Using the Holy Spirit’s power to pray better. (Not show off.)
When Christians are speaking in tongues, 99 times out of 100 we’re praying.
That’s the primary purpose, and use, of tongues: Prayer. The petitioner doesn’t know what to pray, so we hand it over to God. The Holy Spirit has odd, articulate sounds pour out of us. Y’know that bit in Romans about how the Spirit intercedes for us with stenagmoís/“sighs”? (
The purpose of praying in tongues is to build up the individual Christian.
Yeah, I know: Tongues are controversial among Christians. Especially those of us who believe, despite all the instructions on how and when to pray in tongues, that no one should pray in tongues; that God doesn’t do that sort of thing anymore. Hey, if they wanna take a red pen to all the bible passages about things they don’t approve of, that’s their business. But to my mind, it disqualifies them from teaching anything about the bible. (Much less leading churches and denominations; yikes.)
In some cases, Christians object to tongues because they’re under the mistaken belief that every time a Christian speaks in tongues, it’s gotta be immediately followed with a prophetic interpretation into a known language. It’s based on
Most of the problem is they’ve confused someone who’s praying much too loud, with a
But some of the problem, like I said, is some Christians don’t like tongues. They grew up in churches which disapproved of it. Or they disapprove of it, for various reasons. Either way, they don’t want it done, and try to stifle it. I’m not writing this for them. They need to go work out their issues with God. Me, I figure Christians do it, the apostles wrote about it, so it’s on the table. If we do it, let’s do it right.
If you’re one of those people who don’t speak in tongues: Okay, you might not see much point in this article. Yet. You don’t know if or when the Spirit may grant you the ability. I’d recommend you prepare yourself for it. Sit back and watch. (Especially watch how other Christians do it wrong, and resolve not to be like them.)
Rookie mistake: Don’t turn off your brain!
First couple times I prayed in tongues, I was fascinated by all the weirdness coming out of my own mouth. “Check it out. I sound like Ricky Ricardo on I Love Lucy when he’s cussing Lucy out: ‘Ai qué barbaridad; mira qué la loca mujer…’”
Except when I was listening to the syllables, I wasn’t listening to God. Wasn’t focusing. Wasn’t meditating. Wasn’t praying. Okay my mouth prayed, and unconsciously my spirit prayed. But consciously my brain was listening to the funny noises.
Kinda like the apostles described here:
1 Corinthians 14.14 KWL
- For when I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays. My mind is fruitless.
It’s like when the music pastor leads us in an unfamiliar song—and didn’t bother to provide the words, and we don’t know what to sing, but she’s got her eyes closed and her hands raised and she’s singing her head off anyway, blissfully unaware she’s the only one worshiping. No, it’s not like her; it’s like us, ’cause we’re not worshiping! (She’s a whole different problem.) We hear the tune, but aren’t participating. And we really oughta be participating.
Hence the apostles’ further advice.
1 Corinthians 14.15 KWL
- So then what?—I’ll pray in spirit and in my mind.
- I’ll sing in spirit, and in my mind.
Yeah, there’s singing in tongues too. That’s just praying in tongues, plus music. Just as we do tongues when we don’t know what to pray, we sing tongues when we don’t know what to sing.
But since I’m already talking music: You know how, when we’re really familiar with a worship song, it’s really easy to sing it on autopilot? We know the words, but we’re distracted with other things. Our minds wander. Our lips will keep singing along, and we really should be paying attention to these words and meaning them—just like we really should mean it when we recite a rote prayer. Don’t wanna be a hypocrite who sounds nice, yet isn’t actually worshiping God any. But it’s a little too easy to sing on autopilot sometimes. When I was a teenager, thoroughly bored by my church’s music, I’d make plans for Sunday afternoon. And sometimes the rest of the week.
Well, here you should leave your lips on autopilot. Let the Holy Spirit do his thing with them. And since your mind is free to wander around, wander it on over to God. Pray with your mind.
I know; I usually advise people to not pray with their mind, but pray aloud. But part of the reason we pray in tongues is because we don’t really know, at this time, what to pray aloud. We got nothing. But the Spirit has stuff, so we let him pray for those things with our mouths. Meanwhile our minds can practice focusing on God.
Yep, practice. We’re learning to multitask during prayer. The difficulty level just shot up a bit. It’s as if the Holy Spirit said, “Okay, now that you know how to pray a little, try doing it while you’re juggling these oranges.” Wait, what? But that’s why those of us who pray in tongues get better at prayer: It’s a challenge. If you thought it was gonna make your prayer life easier: It doesn’t really. Definitely better and more powerful. But hardly easier.
See, prayer in tongues is advanced-level prayer. The reason the Spirit gives us power to do anything, is for the purpose of ministry. He knows we’re ready to pray more often, for more things, for more people, with more potency. You might’ve thought, “All I wanted was a cool-sounding prayer language,” but the Spirit’s goal was for you to pray better and mightier.
And you will get better at prayer. Really fast. Tongues builds us up. Provided, of course, we’re actually multitasking—we’re praying with our minds, and not just listening to the funny sounds.
Group prayer in tongues.
I pray in tongues quite often. I’m not claiming I pray as often as Paul did,
By “quietly” I mean I let my lips move and don’t vocalize anything. I don’t wanna be overheard. For three reasons.
- I don’t want anyone assuming, “Oh, Leslie has a prophecy; somebody better interpret that.” No I don’t have a prophecy. If I have a prophecy I’ll deliberately be loud enough. I don’t, so I’m not. I’m just praying. I don’t want anyone to mistake me.
- I don’t wanna distract anyone else in the prayer group. I don’t want them listening to me instead of the prayer leader.
- I don’t always pray with fellow charismatics and Pentecostals. Sometimes I’m in a group with Christians who have hangups about tongues. And I don’t want to freak them out, or unnecessarily irritate them, or otherwise make ’em stumble. I just wanna pray. So I do. Quietly.
Some Christians will not be so conscientious. They’ll get loud. Too loud. And man do they get pissed when you shush them. Learned that the hard way.
Y’see, just as the apostles had to rebuke the Corinthians, sometimes we gotta rebuke noisy tongues-speakers. Gifts of the Spirit have to be practiced using the fruit of the Spirit: They can pray in tongues, but they need to do it with self-control, particularly of the volume. They need to be decent, orderly, and not drown out the prayer leader. If they can’t keep it together, they need to leave.
And no, we’re not “quenching the Spirit”
“I don’t pray in tongues. But I want to.”
Lots of Christians are really frustrated because they don’t wanna pray in tongues. They don’t see the point. They’re tired of people like me, who talk about it as if it’s something useful or beneficial. “Tongues are the least of all the gifts,” they insist (a statement not found in the bible at all), “so don’t make a big deal of it. We don’t need it.”
Other Christians are really frustrated because they do wanna pray in tongues—and can’t. God hasn’t given them the ability yet. And they really want it. They feel left out. Or left behind. Everybody else they know, speaks in tongues. Why not them? What’s wrong?
First of all, the worry, “everybody else speaks in tongues; why not me?”: Not as many of ’em speak in tongues as you think. I’ve caught people faking it. One girl in my college prayer group had no idea I know Spanish, and could easily tell her “tongues” were more earthly than heavenly. Others were taught some trick: “Start saying, ‘Bala mala bala fala,’ and then turn your brain off. That’ll get you started, and your lips will just go from there.” Ever notice certain Christians whose “tongues” are always the very same nonsense phrases, every single time? These’d be them.
These folks might’ve even psyched themselves into believing they really do speak in tongues. But if we gotta concentrate in order to make tongues happen, if we gotta try some trick to prime the spiritual pump, that’s not the Spirit. That’s entirely us. We didn’t have the patience to wait for the Holy Spirit to dispense gifts as he wishes.
Regardless of what other people are doing: Don’t pay attention to them. Focus on God. How’s your prayer life? Are you working on it, or are you slacking, and hope tongues might spice things up a little? Are you striving to get closer to God, or is it purely a desire for a little extra prayer power?
’Cause the reason God delays on tongues is often the fact that we Christians aren’t even working on the basics. Like a soldier who doesn’t wanna go through basic training; just give him a rifle. Some of us don’t care about the relationship with God: We just want the power. Well, prayer’s about the relationship. If you wanna bypass the relationship, of course God doesn’t want to enable that. Why would he? What good would you be to his kingdom?
Yep, that’s why he doesn’t grant tongues to every Christian right away. He knows it won’t grow their relationship with him any. Tongues will distract them. Or inflate them. They’ll use it to show off. They’ll stop trying to grow ’cause they think they’ve “arrived.” They’ll stop praying with their mind, pray nothing but tongues, and God won’t hear from them again for years.
Even when we do grow in maturity and the Spirit’s fruit, sometimes God still won’t hand us the ability to speak in tongues: We’ll regress, and he knows we’d regress too far. (Heck, look at all the tongues-speakers who regressed a little. Some of us pray like babies with a nail gun. Yikes.) So relax: If he hasn’t granted you tongues, it doesn’t at all mean God’s rejected you. Often it means he’s just fine with the current growth of your prayer life. You may be in a hurry to ramp things up, but he’s not.
So if nothing’s happening, be patient. Stop comparing your growth with that of others, and keep working on your prayer life at your speed. Ask God for help. And, from time to time, keep asking God for tongues. He’ll give ’em when he feels you’re ready.