Speaking in Tongues and Contemplative Prayer

The gift of tongues is one of the spiritual gifts that I appreciate greatly because it is a great aid to prayer. The apostles and the women who followed Jesus, and the mother of Jesus, all spoke in other tongues on the Day of Pentecost when the Spirit came upon them in power (Acts 1, 2). This gift is very much available for today’s believers as are all the other spiritual gifts (1Cor 12,14). I find praying in tongues a spiritually edifying exercise and devotional practice.

The Apostle Paul spoke in tongues

The apostle Paul himself had this gift of tongues and he readily and frequently used it in his communion with the Lord. He described the gift of tongues as speaking “not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit” (1Cor 14:2). In Paul’s understanding, while the speaker of tongues does not understand what is being said, mysteriously he “builds himself” (1 Cor 14:4) spiritually in faith, hope and love.

Speaking in tongues seems to facilitate a prayer of surrender, of letting go of having to understand everything that is happening, of having control over all of our life situations. We are saying, “I surrender, Lord. You take over. I will trust You even though I do not understand.” Paul himself used this devotional gift frequently and extensively, and could say to the Corinthian believers who were over-enthusiastic about tongues: “I (Paul) speak in tongues more than you all” (1 Cor 14:18). 

Paul uses this gift as a language of praise (Acts 2:11, 10:46) In one instance he mentioned tongues as “giving thanks with your spirit” (1 Cor 14:16) and in another he testified of his experience of tongues as “I will sing with my spirit” (1 Cor 14:15) which means to sing in tongues – a beautiful, melodic expression in tongues of a song of praise to God. I can relate to Paul here for I often fall short of expressing the fullness or depth of gratitude or praise to God because of my lack of vocabulary. Tongues certainly bridges this gap.

The gift of tongues, according to Paul, also came to his aid when he engaged in prayer. “For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful. What am I to do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also” (1 Cor 14:14, 15). The mind is unfruitful, meaning as you listen to yourself praying there is no idea, no conceptual understanding of what you are praying. After praying a while in this manner our mind comes to a place of quiet and a disposition of listening. It is a form of contemplative prayer, you might say. From my experience, when I felt weighed down or was wrestling in confusion or sensed a spiritual attack from the enemy, very often it was praying in tongues that assisted me to reach a place of peace, even without full understanding or resolution of the matter.

If you have the gift of tongues here are a few spiritual exercises you can try:

  1. Read the Psalms until some verses about who God is, and what he has done, strikes you or catches your attention. Stay there with those thoughts about God, and lift up your heart and voice to him in praise in your own language. When you run out of words continue with speaking or singing in tongues with a melody in your heart. 
  2. List down some blessings, big or small, that you can thank God for and then praise him in your known language, before moving into thanking God in spirit.
  3. When you feel down for no reason, or confused about something, or feel you are being tempted with disordered desires or thoughts, pray: “Lord, I am struggling about what is happening or what I am feeling or these strong temptations. Please help me as I pray in tongues…..” Pray in spirit and understanding with patience till the peace of Christ prevails. Sometimes like Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane, you will need to persevere thrice before peace takes over (Matt 26:44).
  4. Engage in a dialogue with Christ in tongues. Speak in tongues to the Lord for a while. Then wait in quiet as if to listen to his reply. Note the thoughts or desires or emotions or images or verses that comes to your consciousness. If any do rise, do not judge them yet (this is to be done later), but note any down with a pen. Do these two steps over again and for as long as you want to. When the exercise is over, evaluate what you have noted, to see if they are in accord with the teachings of our Lord. See if there are themes in what God is seeking to convey to you or what divine invitations were revealed. Meditate and pray about how you want to respond to these.
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