Tongues trigger emotion. Don’t let that misdirect you.

by K.W. Leslie, 02 November

It’s an emotional experience to pray with God’s power. But we’re called to more than that.

1 Corinthians 14.20-21.

Praying in tongues is an emotional thing.

Y’see, when we pray tongues, it’s usually because we aren’t sure what to say to God. We’re too overwrought to say anything. Or there are so many thoughts in our head, and we can’t sort out what to prioritize. Or we don’t even know what’s going on, so we can’t articulate anything, but we know we oughta pray. Or we have prayed, but it wasn’t enough. For these and many other reasons, the Holy Spirit has granted us the ability to let him say it for us. Ro 8.26 But y’notice in all the circumstances I listed (and the dozens I haven’t), emotion’s a big part of it.

Here’s the catch. It’s also possible to pray tongues when we don’t know what to pray—but initially, feel nothing. That’s right. We haven’t resorted to tongues because we wanna pray; we’ve resorted to tongues because we wanna feel. We’re seeking the emotion which comes along with prayer-tongues. Less so God.

And the symptom of that problem is when we’re not praying with our minds.

1 Corinthians 14.14 KWL
When I pray tongues, my spirit prays. My mind isn’t fruitful.

When we’re praying tongues (or rote prayers,) we should engage our minds. Prayer’s about communicating with God, not getting a heavenly buzz. So there should be some communication on our part, right? Some thought about what to tell God, how to praise him, our needs, others’ needs, even what scriptures we’ve been turning over in our minds. Never pray brain-dead. Turns too easily into dead religion.

Okay. The anti-tongues crowd don’t really care about any of this stuff. They’re just looking for an excuse to ban tongues. So whenever they get any hint we’re praying brain-dead, they pounce. Blow it up into something profoundly awful, some form of egregious sin. If we pray tongues, but in any way aren’t praying mentally (that is, enough for their satisfaction), they figure ’tis better we didn’t pray at all.

Which is completely wrong. Tongues are good! They build us up, 1Co 14.4 because they’re prayer. Since when is prayer bad? Okay, yes, when we have wrong motives. When we’re praying for the wrong things. Jm 4.3 But God doesn’t have to answer such prayers with yes. And if we’re listening to him as we should be, the Holy Spirit can always straighten out our defective motives.

Hence Paul and Sosthenes’ simple solution to the problem of mindless prayer:

1 Corinthians 14.15 KWL
Why is this? I’ll pray by my spirit; I’ll pray by my mind.
I’ll sing by my spirit; I’ll sing by my mind.

Anyway. I bring up mindless prayer ’cause I’m focusing on the emotional dimension of tongues. It gets to the core of why the apostles had to correct the ancient Corinthians about their prayer practices: They, too, were praying in tongues for all the wrong reasons. Usually emotional ones. Like trying to ramp ourselves up into a “spiritual” high, which is really just an emotional high, ’cause immature Christians can’t tell the difference. Like trying to manufacture a “spiritual atmosphere.” Because it feels more exciting, more supernatural, more like we’re engaged with God—even though we’re engaged with God in every prayer.

The pursuit of the feels meant the Corinthians prioritized tongues over all sorts of valid ministries. Like praying for one another. Prophesying over one another. Healing the sick. Taking care of the needy. Ditching all the earthly ways we’re to support and help one another, in loving God and one another.

Hence the apostles told ’em to grow up:

1 Corinthians 14.20-21 KWL
20 Christians, don’t be childish inside, but be full of understanding.
Be childish about evil. Be holistic in your thinking.
21 In the Law, this was written:
“I’ll speak to those people in other tongues and with other lips—
yet they won’t even hear me that way, says the Lord.” Is 28.11-12

If we’re not engaging the mind, it’s not gonna grow the mind—and we’ll stay immature. Not just intellectually, but spiritually. Because contrary to popular belief, there really isn’t any difference. All our attributes grow up together. Immature people make immature Christians, and vice-versa.

Hence the apostles’ exhortation to be holistic in our thinking.

Don’t exercise only one muscle!

1 Corinthians 14.20 KWL
Christians, don’t be childish inside, but be full of understanding.
Be childish about evil. Be holistic in your thinking.

“Inside” is my translation of frénes/“diaphragm”—the muscle which separates the heart and lungs from the intestines. Bibles never translate it literally. “In understanding” is the way the KJV went, and the rest go with “thinking” or “sense.”

It’s because ancient “medicine,” such as it was, and today’s medicine, believed entirely different things about how humans think and feel. To us, our mind, will, and emotions are all brain activity. To the ancients, these things all came from thoracic organs. You thought with your heart. Not your spiritual or emotional heart: Your literal heart. That blood-pumping organ in your chest. That, they believed, did what your brain does.

Your emotions? Came from your liver, kidneys, and intestines. And the diaphragm would be the barrier between the two. So frénes kinda works as a metaphor for what separates our thinking part from our feeling part.

Nowadays, we do that by talking about left-brain/right-brain behavior. ’Cause in popular culture, the brain’s left hemisphere is the logical, thinking part; the right hemisphere is the creative, emotive part; and the corpus callosum connects the halves. (I might point out even this depiction isn’t entirely accurate: Neuroscientists find logical and creative centers all over the brain.) But that’s the gist of the apostle’s idea, “Be full of understanding.” Don’t just think; don’t just feel. Be holistic.

’Cause if we feel but don’t think, we’re emotion-ridden ninnies. And if we think but won’t feel, we lack compassion and sympathy. Either sort of person makes an immature Christian—if not a madman or monster. Kids act that way. Teenagers in particular. We shouldn’t. Thoughts and emotions need to be considered, together, holistically, every time we discuss spiritual matters. And pray.

In that light, the apostles asked the Corinthians to consider this bible quote.

1 Corinthians 14.21 KWL
In the Law, this was written:
“I’ll speak to those people in other tongues and with other lips—
yet they won’t even hear me that way, says the Lord.” Is 28.11-12
Isaiah 28.11-12 KWL
11 Even through mocking lips and other tongues,
the LORD declares to his people 12 what he’s always told them:
“This is rest, rest, to the weary. This is refreshment.”
They’re not willing to listen.

Okay yes: This actually isn’t written in the Law. I know; verse 21 claims it is. It’s not. Plenty of scholars have looked. I looked. Not there. It’s not a perfect match for Isaiah either; certainly not the Septuagint’s version. But Isaiah is in the Prophets, not the Law. (Biblical inerrantists get around this error by claiming “in the Law” really means “in the bible.” Then they actually quote this verse for proof: “See? Paul used ‘in the Law’ then quoted Isaiah. That proves ‘in the Law’ means ‘in the bible.’ ” Hey, if you successfully psyche yourself into believing this isn’t an error, you can even use it as an example of how this isn’t an error.)

There’s a remote chance the apostles were quoting the Law, but stretched the heck out of their translation. But it’s remote. The nouns and verbs and meanings all point us to the Isaiah passage.

The context? People who aren’t even listening to God. His priests and prophets are too drunk to be any help. Is 28.9-10 To them, God bores ’em. Wisdom bores ’em.

Isaiah 28.13 KWL
To them, the LORD’s message is “command command command, rule rule rule.”
Applied a little here, a little there—
thus they walk and stumble backward, break, get ensnared, get captured.

They don’t wanna use their heads. They want a religion that’s purely about what feels good. Not about doing good.

That’s what any feel-good form of Christianity threatens to turn into. Not just Christians who speak in tongues and nothing more: Any church which prioritizes how Christianity makes ’em feel, over how Christianity leads us to follow Jesus.

Take one of those churches which focuses on their doctrines. They take a lot of joy and pride in being right. Frequently they’ll indulge in fighting other Christians, and churches, and pagans too—in denouncing the world around them for being wrong. Because to them, doctrine is what Christianity’s all about: If we believe all the right things, we’ll know we’re elect.

How’re these folks doing at following Jesus? Well they suck. ’Cause instead of producing the Spirit’s fruit, they’re argumentative and needlessly divisive. And don’t love their neighbors. And don’t realize this is a giant problem… because it feels so good to be right.

Nope, it’s not just a problem in churches which overdo tongues. It’s a snare all sorts of Christians stumble into.

So Christians, don’t be dumb. Don’t be distracted by emotion. Don’t dismiss it either. Be holistic.