Speaking in Tongues

Lee Grady has written a good commentary this week:

Why I Don’t Apologize for Speaking in Tongues

Instead of denying or downplaying this misunderstood spiritual gift, we should have the courage to embrace it.

Last week after I taught a class on the Holy Spirit at a ministry school in Pennsylvania, a 22-year-old guy from Maryland asked if I could pray with him. He had heard me share how I was baptized in the Holy Spirit at age 18, and he wanted the same experience. He was especially intrigued by the idea of speaking in tongues—something he had never done even though he was comfortable around other classmates who had this spiritual gift.

This young man, Eric, understood that he already had the Holy Spirit. (We can’t be born again without the Spirit entering our hearts and quickening Christ’s life in us.) But he knew that Jesus offers us more—that the baptism of the Holy Spirit is a second experience in which the fullness of God’s divine power saturates us and anoints us for supernatural ministry.

I explained to Eric that when I prayed for this blessing many years ago, God did not force anything on me. We don’t “have” to speak in tongues, and God certainly doesn’t make us move our mouths against our will. We open our mouths, but it is the Spirit who gives us this unusual heavenly language. Glossolalia makes no sense in the natural—it actually sounds like gibberish—but the Bible says praying in the Spirit strengthens us profoundly (see 1 Cor. 14:2,4).

I laid hands on Eric in the back of the auditorium and asked Jesus to fill him with divine power and to release the Holy Spirit’s language as a manifestation of the overflow. Nothing dramatic happened at that moment, but I told Eric to remain expectant. I’ve learned that oftentimes the release of the Spirit comes easier when people are not distracted by crowds. I encouraged my new friend to go home and pray some more.

A couple of days later I received an e-mail from this brother, letting me know that a small miracle had occurred in his life.

He wrote: “Thank you for praying for me to speak in tongues. That night was interesting because phrases started to pop into my head. I was determined. I began speaking the phrases and by the next night I was speaking in tongues as I was falling asleep. Now, every moment that I am not worshiping, praying, eating or speaking to someone, I am practicing this gift. Praise God!”

Many of us fall into the trap of downplaying the phenomenon of speaking in tongues, even after we have received the gift ourselves. We may consider it divisive (and it certainly can be when it is abused) or we’re embarrassed because it seems weird or fanatical to our unbelieving friends or family members.

Yet when I read the apostle Paul’s comments on the issue, I realize that glossolalia was a key component of the New Testament church. No one can deny that. Not only did tongues play a fundamental role on the day of Pentecost when the church was born, but this strange gift also fueled Paul’s personal zeal. He wasn’t bragging when he wrote: “I thank God I speak in tongues more than you all” (1 Cor. 14:18, NASB). He most likely prayed in tongues for hours at a time. He knew he couldn’t carry out his extraordinary ministry without a private devotional life that was soaked in supernatural prayer.

That’s also why he wrote: “Do not forbid to speak in tongues” (1 Cor. 14:39). He knew that even though some people might be tempted to misuse this gift (and this is usually why people restrict it), we must never, never, never shut it down.

Eliminating the gift of tongues can have a direct impact on the miraculous flow of the Spirit’s anointing in the church. You might as well flip a breaker switch and turn off all the lights. Tongues does not make us holier than anyone else, and if we don’t exhibit love and Christian character it becomes a useless gift comparable to a noisy gong (see 1 Cor. 13:1). But when stewarded properly, and tempered with humility, this seemingly insignificant grace of the Holy Spirit becomes an invisible atomic weapon.

I am not saying we should showcase tongues in church gatherings, scream at people in tongues or make people feel like misfits if they haven’t experienced the gift. When the Corinthians put tongues on the platform and turned their meetings into chaotic circus sideshows, Paul rebuked them sternly. But the same apostle who warned his followers not to flaunt tongues in public also spent countless hours praying in tongues privately—because it is a vital source of spiritual power that we must not neglect.

The young man I met in Pennsylvania has a strong call on his life to reach others for Jesus, and he will be more effective in ministry now that he has added this misunderstood spiritual weapon to his arsenal. I pray you, too, will discover its value.

J. Lee Grady is contributing editor of Charisma and author of the new book The Holy Spirit Is Not for Sale. Follow him on Twitter at leegrady. Learn more about his ministry at themordecaiproject.com.

13 comments on “Speaking in Tongues

  1. Good post. We should never deny truth because others deny it or misconstrue it.

  2. I just wanted to add that I have learned that Lee Grady accepts Roman Catholic Charismatics as Christians because they speak in tongues. I came out of that group and know that the Catholic Charismatics still adhere to “Rome’s gospel” which is “another gospel”. I remember being in one Catholic Charismatic meeting where they would lay hands on people in the name of “Mary”. Those who were genuine within the Charismatics left the Catholic church (sooner or later). Speaking in tongues is not a guarantee that a person is a Christian. My former pastor, David Wilkerson, was also of the same mind as Lee Grady. Very sad because these people influence many. It is a simple thing to define what the gospel is yet that line is continually blurred. Truly we are living in a day when they will not endure sound doctrine.

  3. Wanted to add a few scriptures…. 🙂

    “There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all. But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all: for to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, to another the word of knowledge through the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healings by the same Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another discerning of spirits, to another different kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills” 1 Cor.12:5-11

    “And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues. 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? But earnestly desire the best gifts. And yet I show you a more excellent way” 1 Cor. 12:28-31

    “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” 1 Cor. 14:2

    “He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church” 1 Cor.14:4

    “But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit,” Jude 1:20

    “For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my understanding is unfruitful. What is the conclusion then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will also pray with the understanding. I will sing with the spirit, and I will also sing with the understanding” 1 Cor.14:14,15

    “speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord,” Eph. 5:19

    “Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God” Rom. 8:26-27

    • I personally believe in the “gibirish” speaking in tongues but I don’t think I have the gift. I think the gifts are divided over believers, like the Spirit wants it. What do you think of this? (Ps planning to write a post on speaking in tongues for my blog). 🙂

    • I don’t believe one has to speak in tongues to be saved, but i do believe the Spirit can still manifest in a believer in this manner. Would like to read your post once it’s up—come back and leave the link 🙂

  4. Speaking in tongues is not a guarantee that a person is a Christian.

    Can you please elaborate?

    • Thanks for stopping by,….

      If you read both posts concerning the gift of tongues, i think you’ll see the gift (or any of the spiritual gifts) is never mentioned as being a guarantee of any-ones Christianity.

      We can know from Jesus’ words in Matthew 7 that there will be those which profess to be one with Christ because they cast out devils and prophesied, (etc) but He says He never knew them;

      21Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.

      22Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?

      23And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.

      He makes it clear that only those who “doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven” will enter in.

  5. PJ, thank you for your reply.

  6. Hi PJ. reading this post has brought back many memories of sad second-class feelings that I have struggled with over the years due to pentecostal/charismatic theology and experience. The issue of tongues and spirit baptism/initial physical evidence has left me spiritually drained and devastated. Let me explain:

    I accepted Christ when I was a teenager at a VBS in a Baptist church. I became good friends with the pastor’s son and experienced some spiritual growth and even worked as a camp counselor at a Christian campground a few years later. I felt at the time that ministry was what God wanted for my life and the thought of it made me extremely happy. When I was 19 I enlisted in the Air Force and quickly became friends with other believers. Through their influence I started attending an A/G church and made many wonderful friends there. I still remember the first time I walked into the church–I felt the presence of God and witnessed worship unlike anything I had previously experienced. It was an exciting time. I truly experienced God and had encounters with his holiness that left me knowing how undone I was without Christ. It wasn’t long before I found out about the pentecostal distinctive and sought God for the baptism. Every opportunity I went forward for prayer–at the church, at full gospel meetings, and during personal time alone with God and in concert with my friends. However, each time I prayed about this I left disappointed, with my prayers unanswered. After several years of this, I really found myself struggling with feelings of being rejected by God and worse–wondering if any of it was even real at all. The funny thing is, during this time I felt a call to ministry and when my enlistment was up I enrolled in an A/G Bible college and then went to a pentecostal seminary. Through this whole period I remained hopeful that God would pour out his Spirit in this way, but it never happened. Others would tell me that God had his hand on my life, there was a strong call to ministry, and that he was going to use me mightily. However, after completing seminary I was still without the gift of tongues and thus could not be accepted for ministry by the A/G. The end result for me has been a life adrift, educated for the ministry in pentecostal schools (which I truly thought was God’s plan for me), but unable to move forward because of tongues. I did have one experience where during a time of prayer over the baptism I had a word come to me out of the blue and I laughed but did not speak it. The word was (I’m not kidding) “kumbayuh.” When I brought this testimony forward I was told it was not the baptism and that pretty much shut it down in my life.

    Fast forward a decade later. I’ve moved away from the ministry, but it still tugs at my heart during the quiet moments and I find myself living in quiet desperation with a sense of missed calling. What is someone in my position to do? Start saying kumbayuh and trust God that it’s really from him? Or is that a crazy delusion? Or should tongues be like it is depicted in Acts where people suddenly found themselves speaking a language they did not know? I want to move forward in God, but am so confused and frustrated over this one issue.

    Well, thanks for listening PJ!

    • Phil, sadly i’ve heard similar testimonies when churches (or individual Christians) focus on a specific gift of the Spirit: and 99.99% of the time its the gift of tongues. Our enemy has truly concentrated on discrediting all the gifts but tongues is the one he seems to have given his “personal attention” to, down through the centuries.

      I have a theory concerning why. 🙂

      When we pray by the Spirit, he doesn’t know what we’re saying–in other words, it stops his ability to interfere. I actually believe he hates it when God’s people pray by/in the Spirit!

      Please do not think i am making lite of your obvious deep pain (or confusion), but i smiled when reading this:

      What is someone in my position to do? Start saying kumbayuh and trust God that it’s really from him?

      It brought back a personal memory. 🙂

      One night while in bed, (this was almost 30 yrs ago) i was praying asking God why it seemed so hard for me to just accept this ‘fresh infilling’ of the Holy Spirit, (i had been praying about it, day and night for a month by then: went up to be prayed FOR at every service, etc etc).

      Anyway, as i prayed in bed that night, a “word” came to my spirit and mind. It may not have been “kumbayuh”, but it was (to me) just as silly. ahahah…

      Long story short: shortly afterward (within a week or two i believe) one night at Church i ONCE AGAIN went up to be prayed for. And again, that silly word came to my spirit and mind! Well, this time i forgot about “me”, and my pride, and the thoughts of how silly i would sound to others and said it…

      Hallelujah! It was like a dam had broken within me and i began praising God in a language i didn’t recognize.

      I’m not saying this is the same for you as it was for me, but afterward i believe i understood what had been hindering me. It was a lack of trust and faith in God;

      Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? matthew 7:9

      I like what the Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Commentary says,

      Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread-a loaf.

      will he give him a stone?-round and smooth like such a loaf or cake as was much in use, but only to mock him?

      And we know the answer is no. Neither will our Father in heaven, when we ask to be filled with the Holy Spirit.

      I want to move forward in God, but am so confused and frustrated over this one issue.

      My advice would be to stop putting so much emphasis upon it–for satan likes nothing more then to get God’s people focused on one area to the exclusion of ‘all the rest’, for he knows it can bring about an imbalance in our walk.

      Tell God you still desire all He has for you, but are willing to rest in Him until He leads you to pray otherwise.

      I believe this is one important aspect which people forget: it’s God through the Holy Spirit who places the desire in our hearts (first) for whatever He wants to bestow upon us.

  7. Vis a vis Catholic Charismatics; does Jesus not promise that the Holy Spirit will lead us into all truth? When confronted by error in a brother nevertheless filled with the Spirit we need to keep the faith in Jesus’ words and thank Him that this brother is getting there. Holy Spirit will not fail in His ministry.

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