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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The Practice of Solitude

Solitude is defined by the dictionary as the state of being alone. However, in Christian spirituality, we refer to the spiritual practice or discipline of solitude as being alone for the exclusive purpose of fellowship with God. We do not seek to be alone because we are uncomfortable being with people and wish to avoid them. Nor is the purpose “me time” – being alone to do my own thing, to have a time-out, whether it be a Netflix binge, a café visit, shopping, or being absorbed in a hobby or sport. The practice of solitude is about time alone with God, being alone and free from all distraction of people, amusement, things or tasks. “Go to your room and pray in secret”(Matt 6:6) was Jesus instruction on discipleship and prayer. To pray in secret is to pray alone. Room (Gk tamion) is a chamber, an inner room for one to retire, to have privacy. In effect Jesus was encouraging a practice of solitude and prayer. 

Why Solitude Frees Us

When we are alone we feel free of the need to meet up to people’s expectations. We do not worry about having to impress people with our eloquence or our breadth of concerns for the world. We are able to be ourselves and express what is in our hearts of hearts: our deepest desires, the darkest secrets, the abysmal failures, our exalted hopes and dreams without fear of a confidentiality leak or condemnation or evaluation. Solitude means being alone with Someone who loves us like no other. It creates a sacred space for God to meet with us, and for us to be changed by our encounter with him.

In this state of aloneness with God there are no scaffoldings: no activities to keep us occupied, no people or smartphone to keep us engaged, no Netflix or YouTube to keep us entertained, no work to keep us numb towards feelings we have unknowingly suppressed. There is no one to get LIKES from, no one to impress so that they FOLLOW us. It is only the solitary soul and God.

When we give God such exclusive attention the meeting with him is bound to impart life, invite change, initiate action. We are available to reflect on and receive communications from God through the many way he messages us in our daily life, through the Bible, dreams, impressions and the stirring of our desires and imagination.

When we are alone with God we find ourselves inevitably facing ourselves. Often this may be uncomfortable as the Lord surfaces for us things in us that needs his cleansing, reforming, and purifying power. Suppressed fears, anger, resentment and other insights about our true selves are able to surface because the blocks that keep us from seeing or dealing with these have been removed by the practice of solitude.


We wait in silence before God, resting in the knowledge that he looks on us in love, kindness and gentleness. We breathe slowly and deeply. We still our body and our inner selves and silence all the noises in our mind. We quiet ourselves and present ourselves to him, like saints of old, “Here am I, Lord, waiting before you in solitude and silence”.

We can then turn to a passage in the Bible and read it slowly and meditatively. Or reflect on the day or week that had past. Or tell him what the day was like as a friend to a friend. Or tell him how we feel right there and then. 

To help us continually be aware of his presence and our purpose, we could light a candle. We could place a cross before us, or hold a cross, or have the Bible in our hands. We could even have an empty seat or additional mug to remind us we have Jesus with us. “If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me”(Rev 2:20).

We could start with an hour, and gradually increase it to longer periods of solitude and prayer, perhaps to a morning and later to a whole day with set times of 45 minutes to one hour of prayer with breaks in between. The day of solitude could then grow to two or three days in a retreat house with the help of a spiritual director to guide our prayer. This progression is not to be forced but the fruit of the grace of God at work in the soul that makes a soul hunger for more solitude, more time with God in prayer.

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Prayer Overcomes Procrastination

One of the tasks that I have procrastinated is painting all the ceilings and rooms in my home. It has been nine months since I retired, and I am only halfway done. What do I do with procrastination? I bring it to God in prayer. This task goes on my prayer list and I let God know I have a problem and ask for power to overcome the inertia. I was reluctant to pay people to do it. I am virtually a one man show, and an old man show at that. Thank God my wife helps out to move furniture and clean up. Still I needed divine help most.

One morning I woke up and the idea of paint, paint, paint persisted until it overcame all excuses and resistance. It had to be an answer to prayer. I announced my sudden inspiration to my wife, who was leaving for her Friday ladies’ prayer meeting. I think she must have thought this idea would not take off and was probably surprised when I actually got it done.

I was amazed at the power to do. The Lord must have energised me to finish three quarters of the painting. I was so excited that the next two days, I completed the finishing touches, and moved in all the furniture to make ready my retreat room – the sacred space for me to withdraw, study, pray, idle, nap and write.

The momentum steamrolled its way into progress in other areas as well. What happened was that we had to reorganise a lot of old files and paper documents, books, clothes, bookshelf, storage boxes and a storage space. The result was stunning for us as we had lived with and accepted all this junk for so many years, and never had the motivation or strength of will to overcome the million excuses we came up with not to change things. Suddenly, like magic (and hard work) it was all done.

Looking at the results gave us great pleasure. For me it was a lesson in the power of prayer. Do as Mary, the mother of Jesus, did. “Son they have run out of wine.” Perhaps we should make of list of things to do, and that we tend to procrastinate, and simply bring it to God in prayer. Allow God to do something in the situation or in our life and co-operate with him. Let Him empower us even in the mundane problems of everyday living.

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Checking In With Our Feelings In Prayer

Checking in with our feelings at the beginning is another tool or aid to prayer. To be aware of our emotions is a good prelude to authentic prayer. We are praying as a whole person. We do not come to God only with our minds and reason. We come to him with body, mind, and emotions. Authentic prayer has to include how we feel.

The psalms give us ample examples of David’s authentic cries and range of emotional expressions. He is called a man after God’s heart and while in essence it meant he is one who seeks to do God’s will, authenticity about how he felt at different points in his life situations, and the ability to express that in prayer is certainly part of the spirituality in David that God loves.

What father among us would be satisfied with perfunctory, utilitarian, pragmatic prayers where children only ask for what they want and need. What father wouldn’t be delighted to hear his child share the emotions and deep feelings of his or her heart in the midst of happy or difficult life situations. It adds a deeper dimension to their relationship for sure. This is what God wants from us too. But too often we bury or repress or bypass our emotions and go straight into “business” or “the task at hand” – a transactional attitude towards God where an exchange takes place as though God is a Supernatural Vending Machine, not a father who loves and wants a closeness with us.

So a great aid to prayer is to sit still and reflect on what is the dominant feeling or emotion of the day or days or week. Is it confusion, pain, frustration, depression, sadness, joy, or excitement? Is it a blah blah boredom or a great sense of self-condemnation? A prolonged and deepening state of loneliness and isolation? No analysis is needed. No judgment of right or wrong is desirable. All that is needed is a gentle awareness of where we are emotionally, to feel it again and to express that to God. “Lord, I am feeling…….” If you have trouble identifying what you are feeling ask the Lord for help and look up Google for a chart of emotions that describe a wide range to help you label what you feel.

“Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise?” (James 5:13 ESV) We bring our suffering or cheerfulness or whatever emotions to the Lord and express it appropriately to Him. God loves such prayer and draws near to us who draw near to him as we are, sharing our deepest secrets and hidden emotions. Such prayer will find peace, wisdom, strength and new perspectives delivered to them.

Jesus at the garden of Gethsemane was keenly aware of how he felt and he expressed that to God and found the help he needed. Matthew records in 26:38, “Then he (Jesus) said to them (Peter, James and John), My soul is very sorrowful, even to death…” Then he went on to express that anguish to Abba Father. God delivered to him peace and supernatural strength and divine perspective.

Try this this weekend, and see how it helps you add depth to your relationship with the Lord.

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Dealing With Inner Noise During Prayer

“It felt like monkeys jumping from branches to branches. More than one monkey.” The person was talking about the experience of preparing to pray and meditate. This is common and something we need to expect and learn to stay calm about, take action and carry on. 


Our mind is like a river carrying floating dry leaves across our mind in an endless stream. Many of these thoughts are insignificant and lightweight and could be ignored with a mere switch off in our soul. They merely come and disappear as quickly as the stream of water passing by. 

The difficulty is when these thoughts, ideas, problems, burdens, emotions, experiences swirl around. It could be your mind trying to solve a problem, flirting with a new idea, remembering something that needed to be done, someone to call, feeling a mood or dominant emotion that suddenly surfaces onto consciousness, or worries and concerns that weigh on you, or a difficult decision to make. They keep pestering. They refuse to leave. Like a float you push underwater, they pop up again and again. If we do not do something with them we might end up totally focused on these matters, feeling spent at the end of all the thinking, and feeling drawn away from God’s life-giving presence. 


There are two methods for handling this. One is to make a record of them in a journal, notebook or phone. Record them with the intention of getting back to them later after you have given yourself to meditation and prayer. Giving them a place of existence, a number in the queue, will placate them, or rather re-assure yourself that these matters will be taken up and will not be forgotten. It gives you peace of mind since they have been set apart safely to be looked at later. This is a prayer aid that will help you focus on meditation of God’s word and prayer first. When you later come back after prayer, to the list to discuss them with the Lord, you may find that the meditation you had was timely in giving you a timely word or godly perspective, and the prayer time had strengthened your faith to view the list differently.

A second way is to pray through and discuss with the Lord all the items you have recorded before going into your meditation of the word and prayer. This is particularly good when the first method was futile as you kept thinking about the problem or your swirling emotions and desire refused to be calmed. Let these problems, burdens, emotions and desires be the subject of your conversation and discussion with the Lord. As you talk to the Lord as a friend speaks to a friend, you will find that it is not mere monologue but an exchange is going on. Thoughts and inspiration and ideas and perspectives may dawn on you in prayer. New desires and self-control may overtake your anxious, angry and greedy soul. You may find that this alone had taken all the time you had allotted and there is no time for meditation on his word. It does not matter. You have prayed. You have had communion with the Lord.

I am sure there are other useful methods readers have tried. I am sure if you take some time to share what worked for you, it would be of help to other pray-ers too. The comment button is below the title of this blogpost.

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