Speaking in tongues: a personal reflection

And they spake with other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance…

Tongues respectable and acceptable

The gift of speaking in tongues is no longer the hot potato subject it was in the 1970’s when the charismatic movement influenced the Anglican and Methodist and Lutheran denominations.  The gift of tongues has become a respectable and an acceptable practice usually encouraged in private devotions, but controlled in public services. Since the outpouring of the Spirit at Azusa Street, Los Angeles in 1906, when God chose the instrument of an one-eyed, unlearned, Afro-American to unleash his floods of blessing upon the world, the Pentecostal Charismatic movement has grown internationally and has to date been embraced by about 600 million people. The setting and circumstances of the birth of this 20th century spiritual movement is so like the way God chose a  manger in Bethlehem and two teenage parents to be the instruments of the incarnation.

Day of Pentecost and community

I celebrated Pentecost on 19 May together with AFCE 2013 leaders/participants from different nationalities, denominations and theological persuasions. We used a liturgy and broke bread together. Babel was the giving of tongues to confuse, separate, disperse, and divide so that the human race would not in unison rebel against God and incur greater wrath. Pentecost was the giving of tongues to unite, rally, and bring together people of every tribe, and tongue, and mind and immerse them into a spiritual unity and relationships that are a sign of the community that is Trinity. It comes not from His wrath but from His sheer grace. Pentecost celebrations should always hint of that breaking down of walls and barriers and barbed wires.

Beautiful language of love

The gift of tongues is a gift often regarded as the lowest of spiritual gifts. Like Paul the apostle, I thank God I speak in tongues, and find in it a wonderful language of praise and worship and prayer. So beautiful is this language and so blessed is the experience, that  I would have to think that Paul wasn’t just hypothetically calling tongues the language of angels, but thought it to be a real possibility. Over the years I have heard and experienced for myself the many benefits of praying or praising in tongues. Some of these have become church legends. So also the horror stories of tongues being of the evil spirits. I have heard a fair share of those stories too. However, being a story teller myself, I know at times exaggeration,  leaving important information out or interpretation of facts because of personal bias, is not an uncommon thing. So I prefer to go with what Paul in 1 Corinthians claimed to be the benefits and purpose of tongues.

  • Tongues is a form of prayer and praise – a love language for us to use in speaking to God. It takes us beyond praying and praising with our understanding into the unfamiliar territory of spirit functions and expressions. “For he that speaketh in an unknown tongue speaketh not unto men, but unto God: for no man understandeth him, howbeit in spirit he speaketh mysteries”(verse 2). “For if I PRAY in an unknown tongue, my spirit PRAYETH, but my understanding is unfruitful. What is it then? I will PRAY with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also: I will SING with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also. Else when thou shalt BLESS with the spirit, how shall he that occupieth the room of the unlearned say Amen at thy giving of thanks, seeing he understandeth not what thou sayest? For thou verily GIVEST THANKS WELL, but the other is not edified”(verses 15-17 emphases mine).
  • When we pray or praise God in tongues, it edifies (Greek, oikodomeo) builds us up spiritually. “He that speaketh in an unknown tongue edifieth himself…” (verse4).

When I speak in tongues

When I speak in tongues I keep my mind on the Lord since I am speaking to him. As I do so, it heightens my consciousness of his presence with me at the time of prayer. Though I do not understand what I am praying or praising, I trust that I am praying from the heart, the spirit. I am expressing my innermost needs, feelings, and cry.  I trust the Spirit is helping me to express my deepest fears and longings, the feelings of the mystery that is deeply me. Sometimes I have a sense of what is it my prayer in tongues may be, but I cannot be certain. Its a life of faith. I trust that He has heard me and will work all things for His good and glory through my life and situation. This release from always depending on my understanding is restful and gives me an abiding peace. We rely too much on our own understanding and our sense knowledge, on what we see and feel and hear. It is nature’s way. However, God’s way is for us to trust even when we do not understand. To rely more on him and his life and light, and less on our acquired knowledge of good and evil. The gift of tongues introduces us to such a way of life. Father, I trust You even though I don’t understand with my mind. God wants to restore us to the place of child like trust lost by our ancestors Adam and Eve.

The gift of tongues has been a precious, beautiful gift that has helped me greatly in my spiritual journey and my ministry as a pastor. It began in 1973 when Jesus baptized me in his Spirit and I spoke in tongues as the Spirit gave me utterance. What a glorious unforgettable night it was! Its been 40 years and this precious least of all gifts is still a treasure chest that opens to many of his other blessings. Thank you Lord!

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