Installment 1 of 3
Many spirit-filled believers have not experienced the gift of tongues. Others have, but are unsure about how to use it to wield it as the sword it is intended to be. Others use it daily, even as a discipline. Those who do have grown to understand its effectiveness. They would never want to be disarmed of this gift; it gets them by. Wherever you are on this continuum, the gift of tongues is a gift that increases in value as you understand it more.
There are many misconceptions regarding the gift of tongues. Many people are uncomfortable around it. Some doubt that it is from God or feel it is no longer in operation (and I pray they experience it-that removes all doubt). Some people are frustrated because they have longed to receive this gift, but have not been able to see evidence of receiving it.
My personal story may help eliminate a few myths about tongues. Sometimes our expectations influence our actual experiences. I knew almost nothing, so what happened in my situation may be unusual, but my experiences were relatively uninfluenced. While I was away at college, I received the baptism of the Holy Spirit. I did not know what it was. I was laying on my bed in my dorm, alone. I was praying for more of God. I had gone to an evangelical church since high school and was a Christian, but knew nothing of anything charismatic.
The first myth is that you need to be baptized in the Holy Spirit by another person.
The first myth is that you need to be baptized in the Holy Spirit by another person. This can be prayed and requested on your own. I tell you this because you may not have asked for this because you do not want this to happen in public. Some would say that it is necessary to make a public declartion. That is not my experience. God does not want us to fear what people think, but we do not have to overcome all of our fears in order for God to give us the baptism that will assist us in overcoming our fears. In my case, I just didn’t know what was happening. But God chose to baptize me this way, and I hope it will encourage some of you to be bold before God and ask for this. My charismatic experiences were private for years, just because I didn't know differently.
A few years after this incident, I was in my room one night, absolutely dismayed. I had learned that my job would not continue after summer. I had no place to go, and no direction. I was in bed, late at night. I had heard some things about tongues. I did not know how to pray about my situation. I had an urge to pray, but I was lost. I got the idea to try to speak in tongues. This was born of sheer desperation. I knew nothing about tongues! Still, I just started to talk and prayed that God would help me.
Imagine my surprise when He did! An unknown language spurted out of my mouth as I spoke and focused on Him. I lay there for an hour or so, quietly speaking. The funny thing is that I thought that it would stop itself. I did not understand that I had control to stop it like a faucet! I look back and chuckle. It must of taken me a half hour to accept that I was really speaking in tongues and was not making it up myself. This is what happens when you learn by doing! Mentors certainly have their benefits!
The second myth is that you need to be with someone when you try to speak in tongues the first time.
I continued to speak in tongues a long time, until my jaw ached. Then I stopped, but was concerned that I may lose the whole benefit if I didn’t finish. I fell asleep. I didn’t speak in tongues for a long time after that. I didn’t understand that I could easily start it up again! And I told no one! I didn’t know anyone who would believe me, I thought.
The second myth is that you need to be with someone when you try to speak in tongues the first time. Again, this can seem awkward. I have seen well-intended people prodding people on like cheerleaders at a football game as they try to produce their first tongue prayer. This succeeds most of the time, praise God, but it can also be very stressful and can make people feel bad and disappointed if nothing happens.
This happened to one of my daughters. Poor thing. It was traumatizing. She did not want to offend the person who kept saying "Just do it!" She was trying! Pressure to pray in tongues is unnecessary. That should not be. No one intended harm, but receiving the gift of tongues can also be seen as a private time when you receive this gift from the Lord. It is a leap of faith that can be taken in public (some people say it came on them involuntarily, so this does happen), with one friend, a small group, or with just you and the Holy Spirit. The gift is from God, not another person.
I am glad this is how it happened with me, because when I later was in an environment when people were praising God in unison with tongues, I was able to join in cautiously. There should never be pressure to any gift. I do believe that tongues is available to all people who have been baptized in the Holy Spirit. But I also know people who just can’t get the words flowing. God’s timing is perfect, and He longs for us to desire His gifts. It will happen. Don't give up because you think you don't have this gift. Keep asking for it to manifest.
The third myth is that speaking in tongues is evidence of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. I have friends who operate freely in prophesy but can’t seem to speak in tongues, yet. They will, but there is no need to be critical if they haven’t. So, while you can’t speak in tongues if you haven’t been baptized in the Holy Spirit (because it come with His presence), it is not always manifest when baptism in the Holy Spirit has happened. Yet.
The third myth is that speaking in tongues is evidence of the baptism of the Holy Spirit.
The fourth myth is that tongues is for just your own personal edification.
Many times I have felt a distracting urge to pray for a certain person, group or situation. I had no idea what was wrong! We are told to pray for one another (see James 5:16), but can simply say, “Lord, help them. Be with them.” More is needed! Tongues come to the rescue.
Just this week, I had to drive an hour and a half somewhere. A brother in Christ has been going through a trial. I know only a little about what is going on. The Lord asked me to pray in tongues for him. I did. And I kept going. The burden did not lift, and I felt that I was accomplishing something important. I began to feel relief that all would work out as I continued to pray. For over an hour! And then I felt free to stop. Wow. God loves him a lot. And the situation must be important. God carved that time out for me to do this. I felt so blessed when I was done. Tongues definitely can be a powerful intercessory tool!
The fifth myth; that all tongues must be interpreted.
The sixth myth is that if tongues are not interpreted in public, it is aways the fault of the speaker.
This same verse in I Corinthians leads to a fifth myth; that all tongues must be interpreted. A lot of people get focused on this and then discount all use of tongues if they are not interpreted. This is another misunderstanding. The end of verse 14:5 says, “He who prophesies is greater than one who speaks in tongues, unless he interprets, so that the church may be edified” Paul is talking about the use of tongues in public. If you use tongues privately, you may or may not know what you are praying. Uninterpreted personal use of tongues is not being criticized here.
The Holy Spirit sometimes gives me impressions about what is happening in my tongues prayers. Sometimes He does not. But that’s the point; for the Holy Spirit to pray the prayers that we don’t have the information and wisdom to pray on our own. It is Him saying, “Just pray in My words. I will be sure they are exactly what you should pray!” Wow. What a gift!
In a public worship situation, it is ok to pray in tongues quietly to yourself without someone interpreting. What Paul is concerned about is people praying publicly at the church without anybody knowing what is being proclaimed. Such prayers have no purpose. People can’t respond corporately to that. If God is giving a public message in tongues, He will provide an interpreter. The interpretation may be known by the speaker. This scripture does not say it must be from two different people. He is also telling the people with the gift of interpretation to speak up! Don't be quiet if you feel the Lord is giving you understanding of what has been prophesied. If anyone is being scolded, it is the interpreters.
Someone once told me that he had never seen prophecy interpreted at his church. It is possible that the interpreters have been afraid to be confident in their gift. They may need to speak up! And the people who prophesy need to be listening to see if they understand what they are saying. Sometimes they just speak in tongues and sit. Paul was not ok with this. This is the sixth myth, that if tongues are not interpreted in public, it is aways the fault of the speaker. This may be the case, but the whole "system" should not be thrown out because the receiver is timid or has not understood how to use his or her gift yet.
The seventh myth I will address here is that tongues is only for personal edification. It is actually for anything and everything that needs to be prayed! Its purposes aren’t just lofty. They are practical! Tongues can change a situation miraculously in just a few minutes. As a mother, I can’t count the time when I’ve seen my kids in hard situations, have gone to another room, shut the door and prayed in tongues. I have stayed until the Lord lifted an intense need to continue. I have left the room, gone back to my child, and something changed. Really. It's amazing. They have even said to one another, "It's serious. Mom is speaking in tongues upstairs!"
The seventh myth is that tongues is only for personal edification.
I have pictured myself entering my “prayer closet” in the rags of a mom needing wisdom and help, and have exited with a superhero cape and the problem solved! Thank you, Holy Spirit, again! Either a call came and a clarification was made, alleviating all trauma, or a heart softened, or an attitude shifted, or anger dissipated, or a conflict was resolved. Was I edified? Of course, in that I was in much, much better shape than before I prayed! Were the prayers made for the purpose of self-edification? No. It was pure desperation. God is so good to provide this tool to us!
If a mountain is looming in front of you, start praying about it in tongues. It may sound too good to be true, but we just don’t know how to pray sometimes, and God covers it through prayer in tongues. It is an act of sheer submission, when we say, "I'll put the time and effort in because I have faith that You will pray through me, exactly as I need to." If this gift is not operating yet in your life, please see God about this. I will pray for you, too. I don’t know who you are, but God does. I will be praying in tongues for whoever you are, in the days ahead! God bless you!
This series is continued with
Tongues: A Misunderstood Gift, Part 2
Tongues: A Misunderstood Gift, Part 3