Day 21 – Praying in Tongues (Part 1)
Effective Prayer Podcast, by Colin Dye
We’re going to talk about one subject today that is bound to increase your effectiveness in prayer. That is tongues. Tongues. Praying in tongues.
Now I’ve been concentrating throughout the series of teachings on a number of different forms of prayer. All of these involve speaking to the Father, through the Son, in the Spirit, in a language which is known to us. I’ve done a bit of teaching on tongues, but I’ve concentrated on your praying in your own language.
But tongues, the Greek word glossolalia, is prayer to the Father, through the Son, in the Spirit, in a language which you have never learned and you don’t know yourself. So what is the gift of tongues? First of all, I’m calling it a miracle. It’s a miracle. Now some people say it’s a psychological phenomenon that the Holy Spirit uses, and they have all sorts of reasons for that, taking people into clinical conditions and tested the tongues and had people analyze the languages and all this kind of stuff.
But okay, let them be clever if they want to. As far as I’m concerned, it’s a miracle. It’s something supernatural. It’s a gift of the Holy Spirit. It’s the operation of the Holy Spirit. It is a spiritual language. It’s the Holy Spirit providing us with words which we, although we cannot understand them ourselves, are words which enable us to speak effectively to the Father. When you are praying in tongues, you know that your prayer is effective because it is a work of the Holy Spirit.
The second thing I’d like to say is that tongues is important; it’s an important operation of the Spirit. There is a phrase in Corinthians that says tongues, the least of all the gifts in their mind, it’s the least of the gifts—that’s what people say. Well, I don’t want to minimize anything that God gives us, and tongues is important.
We, as Pentecostals, are at times accused of exaggerating tongues, making too much of tongues, and they actually go so far as to say we are falling into the Corinthian heresy or the Corinthian mistake of making too much of tongues, and our teaching is exactly what Paul was teaching against. As we shall see, that is a fallacy. Our teaching is in line with the New Testament teaching.
And certainly I want to say to begin with that the Bible teaching on tongues is not some spiritual aberration tucked away in a few corners of a few verses here and there. There are five important passages in the New Testament that show us the importance of tongues: Mark 16, Acts 2, Acts 10 and Acts 19, together with 1 Corinthians 11, right the way through to 1 Corinthians 14, actually. And so when you see these scriptures we see that tongues is important.
Also, tongues is a language. Some people say that tongues is just phonetic sounds that are made by the subconscious mind and they may be as gracious enough to say, “Well the Holy Spirit uses it, but really it’s not a language.” That doesn’t follow, as far as I’m concerned. Biblical tongues were languages. The word glossolalia or the word in Greek means “a language,” and of course when the Holy Spirit allows us to enunciate words, they are not just sounds; these are words. Sounds may precede words, as in natural language, but as in all language, these words follow in forms of syntax and all of this is there.
Now just because some people have analyzed this under clinical conditions and say they can’t prove it to be the case doesn’t mean to say it isn’t the case. What you can do in a laboratory, my friend…and anyway, how can you…who is to say that human linguists are qualified to judge this spiritual language? Who is to say that they are qualified? As far as the Bible is concerned it is a language.
The other thing I want to say by way of preliminary remark is that tongues is given in the Bible as a sign. In Mark 16:17, “And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues.” Speaking with new tongues is a much a sign as casting out demons, laying hands on the sick, or any of the other things. This is a sign, and what is the sign for? It is for unbelievers. A sign for unbelievers.
Now all of those signs—tongues as well—is not just a sign for unbelievers. They have their own use. I mean, being set free from a demon is a very marvelous experience and it’s a necessary experience if you have one. Getting healed from sickness is a great experience. It’s not just a sign; it’s more than a sign. It’s a ministry. There is something about it which speaks effectively of the kingdom of God, and so tongues is in exactly the same category. It’s not just a sign. It is a sign for unbelievers, but it is a wonderful gift to believers as well.
Also I want to tell you the Bible teaches that tongues is an evidence. The Bible teaches the evidential nature of tongues. In Acts 10:44-48, let me read it for you. This is what Luke says,
While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word. And those of the circumcision who believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. For they heard them speak with tongues and magnify God.
So here we have tongues, an evidence. You see, those who came with Peter knew that Cornelius and his household had received the Spirit because they spoke in tongues. Prayer in tongues is a sign gift of those who have been filled with the Spirit, and it is reserved for those who have been filled with the Spirit.
It also follows that tongues is a gift from God. In 1 Corinthians 14:5 it speaks about tongues being available as a gift to all believers. First Corinthians 14:5, “I wish you all spoke with tongues.” In other words, that implies that it is something that is possible and available to all believers.
So it’s there to enhance our worship as believers and it’s a gift that is given also to the church to build up the church—certainly build up ourselves individually within the church, and with interpretation build up the church, and it is a challenge to unbelievers. So therefore we can see that this gift is to be received and developed and recognized in the church of Jesus Christ and in our lives as individuals.
It’s also the product of divine/human cooperation. You see, we offer to the Lord our breath, our vocal chords, and our willingness to speak in tongues, and the Holy Spirit enables us to do it. And in so many ways that’s how God deals with us in our lives. We yield ourselves to Him and He enables us in some super-charged way to serve Him in the supernatural gifts of the Spirit.
Now tongues are both described as “new tongues” and “other tongues. Mark 16:17, “In My name they shall speak with new tongues.” Acts 2:4, “And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.” Some people teach that this actually demonstrates two different forms of the gift. Some people speak in “new tongues,” others speak in “other tongues.” I don’t see you need to build a case for that. There is no point to that at all.
I think it’s better to interpret it this way: The tongues that we speak are both new and they are other tongues, and the Greek words for that are kainos and heteros. Kainos, new tongues, which means not in the sense of in this instance they’ve never been heard before, but they are new to us because they are tongues other than our own language. So “other tongues” means it’s the language that you’re not used to—in fact, you don’t know it, you don’t understand it—but also it is a new tongue, it’s new to you. And so that shows us what a marvelous thing it is.
One more thing I want to say. It could possibly also, in certain instances, could be languages of heaven. It could be angelic languages. First Corinthians 13:1, “Though I speak in the tongues of men or angels,” the tongues of angels. Now again Bible interpreters differ. Some say that the tongues of men are our normal languages; the tongues of angels are the spiritual gifts given by God, and Paul is saying, taking up an idea that they held in Corinth that these were angelic languages, but he never himself affirms that.
I don’t know that it really matters. To me it seems quite possible that God would give us heavenly language as well as other earthly language, or maybe languages that nobody has ever heard either in heaven or in earth, including those people who examine it in laboratories. Well, be that as it may.
Then we also grasp that tongues somehow speaks to us of fire. It’s a very important point, and we miss it so often, but on the Day of Pentecost, in Acts 2:3, tongues are described as, well, they did appear at this time “tongues of fire,” and so some say, “Well no, that’s just the fire falling on them,” but I think there is a word play here, as Luke is saying, “Listen, when we began to speak with tongues, something happened to us. Some fire came into our lives.”
And the fire that fell in the Old Testament ignited the offering. It was the glory of God that touched the place, and I believe that tongues today are given to us to ignite us for action, to equip us with the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and as a trigger for releasing many people into supernatural devotion and service, and it can also be an experience at which time we are assured of God’s presence in a very real way.
Now have you often wondered how we can pray without ceasing? In John 4:14 Jesus speaks and He says, “Whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never thirst, but the water that I will give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up to everlasting life.
Psalm 36:9, “For with You is the fountain of life; in Your light we see light.” Now is it too much to believe that tongues, this water that is bubbling up inside of us, that tongues is the expression of the Holy Spirit bubbling up out of our lives? Certainly if we have an overflow, the mouth is our overflow, and whatever your heart is full of overflows out of your mouth. And if your heart is full of greed, you will speak greedy words; anger, angry words; love, loving words; Spirit, spiritual words. And it seems to me that the Holy Spirit is placed within us like a kind of bubbling, welling-up, overflowing stream, and the overflow of this is tongues.
And is it too much to think that this bubbling is going on all the time, but then when we pause for a moment and just begin to speak in tongues and to praise and worship God in tongues, that is the bubbling overflow of the presence of the Holy Spirit within us? Well, I put it out to you. It is certainly a suggestion.
I want now to deal with some common misunderstandings about speaking in tongues. Number #1, it is not a message from God. It is very, very clear what it is: 1 Corinthians 14:2, “For he who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God, for no one understands him; however, in the spirit he speaks mysteries.” So when you speak in tongues, the Bible says you are not speaking a message to men; you are speaking to God. No one understands Him. You’re speaking mysteries. So in other words, tongues are not man-ward; they are God-ward.
Now when an interpretation follows, it really ought to reflect the God-ward direction, but it can still be a revelation to the church and it can still strengthen and build up the church, but primarily tongues must be God-ward. It’s very, very important. It’s a prayer language. It’s a prayer language. So when we speak in tongues we are addressing God, and no one understands us—we don’t understand ourselves—so it’s not a message, as such.
But the Bible does say when you speak with tongues you are speaking mysteries. Now what is a mystery? Something nobody understands? Is that the context? Well, not really, because the word “mystery” doesn’t mean you don’t understand it, not in Bible language. Did you know that? Mystery in our language means something nobody understands. That’s not what it means here. Mystery is the Bible word for “revelation.” Mystery is something that was previously hidden but is now being revealed.
So now the words “when you are praying in tongues,” you are praying revelation, and when that interpretation comes, it is revelation…on the revelation. Now the words, you’re given the gift to interpret what you’ve been saying so that you can come into understanding about what you have been saying.
Also, tongues is not some super-linguistic ability. Some people in the church have thought this was some kind of shortcut to do missionary work. People have gone out, “Help me learn the language,” and God has given them the ability to do that, which I would say is great, but that is not tongues. That is God helping you learn a language.
And so also tongues, on the Day of Pentecost, were not necessarily given in order to communicate for missionary work. Even on the Day of Pentecost they were praising and magnifying God, and the people understood them in their own language and said, “This is amazing what’s happening.” And then Paul…Peter preached to them. He preached to them. He preached to them. So tongues is not preaching in another language. If it ever happens, it’s an unusual gift of God and a gift that would be wonderful to have, but it’s to characteristic of speaking in tongues.
I say that because some people say, “What you people do is not speaking in tongues at all because in the Bible it was a language they could understand; it was there so they could communicate to people and preach the gospel. No. Peter preached the gospel in another language; his own language. He didn’t preach the gospel in tongues. For all the tongues that were spoken on the Day of Pentecost, Peter had to speak to them in his own language.
Neither is it a psychological abnormality. I suggested to you that tongues is not just a psychological phenomenon, but it is certainly not a psychological abnormality. Some people who have spoken very viciously about tongues and written against say it is some kind of ejaculation from the subconscious, some result of auto-suggestion, schizophrenia, catalepsy or hysteria. Well, so often when we speak in tongues there is a decisive lack of any of those things, or always there’s a lack of those things. there is a also a lack of excitement many, many times, and sometimes when people receive tongues it can be a bit of a disappointment because they expected something which was accompanied by some great big flashing experience. No, no. It’s a deep, personal aid to prayer.
It’s not a miracle of hearing. That’s how some people interpret it. They say the miracle wasn’t that they were speaking anything different; the miracle was people were hearing it. So the miracle is not in the ear of the hearer; it’s in the mouth of the speaker.
And so I also want to share with you it’s not a restricted gift. Some people say, “Oh, no, no, no. In 1 Corinthians 12 it is a restricted gift.” In 1 Corinthians 12:29 Paul asks the question, “Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all workers of miracles? Do all have gifts of healings? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret?” And in each and every one of these questions Paul is expecting the answer “no.” Do all speak with tongues? No. So they say, “Ah, it’s not for everybody.” Do you see how they would think like that? But we need to see the context.
In these Scriptures, 1 Corinthians 12:27 through to verse 20 Paul is referring to the structure of ministry in the church. it emphasizes the plurality of ministry, listing here in this list nine different categories of ministry, and when Paul says, “Do all speak with tongues? Do all…are all apostles?” and expects the answer “no,” he is replying to these two questions. Paul’s implied “no” is a reply to these two questions: Should all believers bring public prayers in tongues during the public worship of the church—should they? No. Should all be apostles and teachers in the church? No. Should all believers bring miracles in services? All bring healings? No.
In other words, each ministers according to the leading of the Holy Spirit. So this has nothing whatsoever to say about every individual believer speaking in tongues. That’s what God wants. That’s the gift God has made available. But when you come together in public worship, not everybody is going to come and pray publicly in tongues, and if they did anyway it would be an abuse of the gift unless there was an interpretation.
And so I believe that it shows in 1 Corinthians 14:5, “I would that you all spoke with tongues,” that’s not just saying, “I wish you all did it, but I know you can’t,” but he says, “I speak with tongues more than you all.” He was acknowledging that this gift is readily available, and in Mark 16:17 it implies the same thing, “And these signs will follow those who believe.” If it was not available for all, then why does Paul say it like that?
Now okay, you may say, “Does that mean to say that all believers should be healing the sick?” Yes, as the Spirit leads. “Should all be speaking in tongues?” Yes, as the Spirit leads. “Should all be casting out demons?” Yes, as the Spirit leads. Of course. So it is possible for all to pray in tongues.
Now when you also understand that tongues is linked to the overflow of the Spirit in your life and it’s a sign gift that is linked to the baptism of the Holy Spirit—we will deal with that when we come to ministry in the Spirit and knowing the Holy Spirit, we’ll deal with those things when we come to the other subjects in the Sword of the Spirit series—but we do need to know that tongues is for everybody.
And I also want to share with you that some people say that tongues is a very bad thing, it’s this kind of ecstatic thing, and it’s this uncontrollable utterance. They are usually responding to scare stories, not actually any real situation. They say that tongues is ecstatic speech, meaning you can’t control it. That’s not right. That’s why some people have tried to suppress it, saying “We want order. We don’t want this tongues speaking.”
Well in fact when people pray in tongues they can adjust the volume, the pace, they can even stop. They can start and stop because this gift is a prayer language gift, and God wants you to move into these levels of prayer, and as this gift operates, it is a gift that is subject to your choice—a very, very unusual thing. You have to yield to it, but because it’s a prayer language, God has given you this gift to flow. But it’s not an involuntary thing; it doesn’t happen to you—“I can’t help it. I can’t help it.” No. You can help it. If somebody says, “I can’t help it,” I’m very, very suspicious because that sounds like the devil. He makes you do things in a compulsive kind of way, but not God.
Now tongues are given, also, for the upbuilding of the church. now in 1 Corinthians 11 through to 15 we have detailed teaching about public worship in the local church. now these passages stress the centrality of communion, talk about the place of women in the church, the primacy of love, the need for spiritual gifts—including praying in tongues—all to be exercised in the worship services of a local church, so that’s the setting.
This is not talking about private meetings or your private devotional times; it’s talking about coming together, and so it shows us when we come together the purpose is to glorify God and to build one another up. The key verb of 1 Corinthians 14 is the word “to build up, to edify, to build something, to build up,” and we can understand about the phrase, “we build together in order to build up” if we see that the whole purpose of coming together is to do exactly that.
And so the gifts of the Spirit are there to build up a body, so the believer brings a public prayer in tongues during a meeting; they’re built up, and therefore it is desirable and possible for all to use this gift in public because we are there to build ourselves up.
Okay, so we have to be careful here because if that’s all we did, then we wouldn’t be building one another up. But in a public meeting, if we are praying and building ourselves up in order to build up the body in order to lift Jesus up in our hearts, which then encourages His presence in the meeting, which eventually leads to everybody being built up, so there is the possibility of a private use of this gift in a public meeting.
And also when the gift of tongues is interpreted, which means to explain, it’s an explanation of the tongue, not just a literal interpretation, an explanation of the tongue, then the people also can understand what is being said and then be encouraged and built up. So when a prayer in tongues is followed by an interpretation of tongues, together it builds up the local church, and the interpretation then should be focused upon the aspects of that tongue which are there to build up the local church.
And it’s also clear from the teaching that prayer in tongues should not be brought during worship without an interpretation, and also we are taught that those who pray in tongues should also pray for the gift of interpretation. And we should also pray in a balanced way. I will pray with my understanding; I will pray with the Spirit, and so we must pray in a balanced way—with the mind and with tongues. Not exclusively with the mind only or exclusively with tongues only. Paul says it’s good to do both, and this should be the focus in our ministry and in our lives.
We also need to understand, again, that we can choose to pray in tongues or choose to pray in our own natural language.