1 Corinthians 14:6 Now, brothers and sisters, if I come to you speaking in tongues, how will I benefit you unless I speak to you in some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or teaching? 7 …Therefore, one who speaks in a tongue should pray for the power to interpret. 14 For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unproductive. 15 What should I do then? I will pray with the spirit, but I will pray with the mind also; I will sing praise with the spirit, but I will sing praise with the mind also. …18 I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you; 19 nevertheless, in church I would rather speak five words with my mind, in order to instruct others also, than ten thousand words in a tongue.
Here Paul is writing about speaking/praying in “tongues”, which is praying in a language that the Lord gives as a gift of the spirit. It’s a language that is intelligible to God, but not usually to the person praying. We saw this gift emerge in the book of Acts when the Holy Spirit came to the disciples at Pentecost.
Apparently, in the ancient Corinthian church, this gift was being exercised in the communal gathering – perhaps disrupting the flow of their activities together. If you’ve ever heard “tongues”, or prayed in tongues yourself, you can understand how this might happen.
I will pray with the spirit, but I will pray with the mind also; I will sing praise with the spirit, but I will sing praise with the mind also. …18 I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you
Note that Paul is not criticizing people for praying in tongues. It’s a wonderful gift of the Spirit that has great value, though the value is generally for the one praying rather than for the church as a whole.
I personally received the gift of tongues back in 2001. I was praying with two wonderful ladies (Nita and Rini) back when I lived in San Antonio. I wasn’t expecting it, but I was filled with the Spirit as they were praying and ended up on the floor. I couldn’t get up for a while, but when I did they told me I had received a “prayer language”. What’s a prayer language? It’s the gift of tongues. I’ve had it ever since.
So what is “tongues”? As the bible says, it’s a gift of the Holy Spirit. I personally find it like God putting words in my mouth as I pray. When I’m praying in tongues I don’t know what I’m praying, but God knows what I’m praying – because the Spirit of God is the one putting the words in my mouth in the first place. I also know that my spirit is blessed when I pray in the Spirit.
What is this gift for? Well, I find it incredibly helpful to pray in tongues when I’m not sure what I need to pray for. For instance, there are times when I’m called to pray for someone else, but I don’t know the person very well, or even if I do I’m not real sure what their situation is. Rather than pray in English a very general prayer, I’ll pray in the spirit. When I pray in the spirit, the Lord gives me words to pray that are precisely what is needed at that moment. In other words, my prayer is “on target”. Even if I don’t know what I’m praying about, God does.
And, no, the person I’m praying for generally doesn’t know I’m praying for them in the spirit because I’m not usually praying out loud. One can pray in tongues with one’s mouth closed as in regular prayer.
Another great use of tongues is in one’s personal prayer life. When I’m praying alone I will pray in tongues. Though I’m not completely sure what I’m praying about in the moment, I believe a great deal of it is simply giving praise to the Lord, blessing the Lord, thanking the Lord for his goodness. I know that I feel blessed on the inside when I pray in tongues. It’s a bit like getting a hug from God on the inside.
I could go on, but I won’t. Let me close by saying two things:
1. You don’t have to be afraid of gifts of the spirit. They are indeed a gift of God. The bible says that we should pray for the spiritual gifts as they edify us and the body of Christ.
2. If you want to know more about this, just ask me. If you’d like to receive the gift of tongues, let me know and we can pray about that together. The gifts are the spirit’s to give, not mine. But my personal experience suggests it often helps to pray with someone else to receive the gift of tongues – or any other spiritual gift for that matter.
Lord Jesus, thank you for the Spirit you sent to dwell within us as we go about life. Thank you especially today for the gift of tongues. It is a wonderful gift that blesses millions of Christians all over the world – even Lutheran Christians. Give us grace to not fear the gifts of the spirit, but to seek them for your glory. We ask this in your holy name. Amen.