of time. They said they did so because it was the one language the devil could not understand, but what I found so striking was how happy it seemed to make them. “We love to speak in tongues,” one young Ghanaian woman told me with a laugh.Some of the early Christians spoke in tongues. At least, the Apostle Paul writes about them in his first letter to the Corinthians.
 
(She goes on to talk about TYPES OF PRAYER)
The apophatic method is probably more effective in shifting attention from the everyday, but harder to achieve. That seems to be what the fifth-century monk Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite meant when he described kataphatic prayer as a steppingstone for those who could not pray in other ways. Many of us know people who have tried to meditate and failed, defeated by thoughts that refused to stay put — what skilled practitioners call “monkey mind.” In an experiment, I assigned participants for one month to meditation, to imagination-rich prayer or to lectures on the gospels. Many who meditated didn’t like it; those who did reported deep spiritual experiences, like the expert meditators studied by the neurologist James H. Austin (“Zen and the Brain”) and other scientists.
 
As a technique, tongues capture the attention but focus it on something meaningless (but understood by the speaker to be divine). So it is like meditation — but without the monkey mind. And the practice changes people. They report that as their prayer continues, they feel increasingly more involved. They feel lighter, freer and better. The scientific data suggest that tongue speakers enter a different mental state. (Why We Talk In Tongues)
 
Mrs Luhrmann Thens goes on to talk about research included in another NY TIMES article.
Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania took brain images of five women while they spoke in tongues and found that their frontal lobes — the thinking, willful part of the brain through which people control what they do — were relatively quiet, as were the language centers. The regions involved in maintaining self-consciousness were active. The women were not in blind trances, and it was unclear which region was driving the behavior.
 
Ms. Morgan, a co-author of the study, was also a research subject. She is a born-again Christian who says she considers the ability to speak in tongues a gift. “You’re aware of your surroundings,” she said. “You’re not really out of control. But you have no control over what’s happening. You’re just flowing. You’re in a realm of peace and comfort, and it’s a fantastic feeling.”
 
Contrary to what may be a common perception, studies suggest that people who speak in tongues rarely suffer from mental problems. A recent study of nearly 1,000 evangelical Christians in England found that those who engaged in the practice were more emotionally stable than those who did not. Researchers have identified at least two forms of the practice, one ecstatic and frenzied, the other subdued and nearly silent.
 
The new findings contrasted sharply with images taken of other spiritually inspired mental states like meditation, which is often a highly focused mental exercise, activating the frontal lobes.
The scans also showed a dip in the activity of a region called the left caudate. “The findings from the frontal lobes are very clear, and make sense, but the caudate is usually active when you have positive affect, pleasure, positive emotions,” said Dr. James A. Coan, a psychologist at the University of Virginia.
The caudate area is also involved in motor and emotional control, Dr. Newberg said, so it may be that practitioners, while mindful of their circumstances, nonetheless cede some control over their bodies and emotions. (A Neuroscientific Look At Tongues)
 
Probably my favorite part of that research is the study that showed that those who pray in tongues are more likely to be emotionally stable that those who don’t. I bet many of you never thought you see that scientific data.
 
As someone who prays in tongues as part of my regular prayer life, I can say the findings are accurate. There is such joy and peace when praying in a heavenly language. Science hasn’t proven this to me anymore than science has proven anything else that is already true. It’s just interesting that they are reporting on the truth that those who regularly pray in tongues know. That pray in tongues edifies the pray-er as Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 14:14.
 
Wayne Grudem, in his book Systematic Theology, says the about praying in tongues, 
“…Paul … certainly views it (tongues) positively and encourages it in private. He says, “He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself but he who prophesies edifies the church” (1 Cor. 14:4). What is his conclusion? It is not (as some would argue) that Christians should decide not to use the gift or decide that it has no value when used privately. Rather he says, “What am I to do? I will pray with the spirit and I will pray with the mind also” (v. 15). And he says, “I thank God that I speak in tongues more than you all” (v. 18), and “Now I want you all to speak in tongues but even more to prophesy” (v. 5), and “Earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues” (v. 39). If our previous understanding of tongues as prayer or praise to God is correct, then we would certainly expect that edification would follow, even though the speaker’s mind does not understand what is being said, but his or her own human spirit is communicating directly with God. Just as prayer and worship in general edify us as we engage in them, so this kind of prayer and worship edifies us too, according to Paul.”
 
The point of these post is to encourage you to be open to letting the Spirit help you pray.
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