“Now about the gifts of the Spirit, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed.” (I Corinthians 12:1)
Despite the Apostle Paul writing a whole chapter on the gift of tongues (I Corinthians 14), the amount of controversy and confusion this gift generates is incredible!
From what we know about speaking in tongues in the bible and experiences of others and myself, I’d like to share how this gift is a fantastic blessing and how it can transform your spirituality and life.
What is the Gift of Tongues?
“For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to people but to God. Indeed, no one understands them; they utter mysteries by the Spirit.” (I Corinthians 14:2)
This verse is probably the best definition of the gift of tongues. We understand three truths from it:
- It’s a vocal ability (yes, I’m stating the obvious here).
- It’s a language spoken to God; people cannot understand it.
- When we exercise this gift, the Holy Spirit voices out mysteries through us
Speaking in tongues is also referred to as glossolalia.
Here’s How I Received the Gift Tongues
18 years ago, one morning, my mom, brother and I were praising God at home. Suddenly, I lost control of my tongue, and strange, unintelligible noises started coming out. I didn’t understand what was happening and stopped praying.
That night, we were praying again. As we continued praising God, I had the same experience. This time though, I knew God was doing something in me and just let go of my inhibitions and loudly allowed the strange syllables to come out. That night was phenomenal, unforgettable and life-changing. Later, we came to understand that I was speaking in tongues. My prayer-life, spirituality and ministry would never be the same again!
A few weeks and months later, my mom and brother also received this gift!
Over the years, I can gratefully testify that praying in tongues has deepened my relationship with Christ. Praying in tongues together with fellow believers, has edified the community as a whole.
St. Paul also teaches us:
- Tongues, like His other gifts, is also a manifestation of the Holy Spirit. (I Corinthians 12:7-10)
- We must “eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit, especially prophecy.” (I Corinthians 14:1)
- Tongues is supernatural prayer—the Spirit Himself prays through us! (Romans 8:26)
But, at Pentecost, Didn’t People Understand What the Apostles and Disciples Spoke?
Well, yes and no.
During Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came upon Jesus’ mother, Mary, His Apostles, and disciples—about 120 people (Acts 1:12-15)—two phenomena manifested:
- The gift of speaking in tongues
- The gift of speaking in different human languages
“Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language?” (Acts 2:8)
This is the gift of human languages in action.
“”Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”” Acts 2:13
They said this because they heard what sounded like gibberish. This is the gift of speaking in tongues.
Some people say the gift of languages is just another variation of tongues. Still, I believe, it’s an entirely different gift of the Holy Spirit.
So, we might as well say, the Holy Spirit gave birth to the Church with the gift of tongues!
Praying in the spirit and by the Spirit
“if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays” (I Cor 14:14)
“For anyone who speaks in a tongue… they utter mysteries by the Spirit.” (I Corinthians 14:2)
The gift of tongues is the only known method of praying in the spirit (our human spirit). It’s also the only known way for the Holy Spirit to pray through us.
Using the Gift of Tongues—How, When, and Why
When I shared my experience of speaking in tongues with a friend, he advised me to use the gift in three scenarios only:
- During personal prayer
- When prayer with fellow believers who also understand the gift
- When ministering to someone (praying over another person)
Over the years, I’ve realised the immense wisdom in this piece of advice. I’ve also repeated it to others who received this gift. To clarify further, here’s my take on how we can use the gift of tongues:
“Anyone who speaks in a tongue edifies themselves, but the one who prophesies edifies the church.” (I Corinthians 14:4)
So, we understand that the primary benefit or purpose for the gift of tongues is personal edification.
When we speak in tongues, we build ourselves up. Predominantly, we use this gift in personal prayer.
However, St. Paul also states an exception to this: “…The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be edified.” (I Corinthians 14:5)
Here’s where another gift of the Holy Spirit—interpretation of tongues (I Cor 12:10) comes in. If someone has it, then there are times when a prophecy can also come out in tongues—for the interpreter to speak out the meaning. In such instances, tongues can edify the community too. Therefore, St. Paul encourages us to pray for the gift of interpretation also—if we want to use it in public church (1 Corinthians 14:13).
Some people misunderstand this verse and forbid people from speaking in tongues in the church—that’s not correct. St. Paul is not forbidding us from using the gift of tongues in public church. The only restriction in the Bible is not to prophesy in tongues if there is no interpreter available.
We use the gift of tongues with or without interpretation as a community if all or most of the people present have the gift.
The reasons why St. Paul cautions on public usage of tongues without interpretation are to maintain order and to avoid controversy and confusion.
In our prayer group, we have acquired a sense of when to use the gift together as a community—so such negativity does not arise. Secondly, when used sensibly, we believe the gift builds us up—individually and collectively.
Most evangelical or charismatic churches follow a similar practice—and it seems to be working well too.
St. Paul also instructs us to “pray constantly,” (I Thessalonians 5:17).
Let’s get real—this is impossible. How can we ever pray constantly when we have so many things to do, which we can’t do without our mind’s focus?
But what if we could pray without using our mind? Then, praying without ceasing would be possible, right?
“For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful. So, what shall I do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my understanding; I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my understanding.” (I Corinthians 14:14-15)
See how St. Paul contrasts praying in tongues (mindless) and other forms of prayer (mindful)?
It’s crystal clear: When we pray in tongues, we don’t need our minds and understanding. Because when we pray in tongues, the Holy Spirit speaks to God through us using His mind (I Corinthians 14:2 and Romans 8:26).
So, we can silently pray in tongues closing our mouths while we go about performing our other activities. We can spend hours in prayer this way… it’s such genius, only God could have thought of it!
Praying for Others
When we pray over others, we may not always know what to pray for. The person may tell us an intention, but God alone knows what we should really pray for (mysteries).
While ministering over someone, the gift of tongues is then invaluable. Like St. Paul, we can pray with our understanding, but we should also pray with our spirit. This way, we’ll utter mysteries by the Spirit that we otherwise cannot vocalise.
“In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.” (Romans 8:26)
Singing in the Spirit
“I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my understanding.” (I Corinthians 15:15)
We can add melodies to the syllables of the gift of tongues and sing in tongues too. I don’t know why we should do this except, St. Paul did it, so I’d like to imitate him!
In fact, he encourages us to sing spiritual songs—which we can also translate as singing in the spirit—in Colossians 3:16 and Ephesians 5:19.
Personally, I’ve experienced the manifest presence of God powerfully when singing in tongues during personal and community worship.
The Gifts of Prophecy and Tongues
If you read 2 Corinthians 14:2-4 (and, pretty much the rest of the chapter), we can’t help wondering why St. Paul keeps comparing and contrasting the gift of tongues with the gift of prophecy.
The only logical conclusion we can arrive at is both gifts are related to prophetic utterances. Speaking in tongues is nothing but self prophesying—to build up the person.
Whereas the purpose of the gift of prophecy is to build up others, i.e., the people we prophesy to, and the church.
This is why, when we speak in tongues, St. Paul says we talk to God and not people. In the spiritual realm, we are prophesying in the spirit directly to God in a Heavenly language—how awesome is that!
The gift of tongues is often called the gateway gift—as it’s considered the doorway to receiving other charisms of the Holy Spirit.
And, I’ve personally seen this play out in the lives of many believers—those who pray in tongues for hours every day invariably receive many other gifts—prophecy, healing, deliverance, and so on.
I guess that as we pray more in tongues, we edify ourselves so much that the Holy Spirit can work that much more in and through us.
For a far more detailed study of this gift, I highly recommend Dave Roberson’s “The Walk of the Spirit—The Walk of Power: The Vital Role of Praying in Tongues”, it’s a free book.
Here are three testimonies from my friends witnessing to the power of praying in tongues. I chose these three specifically to show you how this gift can affect our simple, everyday life:
A while back, my friend Aneesh Anand faced a crisis at work. This is how he battled through it using the gift of tongues:
“I was working for a US telecommunications company in Chennai, India on a temporary basis. A month before my contract was up for renewal, my manager informs me that this was my final year there—no more renewal. The reason was someone had given some incorrect feedback about me.
I took this up with the Lord, prayed in tongues daily, especially when I rode my bike back home every night. I also commanded in the name of Jesus to turn the situation around for my good.
Soon, the miracles started.
First, my project team met with my manager and explained how crucial my role is, what my contributions were, and how much they needed me.
Next, instead of terminating me, they offered me a significant pay hike.
It didn’t end there. They actually made me a permanent employee, how about that!”– Aneesh Anand
Here’s how another friend, Victor Joans’ scripture-reading, was transformed:
“I always used to pray a little bit in tongues during my personal prayer… But, after learning more about this gift during a seminar, I kept praying in tongues for a whole week. It was an awesome experience! Now, after praying in tongues, when I open the Bible, wow! The Spirit gives me beautiful insights into every verse I read!”– Victor Joans
And, here’s how another friend, Simon Anandh Raj overcame car trouble:
“One evening, our car stalled in the middle of the road and refused to start. After a couple of phone calls to the service station, we figured out that the battery was dry. As there were no mechanics nearby, we had no choice but to leave the vehicle by the roadside for the night.– Simon Anandh Raj
That’s when we started praying in tongues. Within 30 minutes, a local car cleaner came by bringing a new battery and replaced it no time!”
We’ll save the dramatic healing and deliverance stories for another time. 😊
How to Speak in Tongues
Watch this video to learn how to activate the gift of tongues (especially from the 11th minute onward):
The Gift of Tongues and Unbelievers
It’s unbelievers who refuse to understand this gift and ridicule it. “So if the whole church comes together and everyone speaks in tongues, and inquirers or unbelievers come in, will they not say that you are out of your mind?” (I Corinthians 14:23).
If you ridicule the gift of tongues and look down upon people who exercise the gift, you are an unbeliever according to St. Paul.
Here’s more instruction from him: “Therefore, my brothers and sisters, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues.” (1 Corinthians 14:39)
Those of us practising charismatic spiritually are merely following the example of St. Paul: “I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you.” (I Corinthians 14:18)
How about you?