The Bible contains many references to a supernatural spiritual gift which is usually referred to as the gift of tongues or speaking in tongues: the ability to communicate in a language that you have not learned by ordinary means. It’s a phenomenon that has been around since AD 31 when the Holy Spirit was poured out on the first believers in Jesus on the Day of Pentecost. Church history reveals that speaking in tongues has been experienced by Christians over the centuries and has enjoyed a revival amongst Pentecostal and Charismatic churches from 1900 onwards (see blog).But what is the point of this gift?
There are two expressions of this supernatural ability – one private and the other public. I believe that everyone who has been filled (baptised) with the Holy Spirit has access to speaking in tongues as an individual gift that has three main benefits:
Just as the body and mind get weary, so does our spirit. Praying in tongues recharges our spirit. The apostle Paul wrote, “He who speaks in a tongue edifies [strengthens] himself” (1 Cor 14:4). Jude, one of Jesus’ brothers, encouraged believers to “build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit” (Jude 20). Through speaking in tongues God “will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit” from “his glorious, unlimited resources” (Eph 3:16).
The human spirit is like a rechargeable battery; speaking in tongues is the recharging unit. Of course, rest is the best way to recharge and speaking in tongues is the best way to allow your spirit to rest. Regarding speaking in tongues, Paul quotes the prophet Isaiah, “This is the resting place, let the weary rest…this is the place of repose” (Is 28:12). I’ve always prayed for my children when I’ve put them to bed, and when they were small, they loved me praying in tongues. Our second daughter, Paris, called it “Big Pray.” I’d pray in English first and then she would say, now pray in big pray, and I would lay my hands on her head and pray in tongues. The peace and rest given by the Holy Spirit in these times were stunning.
Paul wrote, “anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but God. Indeed, no one understands him; he utters mysteries with his spirit.” (1 Cor 14:2). In other words, when you speak in tongues, no one hearing you will understand what you’re saying, but God understands. We shouldn’t be confused by the word “mysteries.”
The Greek word musterion doesn’t refer to something unknown, but rather to something that can only be known by revelation, because God reveals it. When you’re experiencing a dead end in decision making or problem-solving, spend some time praying in tongues to get God’s revelation and wisdom that will help you see the way forward.
Prayer & Praise
Speaking in tongues allow you to communicate directly with God. The Bible refers to this as “praying [or singing] in the spirit.” In Acts 10:46, the apostle Peter and his team knew that Cornelius and his guests had been baptised with the Holy Spirit because “they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God.”
Due to human weakness and short-sightedness, we don’t always know what we ought to pray for, but “the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words” (Rom 8:26-27). When you don’t know how or what to pray, allow the Holy Spirit to pray through you “in harmony with God’s own will.”
As well as these private uses of tongues there is also a public manifestation in which God speaks to people. The gift of tongues can be used privately and quietly in a church meeting for prayer and worship (1 Cor 14:15, 28). However, when exercising the public gift of tongues, the person must speak out so that all can hear and an interpretation must be given (1 Cor. 14:16-17).
A public message is never a prayer; however, it is a communication from God meant for the people present (1 Cor. 14:26-27). Everyone filled with the Holy Spirit can speak in tongues, but not everyone will exercise the gift of tongues (1 Cor. 12:27-30).
This public use of the gift is also a sign to unbelievers and was, in fact, one of the things that attracted me to the Christian faith. Although I was an atheist, I had a fascination with spiritual things. I’d always viewed Christianity as boring, irrelevant and unspiritual until I met some Pentecostal Christians who spoke to me about the supernatural power and gifts of God. They got my attention.
The apostle Paul taught that “speaking in tongues is a sign, not for believers, but for unbelievers” (1 Cor 14:22). That’s what happened on the Day of Pentecost. The believers were filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke in tongues. The commotion attracted thousands of people who came to find out what was happening. When the crowd gathered, Peter then preached the Gospel, and 3000 became followers of Jesus, fulfilling what was written by the Prophet Isaiah, “with foreign lips and strange tongues God will speak to this people.”
A few comments to wrap up:
- Speaking in tongues is ONE evidence of the Holy Spirit’s presence. The others include joy, freedom to praise and worship, boldness, and to prophesy.
- Speaking in tongues is NOT essential for Salvation. Some cult groups teach a person is not a real Christian if they don’t speak in tongues which is simply untrue.
- Speaking in tongues can be either human or angelic languages (1 Cor 13:1). For more on this, I encourage you to read the excellent research conducted by author John Sherrill in his book, “They speak with other tongues.
- Speaking in tongues doesn’t need to be forced or made up. The disciples spoke in tongues, “As the Spirit enabled them.” You need to cooperate with the Holy Spirit by speaking the words that well up within you. He won’t move your lips for you!
The gifts of the Holy Spirit and speaking in tongues are excellent gifts. Ask for them by faith and then believe God to give you these good gifts when and where He chooses (Matt 3:11; Luke 11:13).