The Gift of Tongues Pt. 2 – Prayer Language

Baseline truths for this conversation:

Truth#1 – Tongues & Interpretation are gifts from the Holy Spirit. They are God’s idea, not man’s. 

Let that sink in. God gave us a linguistic gift, a language we don’t understand that we can supernatural interpret.

Beginning question: Do you believe that every gift from God is good and desirable?

So we could say it this way:

If the Father is giving out a gift, I want it?

Truth #2 – The early church must be our model for how to understand what these gifts are, not modern practice or experience.

I would like to approach both of these truths in the rest of this study.

Last session we consider the public aspect of this gift. I shared a story that I experienced college while in a gathering that revealed for me the incredible power in this gift.

We left off considering that the early church understood two aspects of the gift of tongues:

The Public unknown language (Tongue & Interpretation)

1 Corinthians 12 / Acts 2

The Private unknown language (to God)

I want to share what the Scriptures teach about this and then I would like to share what I personally understand about this.

In modern function, praying in tongues is understood as a decidedly charismatic expression with large portions of the church world believing it is not for them nor for today. Within the portions of the church that believe in this, often it is construed as a, “badge of honor.” For some, this is an area of confusion and shame.

However, there is a common link that all of the church will agree on:

We, as believers, are called to pray in the Spirit.

What is not understood and agreed upon is what that means.

Charismatics will explain praying in the Spirit as praying in tongues.

Evangelicals will explain praying in the Spirit as an alignment with the desires of the Holy Spirit as we pray.

Praying in the Spirit is mentioned three times in Scripture.

First Corinthians 14:15b says,

“So what shall I do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my mind; I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my mind.”

Ephesians 6:18 says,

“And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.”

Jude 20 says,

“But you, dear friends, build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit.”

The Greek word translated “pray in” can have several different meanings. It can mean “by means of,” “with the help of,” “in the sphere of,” and “in connection to.”

It is important to note that Praying in the Spirit, from a biblical world view, does not directly refer to the words we are saying.

Rather, it refers to how we are praying. Praying in the Spirit is praying according to the Spirit’s leading.

It is praying for things the Spirit leads us to pray for. Romans 8:26 tells us,

“In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.”

In Ephesians 6:18, Paul instructs us to,

“pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.”

Paul will reveal something in Ephesians 6 that is important. There are, “all kinds of prayers and requests,” that make up, “praying in the Spirit.”

Often, the charismatic world will use the phrase, “praying in the Spirit,” to mean exclusively praying in tongues.

I think that is a mistake, and because of this mistake, much of the evangelical world has disregarded tongues as a misinterpretation of, “praying in the Spirit,” in favor of the interpretation of Scripture that simply praying in connection of or inspired by, and under the impetus of the Holy Spirit is the best way to understand what the Scriptures say.

I want to move our attention back to how the early church would understand praying in tongues. 

In 1 Corinthians 14, explaining the function of tongues in prayer, Paul says:

For if I pray in tongues, my spirit is praying, but I don’t understand what I am saying.Well then, what shall I do? I will do both. I will pray in the spirit and I will pray in words I understand. I will sing in the spirit, and I will sing in words I understand.

He specifically uses, “praying in tongues,” as a phrase that is equated with speaking in tongues. What this means for us is a couple of things:

1. For Paul, praying in tongues is a natural part of speaking in tongues.

2. The same gift that functions in public has a private expression. They are not separate, nor in conflict.

Paul will go on to encourage the young Corinthian church with his excitement about this gift:

I thank God that I speak in tongues more than you all… 1 For 14v18

Paul makes a fairly bold statement. He is honestly grateful to God that he speaks in tongues more than them…why?

I would submit that Paul understood the gift of praying in tongues to be a distinctly important gift for the children of God.

My story…

I have shared that grew up in a pretty strong pentecostal environment. If I am honest, tongues was used like a badge of honor in this culture.

I was young…like 7…and went to a church camp where someone far bigger than me stood over me, in fact, stood on a chair to put downward pressure on me, yelling to, “just receive…to let the words come.”

I was encouraged to, “babble.” I was told it was like water trying to break through the surface of the ground.

In 100% honesty…It wasn’t fun. I remember wondering, even at such a young age, “if He is God, why can’t he just give it?” “Why is it this so hard?”

I truly wanted whatever God had for me. I didn’t want anything that was forced. I remember feeling so much shame because it wasn’t happening. I remember trying to make up words, so I could say, “I got it.”

For years, that was my journey.

Can I just say…that is not what Paul was after in his teaching. That is not what our Father is after.

Let’s go back to my story….years later I moved to Colorado. I was 29.

I began to take walks in the morning with Jesus. I knew I had been taught that tongues mattered. I had been diligent to stay the course in my 7 year old gift. But if I am completely honest, I struggled to sense any connection with the Lord.

Then one morning something happened. I was praying in tongues and there was a difference. There was an intense passion, I would say there was a supernatural energy in it. The dialect changed. It sounded like a language.

Why am I sharing this?

Because I had, “received,” my prayer language at age 7, under great pressure from leaders. But if I could say it, I would say that I think this new encounter at 29 was the day the Lord released the gift of tongues to me.

How do I know? That seems harsh, you might say.

There was a result. I would pray in this new language, and feel stronger, think more clearly, have better control of my emotions. Repentance was easier to walk in…it was effecting me.

And what I was experiencing was something Paul actually taught the early church…praying in tongues, or speaking in tongues to God, has unique benefit to the person:

1 Cor 14v1

For if your gift is the ability to speak in tongues, you will be talking to God, but not to people, since they will not be able to understand you. You will be speaking by the power of the Spirit, but it will all be mysterious. But one who prophesies is helping others grow in the Lord, encouraging and comforting them. A person who speaks in tongues is strengthened personally in the Lord, but one who speaks a word of prophecy strengthens the entire church.

Paul teaches that the person who speaks in tongues is actually made stronger by that function.

In Jude 20, this is reiterated by saying,

“But you, dear friends, build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit.”

To build up – to add to, and to increase, to strengthen.

It is the idea of fortification. Praying in the Holy Spirit, aligned with the Holy Spirit increases us spiritually. Therefore, praying in tongues is one of the ways we have been given to grow ourselves spiritually.

I build myself up in Jesus when I pray in tongues.

Considering 14v1 again, Paul reveals another unique beauty of praying in tongues.

“you will be talking to God.”

Praying in tongues is one of the types of prayer we are given to be more functional and useful in our prayers. Our spirit speaks directly to God’s Spirit, through the Holy Spirit.

In this way, it is a unique and intimate language between a child and their father.

I want that for you. I want to encourage you to be open to that for yourself. I think we all need it. I would not want to live without it.

It is the one and only Holy Spirit who distributes these gifts. He alone decides which gift each person should have.

Our job is to build a relationship with the Holy Spirit and trust him to release to us what He believes we need. By desiring the gifts and being open to what He wants for us, we are positioned rightly towards the Holy Spirit. 

City Group Questions:

1. How many have spoken in tongues?

2. How many have asked the Lord for this gift?

3. Has your experience around it helped or hurt your desire?

4. Do you sense a need for the ability to communicate to God in a personal language?

5. Can you see where building yourself up would help?