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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Missing from Pentecostal pulpits

It is not uncommon for Pentecostal churches to shelve preaching on Pentecostal distinctives as they seek relevance with a contemporary audience. Addressing felt relational, emotional and felt needs of church members take priority over church’s distinctives. This can happen because the Pentecostal doctrine of baptism of the Holy Spirit can be an offence to today’s young adults. Yet it must be talked about or we will lose our heritage, our identity and one of God’s greatest gift to his church and his greatest resource to reaching the world for Christ.

The Baptism of the Holy Spirit

I announced and planned a series on the Holy Spirit. I initially planned something that began with the works that the Holy Spirit would do according to the teaching of Jesus in John 14-16, and then talk about the Baptism of the Spirit, and finally a session on Speaking in Tongues.

However, as I proceeded to prepare, with the Lord’s influence, it began to be (1) The Baptism of the Holy Spirit, covering the five incidents in Acts when the Spirit was poured out as initiation experiences/encounters. After feedback from members, newbies and mature ones, I slowed down and stayed with Acts 2 the Day of Pentecost and drew most of my observations and conclusions from Acts chapter 2, after painting a picture of what happened there, giving the Bible background of the passage. I also brought in two persons, one of mature age, and another younger person to share their experiences of being baptized with the Holy Spirit and how the gift of tongues had blessed them.

At the end I gave an invitation for prayer for fresh anointings and healings, and invited those who wanted to be filled with the Spirit to meet at the conference room after the service. Three adults in their 50’s showed up. After giving them a briefing, several of us laid hands and prayed for them to be filled and remarkably they were granted the gift of tongues within fifteen minutes, and we spent the rest of the time praying, prophesying, anointing with oil, and singing in tongues for another 20 minutes or more.

My Cry and Prayer

It was a blessed time and gratifying. My only disappointment was that not many of the younger age group were there desiring and thirsting for the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. I am praying that God would stir the hearts of people who had been content with what they have experienced of the Christian life thus far, with a holy discontent that wants more, indeed ALL of what God promised and intended for His people. May we have a people with hearts aflame for the passion of His name.

I wonder if it is the same with the church you worship in. Do they preach about their distinctive? How often?

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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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Speaking in tongues in the worship service

During the revival, speaking in tongues was a common phenomena during the meetings, whether for prayer or worship services. There would be loud speaking in tongues with tears and crying. People were convicted and overwhelmed by the Spirit and speaking loudly in tongues, sometimes with interpretation, but most times without.

My understanding about tongues and its use in church gradually shifted with exposure to different churches: Anglican charismatic, Methodist charismatic, Baptist charismatic, Love Singapore meetings and even mega church Pentecostal services. This coupled with theological training on the interpretation of scriptures formed and shaped a nuanced understanding of the usage of tongues in the church. However I found it difficult to put it in words or to explain them simply. Until I came across this video in Adrian Warnock’s blog by Terry Virgo the founder of a network of 600 churches in 50 nations called Newfrontiers. They are Reformed Charismatic and Evangelical small churches. He spoke about the use of speaking in tongues in the church service, and it resonated with me.

5e. Free to worship from Terry Virgo on Vimeo.

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