Many years ago when walking down the hall in the building where I worked, I decided I would stop by Ken’s office and ask about him. It was discovered several months earlier that Ken had a growth behind one of his eyes. The surgery to remove the growth would result in him losing his eye. He had rejected the surgery and sought alternative treatment.
The disease impacted Ken physically, emotionally, and spiritually. He sought religious counsel from sources that were outside what he previously experienced during his life. He announced he had received the gift of speaking in tongues, and he was convinced God would heal him.
We were all praying for him. Although he and I had only known each other for a year, we connected deeply early in my time with this ministry organization. I was really concerned about him, but I was not prepared for what would happen during this visit.
We talked for a few minutes, and then he said he had something special to ask me. He got up and closed his office door, sat down next to me, looked at me and said, “I want to ask you to pray for God to give you the gift of speaking in tongues. It is a wonderful gift. It will change your life as it has mine.”
My first thought was, “Can I make it out the door without him stopping me?”
My second thought was to ask God for the right words to say. Words came, and I hope they were the right ones.
“Ken, my heart’s desire is that God would give me every spiritual gift God wants me to have. I would gladly receive them. But I would never ask God to give me a certain gift. I have joy in the gifts God has given me to this point. If God ever wants me to have the gift of speaking in tongues, I would accept it. I have never felt this is one of the gifts God wants to give me. I rejoice that you have that gift, and ask you not to put me in an awkward position about any specific gift.”
Obviously my response did not satisfy him and he pressed on. In a few minutes, however, I was able to negotiate my way out of his office.
That conversation made me very uncomfortable. For some time after that I wondered if I was afraid of certain spiritual gifts. Did I only want the ones that would make me look good and be socially acceptable with my network of Christian friends?
How about you? Do any of the known spiritual gifts make you uncomfortable? Perhaps the whole idea that God chose you to be the embodiment of one or more spiritual gifts seems weird, or something to develop a theological rationale for why it could never happen.
Was Action Called For?
I agonized over what to do about the encounter with Ken. I could handle it personally. But, if he was approaching me in this way, could he be approaching others who could not handle the conversation? Would he approach our constituents and the general public? Would that be all right?
I first went to see one of Ken’s best friends in our organization for advice. He and I decided I had to tell the executive director. I did a few minutes later.
The executive director was appreciative, yet struggling with what to do. He cared deeply for Ken and his situation. He desired that grace would abound. He also knew he had a larger responsibility for the organization’s integrity and relationship with its constituents.
About an hour later he asked me to come back to his office. I wondered if Ken would be there. He was not. It was just the two of us. He wanted me to know that after I left he sat at his desk praying about what to do. In a few minutes his executive assistant told him that Ken wanted to see him. Ken came in and resigned from the staff. Several months later Ken died.
Did I handle this right? Did I marginalize this spiritual gift? Did Ken grab for a dramatic, expressive spiritual gift in hopes of saving his life? Does this whole idea add to the mystery and controversy around spiritual gifts? Are you uncomfortable? What actions would you have taken?