Speaking in Tongues
There are three books to recommend which deal fairly exclusively with the gift of tongues. These are Tongues – beyond the upper Room by Kenneth E Hagin; The Walk of the Spirit, the Walk of Power by Dave Roberson , available as a free download from his website; Effective fervent Prayer by Mary Alice Isleib. There are other good sources to mention, but I will focus on these three.
Some background material is found in the article on The Baptism in the Holy Spirit. Speaking in tongues is a gift of the Holy Spirit, as stated in 1 Corinthians 12 and 14; because it is a gift of the Holy Spirit, it is dependent on Him, we must receive the Holy Spirit. We do not receive ‘tongues’ or even the ‘gift of tongues’; we receive the Holy Spirit. In the book of Acts, when groups of people received the Holy Spirit, on each occasion they spoke in tongues; for this reason there is the teaching that says speaking in tongues is the evidence of receiving the Holy Spirit. However, I have recently come across a way of doing things that talks about ‘receiving tongues’/’activating tongues’. It is true that in some instances in Acts, people spoke in tongues when they were saved, suggesting that the received Christ and the Holy Spirit. However clearly the two events can be separate. We are not ‘receiving tongues’; we receive the person of the Holy Spirit. Whatever the case, Paul, writing to the Corinthians, indicated that he used tongues extensively, and wished that all the Corinthians also spoke in tongues. This implies that they didn’t all speak in tongues, but that they all might. Many people, including me, would attest that after receiving Christ, receiving the Holy Spirit and speaking in tongues is the greatest and best thing that ever happened to them. The following statement from the Roberson book is a good one:
..many believers wrongly believe, for whatever reason, that God wants them to have the baptism in the Holy Spirit without speaking in tongues. Although this type of situation is possible, it is not the perfect will of God. People who think that way truly do not understand the great things God wants to accomplish in their lives through the simple but precious gift of speaking in tongues.(p 399)
We might add that the foolishness of God is stronger than man’s wisdom; speaking in tongues can certainly look like foolishness, but it is the foolishness of God.
Before going any further there is an important distinction to be made. Tongues, glossolalia, is spoken of in two settings. 1 Cor 12 speaks of the gift in the public setting, as a public gift; in this setting the tongues are to be interpreted and specific guidelines are given for the gift’s use. For a closer look at this see The Holy Spirit and His Gifts by Kenneth E Hagin. The focus of this article and the book recommendations is on the private use of tongues, in the personal devotional life, as mentioned elsewhere in the New Testament.
Tongues, beyond the upper room will be found referred to extensively in the article The Baptism in the Holy Spirit since the opening chapters cover this subject very well. The ‘baptism’ is an initial experience which has consequences to be pursued throughout the walk with God. To quote Hagin ‘the greatest things that ever happened to me in my walk with God came as a result of praying with other tongues’. Tongues are of great value in themselves and as a gateway into other gifts, so part 2 of the book investigates the value of speaking with tongues.
The first point is that tongues is primarily for a believer’s own personal spiritual edification. ‘He edifies himself’ (1 Cor 14.4). It is speaking mysteries to God and it is prayer apart from the understanding – in fact it is prayer ‘in the spirit’, so each biblical reference to praying in the spirit is a reference to tongues. It both builds up (edifies, charges up like a battery) and satisfies since there is a freedom of expression unlimited by the mind. Furthermore, where in Romans 8.26 we read that we don’t know what to pray for as we ought – tongues provide the means to do so; the Spirit helps us in our weakness as we speak in tongues. We can pray in the Holy Spirit any time we wish, and a protracted period of doing so, which the Holy Spirit may well initiate, will lead to being supercharged with readiness to minister to others. Indeed it ‘strengthens us with might…in the inner man’ (Eph 3.16). With regard to prayer, tongues can be a mighty means of intercession, many examples of which are sprinkled through the book. As we pray in the spirit we are necessarily not praying selfishly; our prayers can be selfish and quite wrong, but not if the words we speak are given by the Holy Spirit.
“..many more marvellous benefits await us as we yield ourselves to the Holy Ghost and allow Him to give us supernatural utterance.” Another benefit is ‘magnifying God’ (Acts 10.46); this would include magnifying, causing us to see God as bigger, in our own lives; speaking in tongues helps us stay conscious of the Holy Spirit’s presence; it is an aid to worship; it stimulates faith – it is not unusual to see people healed at the same time as they start speaking in tongues because there is a trusting involved, a letting go, which helps faith in every area; speaking in tongues is refreshing; it is a good way to give thanks (1 Cor 14.17); where James 3.8 so that ‘no man can tame the tongue…it is full of deadly poison’, speaking in tongues brings the tongue into subjection, and this flows out into all our conversation; it keeps us clean; it is the gateway to further spiritual gifts.
Hagin examines some misconceptions about tongues. Occasionally one might encounter church groups that tell you you’re not saved if you don’t speak in tongues – we have one in Australia; this is not true. Incidentally, there are demonic tongues too, apparently – so some kind of manifestation like this does not even necessarily mean you are saved! Secondly, we can pray in tongues at will – when we wish; some would deny this. However 1 Cor 14.15 says “I WILL pray with the spirit”, so it is a decision; it is right to speak in tongues, pray in the spirit when we wish, and indeed it can be done as a discipline. Thirdly, not all tongues are prayer; there are numerous accounts of speaking words of instruction to another person in a language unknown to the speaker; indeed there is reason to believe that tongues with interpretation is equivalent to prophecy, and prophecy is not prayer. (Note: tongues can be a foreign language; it is ‘tongues of men and angels’ (1 Cor 13.1). Hagin also warns against certain excesses; these include supposed ‘warring tongues’ against the enemy – remember, speaking in tongues is, basically, speaking mysteries to God, so one of its purposes is that the devil does not understand it! – and, relatedly, trying to work something up in the flesh by getting loud; people might also draw attention to themselves and their ‘spirituality’ by speaking in tongues – we are to be sensitive in the use of the gift to other people who might not understand. However, misuses must not detract from the real use; Paul talks about travailing in birth and praying in tongues and there can be a strong anointing come to pray in tongues. “As a result of yielding to the Holy Spirit to pray this way, I’ve seen many people born again and supernaturally healed, and I’ve witnessed countless needs miraculously met…”
The impact of the continual practice of speaking in tongues is very great and conducive to spiritual growth. Hagin mentions renewal and refreshing as well as increasing ability to hear God’s voice; another important impact is that in speaking in tongues we can often be setting out, speaking out God’s plan for our lives. Hagin does not say very much about interpretation of tongues in one’s private life, but I will quickly point out here that when Paul says “I will pray with my spirit and with my understanding also”, in context by ‘with the understanding’ he seems to be referring to interpretation. All these things are blessings, but the main thing Hagin focuses on is the benefit of praying for the unknown, and he gives a number of stories of deliverance of people thousands of miles away from another person praying in tongues.
Hagin closes his book with a plea to pray for future moves of God.
The Lord told me that there is depth of prayer and intercession in the Spirit that will be lost unless we who are experienced in prayer somehow get those truths over to this present generation of believers . . . .[God] must have more believers who know how to pray in that deeper realm . . . [who] say no to the flesh and spend time praying out divine mysteries to God. . . . as we continue to make ourselves available to God, praying in other tongues, He will lead us further into that deeper realm of prayer where miracles are wrought and divine revelation is granted.
We readily see that this is a fairly comprehensive book, and yet it is possible, while saying quite a lot of the same things, to also cover different ground, and Dave Roberson’s book does this. His emphasis is very much on personal edification, that it is through speaking in tongues (along with other disciplines, but focused on tongues) that we discover and enter into God’s plan for our lives. The Walk of the Spirit, the Walk of Power is very much based on the author’s personal experience. He had a kind of rough but hard-working background; when he was saved as a young man he was in a highly legalistic type of church, but somehow he found that God would baptize him in the Holy Spirit without his first having cleaned himself up; that is when change started, but it really accelerated when he finished his job and give himself full-time to ministry. He figured that if he had been working an eight hour day on the job, he should be doing an eight hour day praying in tongues. He set to to do this; it was very hard – very! But after about 3 months there was an explosion of power and a number of people were healed in a meeting without any preaching, simply by the power of the Holy Spirit. He understood from God that he had ‘uncovered a law’, a spiritual law, and this became the basis of subsequent ministry and the book – gaining increasing revelation on the place in the church of tongues and the importance of this gift.
His starting point is that God has a plan for our lives and we need to get on it. ‘His great reservoir of wisdom and counsel resides within our spirits just waiting to be released through tongues.’ As we pray in tongues there is ‘a transfer of language and authority…from the Person of the Holy Spirit to our human spirit’. He has a very nice picture – that as we pray, speak in tongues, there is a download from the Holy Spirit taking place into our spirit, and when a particular download is complete, suddenly it is installed and becomes fully functional; a lengthy period of prayer and then sudden internal change.
Together with an emphasis on the Person of the Holy Spirit – ‘the One to whom the Father turned us over for our instruction‘ – is a look at the role of tongues in God’s government, that is, the administration of the Holy Spirit. Tongues is said to be the foundational gift; there are apostles, prophets… and lastly, diversity of tongues, ‘the only operation you can step straight into‘ – tongues is the foundational gift, it is for everyone. He talks about 4 different uses of tongues and states that his focus is on tongues for personal edification, praying the mysteries of God – the mysteries that lie at the foundation of the church.
At least half the book is concerned with the way edification works with a big emphasis on ‘purging’, cleansing, mortification of the flesh. We have to be built up if we are to handle pressure; this means having sin, the works of the flesh taken out – it is ‘through the Spirit that we mortify the deeds of the body’. Indeed when we look at Rom 8 13-14, we see that there is a strong connection between mortifying the deeds of the flesh and being led by the Spirit, being led out of defeat. Answers to prayer are received primarily in the spirit, not in terms of outward manifestation, that is in the flesh. It is inward change leading to peace, and the more this takes place the more strongholds are pulled down, the more prayer impasses are overcome, the more we fall in love with prayer; we must therefore not be put off by negative emotions that arise – sometimes very negative – as we persist in prayer, believing that it is doing good, and as the works of the flesh (the origin of the negative feelings) come to the surface. As we persist we will find ourselves moving out of edification and into intercession, bringing major change to others. Intercession fueled by tongues brings things to birth.
The book closes with chapters on fasting and then on love as the goal of the Christian walk. While it focuses heavily on tongues there are sufficient references to faith, study of the word of God, walking in love to make it clear that a balanced life is in view. The two things I take away from repeated readings of this 400 page book are 1. The value of tongues in mortifying the deeds of the flesh and so leading us into victory. 2. The importance to God in his economy of the church of tongues. Again, this is a very powerful, strong book, but it is worth adding an important point: if you search online you can find a testimony by a man who was involved in Roberson’s ministry for years, ‘faithfully’, sincerely, following the prescription to speak in tongues, but only when he quit doing this did he find peace through repentance and an intimate relationship with God. Clearly this is the goal! However, in this testimony, the man draw false conclusions (I believe) about speaking in tongues, and tells how he discounted and discarded it as a practice. So — let us be careful about over-preaching tongues, and also about not valuing this wonderful gift properly!