That Gift—And Why We Need It


For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit.
—1 Corinthians 14:2

What am I to do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also; I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also.
—1 Corinthians 14:15

Going deeper in prayer through tonguesI don’t think any spiritual gift causes more problems than tongues. Talk about tongues in some Christian circles and you’ll be ostracized. Fail to talk about it in others and you’ll be written off as a spiritual flyweight. Both reactions are a mistake.

I almost have to apologize in advance for being a charismatic, because charismaniacs have poisoned the well a million times over. But I came to the charismatic ranks through the Lutheran Church, believe it or not, so my journey has been a little bit different. Mostly, I praise God that He has kept me out of the excesses that plague some sectors of the charismatic movement. I think there is a pure strain of charismatic thought and theology that still holds true to the way things should be in the Church, and I thank God for those sane voices out there who have kept me on the straight and narrow.

That said, while I talk about charismatic issues from time to time here at Cerulean Sanctum, rarely do I talk about a specific gift, and never do I talk about tongues.

Do I speak in tongues? Yes, but usually only in prayer, and mostly when I am praying for other people and need direction for how to pray for them. Even then, I pray in tongues almost inaudibly so that it is more a prayer between the Lord and me and not for any showy reason. In other words, I’m not one of those loud SHAMBALAHONDA folks by any means. (And yes, they sometimes drive me a little bit nuts, too.)

Despite any negatives people might conjure about tongues, I want to be forthright here and say that I cannot run away from the truth that praying in tongues makes a huge difference in one’s prayer life. Huge. When I add tongues to my prayers, it’s like throwing gasoline on a fire. Like Paul in 1 Corinthians 14:15 above, I sometimes pray normally, then mix in tongues, especially in those situations where I need help praying, need supernatural insight, or when God taps me on the shoulder and asks me to pray in tongues.

The other night, I was with a group of fellow believers and we went into a time of prayer; immediately, I felt drawn to tongues. God directed my entire offering of prayer, and I only shared those portions with the group that I prayed normally. The tongues part I prayed quietly as I reached out by the Spirit to commune with the Lord on a deeper level.

And I do believe it is a deeper level, just as 1 Corinthians 14:2 above states. Praying in tongues quietly drove the public, English portion of that prayer that I offered to the group. I believe my spirit tapped into a reservoir of God and His spiritual riches, allowing me to pray more effectively. It was a more anointed prayer. Less of me, too, and more of the Lord. I could not have prayed that prayer any other way.

That’s why it bothers me that some Christians erect the wall right away when speaking in tongues is mentioned. When I think how much tongues betters my prayer life, I can’t possibly see why God would retract that gift or simply let it pass away with the last apostle. Praying in tongues makes for a better prayer life. How could God not desire that for His people?

Don’t get me wrong; this is not a first-class-tongues-praying Christian versus second-class-non-tongues-praying Christian issue! If anything, tongues itself takes the runner-up spot to prophesying. Paul saw the benefit in both prophesying and tongues, but he correctly notes why prophesying is the gift he desires most for people. I’ve also met plenty of Christians who claim to speak in tongues but who offer up “lead balloon” prayers while their non-tongues-speaking counterparts pray with obvious anointing.

Still, there is a mystery and power in tongues that should not be ignored. And as we all know, Christianity cannot escape being rooted in a lifetime of trans-rational mystical experiences. To simply say that Jesus rose again and lives inside each believer is by its very nature a mystical belief. So is the operation of tongues. Or faith, in general, for that matter: we believe in an invisible reality we cannot see save for the mystical eyes of faith.

As I get older, the more I see the value of tongues as a supplement in my prayer life; call tongues a spiritual multivitamin. It doesn’t comprise the entirety of the prayer “meal” I eat each day, but it ensures I get every spiritual nutrient in God’s bounty that was provided for me at the cross of Christ.

13 thoughts on “That Gift—And Why We Need It

  1. Thank you! Seriously. I have issues when people start screaming in tongues. I keep thinking… anyone gonna interpret this? No? Then SSHHHH!!!!

    It’s not spoken of much in our church… heck when I first got here, I didn’t know what my pastor thought… then one night of intercession at our church I was close enough to hear him go off into tongues (quietly, as his face was buried in carpet) and it relaxed me on my own. I had so many hang ups… anymore… its freed me to pray… and not have to “conjure up” prayers that I think He wants… HE can direct it, and often takes me where I didn’t expect.

  2. Normandie

    Amen. I came into Christianity and the Charismatic Movement simultaneously via the Episcopal church and a non-pentecostal environment. In the 30 years since, I’ve meandered all over the place as I’ve moved to different areas and had to seek a new church: Methodist, Episcopal–high and low–interdenominational, pentecostal–wherever the Lord led for that particular time. One thing I’ve noticed over the years is that the fullness of the Spirit renders boundaries extinct.

    I am eternally grateful for the use of tongues in my prayer life. Though I’ve never felt led to give a message in tongues, I have moved in the prophetic–and have felt that praying silently in tongues gave me wisdom and understanding to receive the prophetic that I would not have had otherwise. I’m not saying God can’t give His wisdom to those who don’t pray in tongues, but I am probably hard-headed enough that He must go Spirit to spirit!

  3. Dan,
    I was going to just put up a smiley face, but being a verbose preacher, I couldn’t leave it at that. Regardless, my reaction to this post is an ear to ear grin.

  4. Geoff

    Thank you for your post. I’ve been raised in the Pentecostal tradition and have always had the issue of tongues haunting me. It only grew more as I became a pastor and dealt with some of the abuses of Spiritual Gifts as a pastor.

    I too pray in tongues, but just like you it is between me and God, edifying my spirit as the Spirit prays through me. I always have issues with some in the Charismatic traditions who, in my opinion, abuse the gifts.

    Thank for the clear thoughts on tongues, really resonate with them.

  5. Matthew Dalton

    Great, even-handed look at tough topic. I grew up Pentecostal Holiness, and saw many of the typical abuses (including “come over here and I’ll teach you how to speak in tongues”). I developed a huge double-edged fear about tongues: one, what if I “get” them?!!! Two, what if I miss it?

    I’ve never spoken/prayed in tongues. Perhaps the gift is not for me? Or is it my own latent fear/worry about it that’s preventing the manifestation? I don’t know.

    All I know is the doctrines of cessation hold no water for me.

    Thanks Dan. Glad you’re back “in the saddle.”

  6. Don Costello

    Hey brother,
    Thanks for the post, it is good doctrine that will stick to our spiritual ribs. I think I know what you mean when you mentioned the wall that goes up with some believers when tongues are brought up. I’m sure that if any one is a Christian for at least a little while they have encountered it. I’m sure some of it is because of the abuses, but I believe also that it was prophesied that the church for the most part would not accept it. “In the law it is written, With men of other tongues and other lip will I speak unto this people; and yet for all that will they not hear me, saith the Lord.” I know of course that it primarily refers to the Jewish people, but I also believe it applies to the church.

    A brother who hears you drum,

  7. I understand what you’re saying Dan, and I appreciate the humble approach. I have to say that while I’m not a cessationist, neither am I in the camp that believes that this gift is for everyone. I don’t believe the Scriptures teach that.

    My own experience was in an AG church for ten years, particularly as a teen and college age student. I went down numerous times asking God to baptise me with his Spirit and grant me this gift. It never happened though I earnestly sought it out. I eventually did something that I’m ashamed of to this day…I mimicked some of the syllables. I didn’t think at the time “I’ll just fake it so they’ll be happy.” They just kept encouraging me to “let it out” and to just start talking or “You can’t speak it if your mouth is closed” and so on. So I did. But as much as I desperately wanted to receive this gift I was told was for everyone, deep down somewhere, I knew for me it wasn’t real. I had made it happen by doing what I heard others do.

    Over the next few years, I tried to keep it up as I was encouraged to exercise this gift often. I even prayed for others to receive it at the altar or at youth camps. I felt the pain and hurt some felt when most or all of their friends around them were “speaking in tongues” but nothing happened for them no matter how much they prayed or how many times they went down. Some became disillusioned, wondering why God would withhold it from them…wondering if they lacked faith or had some hidden sin they hadn’t owned up to or were somehow unworthy.

    I ended up leaving the pentecostal/charismatic realm. Not really over this issue but more because of the drift of the churches I’d been in toward the sensationalist, TBN-style ginned-up emotionalism during all the services. I stopped faking it though I still earnestly believe in the power and efficacy of prayer. I believe God can do anything He wants to do so I don’t take the view that tongues are not for today. I don’t believe it’s the only or the initial manifestation of being filled with or “baptised” in the Holy Spirit. I believe the increasing evidence of the fruits of the Spirit are a much better measure.

    Anyway, I enjoy your blog, but thought I’d put a contrary view on things out there.

  8. This is a very straightforward post on an often controversial topic, but it seems incomplete. If speaking in tongues is a spiritual multi-vitamin, how can the rest of us get it? It sounds as if you have some choice in the matter – praying normally or mixing in tongues – how does that work? How does someone choose that? You say it makes “a huge difference” in one’s prayer life, and that it taps “into a reservoir of God and His spiritual riches.” Every believer I know would love to experience that. Yet the answer seems to usually be along the lines of “sorry, not everyone has this gift, and you’re probably just ‘differently gifted’ and anyway, prophesying is WAY better, but WOW – speaking in tongues is incredible!” Maybe the issue is not so much whether it’s real as that it becomes divisive…?

    I confess I’m largely ignorant on the topic, having been brought up as a Baptist in the midwest, so please accept these questions as a sincere attempt to dialog and understand. I very much respect your thoughts on these things.

  9. Cheryl

    I agree it makes a big difference. When I pary in tongues alot I seem to cause some kind of stir around me at times with people. I am not sure if this is demonic warfare or I am just more aware.

    I presently attend a church which is cessionist. Lately I have been wanting to change. I notice I don’t pray in tongues much anymore because of it. It’s the excesses I don’t like. Most of the charismatic ones have shepherding influences and I cannot do that anymore.

    Thanks for the article Dan. I wish I could be with some balanced people in this area but so far it has not happened for me here in NYC area.

  10. Cheryl

    Actually one more in point.
    I was actually told not to “talk about it” ( referring to the tongues issue) by one of our teaching elders so there ya go.

    I compartmentalize alot. With my cessionist friends I shut up. With my few charismatic friends they don’t want to hear about calvanism.

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