Guest Writer | Kevin McCall
The gift of tongues was given on the birthday of the Church, Pentecost. This gift was received and utilized by Peter, Mary, and the other 118 people in the upper room. You can read about this in Acts chapter two. The tongues of fire that were imparted to those initial believers manifested in riotous sounds of praise that provoked the skeptics to conclude, "They have had too much new wine (Acts 2:13)." Skeptics today still try to explain away this fulfilled promise from Jesus (Mark 16:17) as emotionalism, fake, or even demonic. Yet, a brain imaging study from the University of Pennsylvania concluded that activity in the emotional part of the brain decreased as the participants spoke in tongues (You can read about cited study here: https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2006/11/tongues-mind#).
The Greek word translated as tongues is “glossa”. Strong's Greek dictionary defines the meaning as "the tongue; by impl. a language (spec. one naturally unacquired)." In 1 Cor 14, Paul explains that one who speaks in tongues is talking to God through the power of Holy Spirit and is being personally strengthened. He further explains in Romans 8:26-27 that, "The Holy Spirit helps us in our distress. For we don't even know what we should pray for, nor how we should pray. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words. And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying for the Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God's own will." In Jude verse 20 we're told, " But you, beloved, build yourselves up in your most holy faith; pray in the Holy Spirit." The greatest grace from this gift is shared in 1 Cor 14:14, "For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit is at prayer but my mind is unproductive." The New Living Translation says it like this, "For if I pray in tongues, my spirit is praying, but I don't understand what I am saying."
Tongues gets us out of our heads and into the Holy Spirit of our Triune God who knows so much more than we do. It's a perfect prayer in a perfect language that comes from God Himself rather than from ourselves. It's important to realize this powerhouse gift is available to ALL believers. In Mark 16:17, Jesus says “THOSE WHO BELIEVE” will speak in tongues, not just the Apostles, Mary, and special holy people. Anyone who believes has the capacity to receive the gift of praying in tongues. This gift is NOT a sign of salvation, worthiness, being special, or elitism! It is simply a gift to help us pray beyond our comprehension in perfect unity with our Lord.
The manifestation of tongues that happened on Pentecost was an ecstatic prayer in praise of God. Praise is a typical product of tongues. I knew a very simple, soft spoken home school mom who desired the gift of tongues, but despite having had numerous people pray for her to receive it, nothing happened. One day, however, as she was driving to work and the sunrise was particularly beautiful. She opened her mouth to praise God and suddenly she was praying in tongues. I had two people pray for me to receive the gift of tongues and all I heard were two syllables in my head, so I started audibly praying those two syllables: ma-na. A couple of days later, I was given a few more syllables to pray with in faith. At the end of the week, a full fluency in tongues was released.
Remember, this gift is to get you OUT OF YOUR HEAD and into the Spirit! Your head can easily say you're making it up, babbling, being unproductive, and a million other lies to keep you from being strengthened by this gift that God freely gives. If your head says you're making it up, then respond that you're making it up for Jesus. What parent doesn't love hearing their child making happy sounds and utterances in response to their presence? If your head says you're faking it, a great response is, "I'm faithing it." As with any gift, the more you practice, the more proficient you become. Jesus tells us that His Father loves to give good gifts to those who ask (Matt 7:11), so ask, receive, and utilize what He gives you!
The gift of interpretation is an important complimentary gift to the gift of tongues. There are times when you pray in the Spirit and the Lord will give you the interpretation. It is quite lovely to know what Holy Spirit is praying through you in a personal setting, but it is not necessary. However, Paul makes it clear in 1 Cor 14 that in a group setting, if a message is being given in tongues, it needs to be interpreted so everyone in the group can be built up. In other words, if I'm with a group of English speakers and I suddenly start praising God in Arabic, no one would benefit from it except me unless there was an interpreter. A beautiful way tongues and interpretation work together was demonstrated on Pentecost. The upper room folks were speaking in tongues, and the great variety of people listening were given the interpretation in their own language. A Catholic seminary professor I know shared a story about fervently preaching the Gospel on an overseas mission trip. She was surprised that her interpreter stopped translating her message to the listeners. Once the meeting ended the translator explained her shock that my friend was speaking their language perfectly, even with the correct dialect. My friend was more shocked than the interpreter because she had delivered the entire message in English! Whether you speak in a known or unknown tongue, God is well able to interpret the message for those for whom the message is intended.
I'll wrap up with Paul's conclusion in 1 Cor 14:15, " So what is to be done? I will pray with the Spirit, but I will also pray with the mind." There's great value in both! God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble. Growing in the Spirit is about growing in faith, hope, and love, being open to the great variety of ways that the Lords meets, strengthens, and equips us. Our God is an awesome God!
Peace be with you.