Early in my Christian walk I heard about speaking in tongues. I was intrigued by the notion, the idea that the power of God touched someone in such a way that he began speaking in a language unknown previously. There was something very inviting and mysterious about the whole thing that captured the imagination. I really wanted it to be true – in the universal sense, I mean. You receive Christ, you start speaking in another language that only God knows what you are saying. Unless, of course, someone happens to be there who speaks the language God gifted you to speak.
I became acquainted with a guy who claimed to be gifted with tongues. Now, I am not going to say that the guy was lying or intending to deceive or any such thing, but as he and I talked about how his gift manifests itself and how it was used in his life, I became suspicious. You see, he literally described this gift as something he could turn on and off at will. God had apparently given him this wonderful ability for his own personal use. He had the power of God harnessed, so to speak, so that he could use it to his own advantage whenever he felt the need. Granted, the gift only benefited him in the arena of faith, still it was a powerful tool in his arsenal if it were true that it worked the way he described it.
To put it in an old folk proverb, you can’t put lightning in a bottle. And if you do, you better not open the bottle ever again because you have no idea what will happen next. The Holy Spirit indwelling us – and it is his power at work in us in holiness – is not a spigot to be turned on at our convenience and then turned off again when we no longer need special power. We can no more control how the Spirit works in our lives than we can control the earth’s rotation around the sun. All we can do is gratefully receive the power of the Spirit and pray for wisdom that we respond to it wisely. Any talk of controlling the manifestation, the use of or the outcome of the power of God should immediately raise the hackles on our necks and send us running the opposite direction.