Have you ever spoken in tongues? If not, you could be one of many Christians who fear they might not really be saved because they’ve never heard strange utterances coming out of their mouths. With quite a bit of help from leaders in the Church, Satan has turned tongues into some kind of litmus test that we can use to identify the truly spiritual among us. In this post, we’ll learn about what the gift of tongues is, how God uses it today, and why you have nothing to worry about if you never speak a strange word in your life.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO SPEAK IN TONGUES?
To speak in tongues simply means to say something intelligible in a language you don’t understand. The language could be a foreign human language that other humans in this world speak, or it could be a spiritual language that no human speaks. For example, if you only know English and one day you feel strongly prompted by God to say something in Chinese, you have spoken in tongues. You won’t know what you just said was Chinese unless a Chinese speaker happens to be present who interprets your message for you. If you’ve never heard Chinese in your life, then you won’t even know if what you just said was a human language or a spiritual language. Many tongue speakers erroneously assume they are speaking some mystical language that can only be understood by heavenly beings when in fact they are just speaking another human language that they’re unfamiliar with. God is the true originator of all human languages, and since He has such a vast imagination, we have a world that is full of strange sounds. There are human languages that involve noises others of us can’t imagine making—like strange clickings of the tongue and deep vibrations of the throat. Other languages use high pitched whines or long, melodious tones that almost sound like the speaker is singing. No matter how many languages you currently speak, God can rustle up one that would sound totally alien to you yet completely normal to some group of people in this world.
WHY IS SPEAKING IN TONGUES CALLED A SPIRITUAL GIFT?
To say something intelligible in a language you’ve never heard of is nothing short of a miracle. God does many types of miracles, but we only label certain ones as “spiritual gifts.” This really isn’t a wise system. In the New Testament letters, Paul uses the term in a few places and we got rather hung up on it. Today there’s an obsession in many churches with determining what everyone’s spiritual gifts are as quickly as possible so that those people can be hustled off into areas of service within the church. We tend to use the term “spiritual gifts” as a synonym for “talent” or “ability.” Once a preacher, always a preacher. Once a tongue speaker, always a tongue speaker. Yet this is not the way that God works.
God performs miracles when and how He pleases. In some lives, He performs the miracle of speaking in tongues only once. In others, He does it many times. In plenty of others, He never does it. To say then that all Christians must experience the same type of miracle from God is ridiculous and quite unbiblical. All we need to do is look at the creation around us to see that God has an insatiable appetite for variety. Just as He gave each one of us our own unique combination of personality traits, temperaments and preferences, He also interacts with each of us in different ways. To expect multiple Christians to grow in the same order, or have the same experiences of God is foolish. Some of us hear God talking to us in our minds, others feel like He never talks. Some of us sense His Presence strongly when we’re out in nature, others of us find indoors a more productive setting for soul communion. Some of us feel inspired by daily devotions, others of us find reading the Bible to be a painful bore. We can’t rate each other based on these things—God works with us all in different ways. Through immature babes He performs miracles of grandeur. At the same time, He’ll keep those who are far more advanced in the faith waiting restlessly on the sidelines. Through the man who hates to speak, He’ll deliver some powerful sermon. To the man who always preaches, He’ll suddenly withhold any new illumination. Some deliver messages in tongues, others speak in their native languages. What language we use is not the important point—it’s the source of our message that matters.
Some spiritual gifts are easier to fake than others. Healing people is a tough thing to imitate, but still many are doing it with great success. By planting people in their audiences who have some decent acting skills, many healers today keep up the appearance of being miracle workers. They claim their power comes from God, of course, and call out His praises while they rake in monetary profit from those who want to believe their gift is real. We humans are a devious race, and if there’s a way to profit by trickery, we won’t hesitate to do so.
Preaching is another easy gift to fake and we see this all around us. It was never God’s plan for people to anoint themselves as leaders in His Church. As the Bride of Christ, we are supposed to be depending on Christ to pick our leaders for us. Instead anyone can buy their way into a pastoral role by attending seminary and aligning with human agendas long enough for someone to hand them an ordination certificate. The Church today is languishing under the weight of bad teaching as so many people announce they have callings and gifts that God never gave them. Those who were born with the ability to deliver captivating speeches can get rich off of our desire to be entertained, while those who have true insights from God are overlooked and ignored. Because God wants the glory for what He does, He often puts His powerful gifts in unattractive packages which we then reject. No one wants to look at a hobbling, handicapped, ugly old soul on stage. No one trusts someone who hasn’t jumped through all the carnal hoops we’ve set up in our various denominations. We want people we can control, we don’t want lone renegades like John the Baptist and Jesus who refuse to stick with the party line. We want handsome exteriors and youthful faces. We want energy, enthusiasm and pleasant sounding voices. Because so many Christians are lacking in discernment, they think God is talking anytime someone delivers a sermon that makes them feel emotionally aroused. The same man could be selling vacuum cleaners and be just as captivating, but because he happens to quote the Bible, we think his message must be inspired. This is how foolish we have become because we refuse to listen to God.
Of all the gifts, speaking in tongues is the easiest to fake. Any fool can get up and speak gibberish in church. Because we don’t expect an interpreter to always be available, all gibberish is accepted as valid among those who have decided that every Christian must speak in tongues. There’s simply no way to prove whether someone’s faking this gift or not in the moment. And as soon as we tell God that He has to speak in tongues through every Christian, we are no longer listening to Him, therefore our discernment skills will be very poor.
Why do we fake tongues? To gain acceptance and favor. If you are going to get labeled as spiritually flawed unless you mumble some string of sounds, then the temptation to fake tongues becomes enormous. Most of us don’t have what it takes to honor God at the price of being misunderstood by others. Such courage takes time to develop with the Holy Spirit, and He isn’t going to help us develop it as long as we keep playing silly games. If you want to experience tongues, the best thing to do is to stop faking it. The more you pretend, the less likely you’ll be able to tell a real experience from your own acting.
The more we lie to ourselves, the more foolish we become. It’s very easy to learn how to work yourself up into an emotional lather. Once you start feeling that internal rush of adrenaline, it’s very easy to tell yourself that you’re having a spiritual experience. Mumbling some strange sounds and then telling yourself that you’re really speaking the language of angels is a natural next step. But what do we gain by all of this? If we fall prey to our own delusions, then how will we ever learn the truth? How will we ever grow in the faith?
It’s highly suspicious how addicted Christians have become to being sensually aroused at church. They claim they need moving music to help them focus on the Lord. They say they need entertaining videos to help them grasp the point of the sermon, which needs to be brief because of their delicate attention spans. Of course those same attention spans can last hours on video games or raunchy movies, but when it comes to serious teaching about God, the shorter the better.
Corporate worship is all fine and well but if we can’t focus our own attention spans to think seriously about God without the crutch of some drum beat or some repetitive chorus, then we are in serious trouble. If church is about being entertained, seeing miracles, and rambling on in tongues, then we have missed the point. As Christians, we aren’t supposed to be gathering together just to flaunt our supposed gifts. In 1 Corinthians, Paul emphasizes several times how useless the gift of tongues is in a corporate setting if there is no interpreter involved. What blessing is there in hearing someone mumble a bunch of gibberish? The sharing of spiritual insights in a language that everyone can understand is far more productive. Such sharing is called the gift of prophesy. We often think of prophesy as predicting the future, but in the Bible the word refers to having any spiritual insights from God that can then be shared with others. A true prophet might be getting insights about what some passage from Scripture really means. Or he might hear God explaining His reasons for allowing certain events to happen in the world. And of course spiritual insights can have to do with the future, although this is more rare. For the most part, God talks to us about the present and how we can grow closer to Him. Prophets are chosen out by God to receive direct messages from the Spirit that they are then supposed to pass on to others. For His own reasons, God doesn’t choose to speak to us all in the same way, and many find His messages easier to understand when spoken by another human. In 1 Corinthians, Paul says that prophesy is a better gift than tongues because it is edifying. When a real prophet speaks accurately for God, souls will be strongly impacted and inspired to draw closer to Him. When a Christian speaks a real message of tongues, no one benefits unless there is an interpreter.
WHAT IS THE BENEFIT OF TONGUES?
As Paul points out in 1 Corinthians, it is unbelievers who mostly benefit from tongues, not believers. We have many testimonies in the church of souls speaking tongues to strangers only to discover that those strangers understood the language they were speaking. When God speaks to someone, His words have power. The Holy Spirit might have me tell the Gospel to someone in Japanese even though I don’t know a single word in the language. If that person speaks Japanese and realizes that I don’t, they’ll be impressed by the miracle that just happened and motivated to really pay attention. Again, we must think of speaking in tongues as a miracle that God performs through us. Every time God performs miracles, it is always to glorify Himself, never to exalt a human being. When we make up gibberish in church settings, we are trying to exalt ourselves and prove that we are as spiritually advanced as everyone else. To make a mockery out of God’s power in order to draw attention to ourselves is extremely insulting to Him and deserving of discipline.
SHOULD WE PRAY FOR THE GIFT OF TONGUES?
To pray for God to perform certain types of miracles in your life is a bit off base. Such prayers are really trying to instruct God in how He ought to work with us. Since we don’t know the first thing about what is best for us, we should leave the distribution of miracles and gifts to God. Our prayers should focus on pleasing and honoring Him instead. We should be praying for God to have His total way with us, no matter what that does or doesn’t entail. We should be open to Him doing any kind of crazy stunt through us for we certainly don’t want to miss any gift He might want to share with us. But at the same time, we need to honor Him by accepting what He withholds from us instead of complaining and nagging. There are many Christians who will go to their graves never speaking in tongues. God does not consider this a problem. He cares about our hearts and how much we desire Him. We don’t get credit for the miracles He performs—we only get credit for how we respond to them. If the Spirit were to prompt you to speak in tongues tonight, would you be open to the idea? Would you be eager to honor Him with your obedience, even if you needed Him to help you through some embarrassing moments? Your heart is what God cares about. Every Christian needs to be open to Him doing anything through them: healing others, speaking in tongues, prophesying, etc. We don’t ever want to tell God that He can’t use us in some particular way because this is like saying His power is limited, and that is insulting.
WHY WOULD WE WANT TO SPEAK IN TONGUES IF THERE IS NO INTERPRETER?
Speaking in tongues can be done in private or in public. When God prompts you to say something, He wants obedience, no matter what language He’s having you speak in. Some people get so caught up they don’t even know that they spoke in tongues until it’s over and they see everyone staring at them. Sometimes God chooses to overwhelm us like this because He is saving us the trouble of wrestling with our flesh, which might panic at the thought of standing up and acting weird. Other times, people hear the Spirit prompting them to say something strange and they have to work up the courage to obey. As is often the case with obeying God, He doesn’t explain His reasons for asking us to speak in tongues ahead of time. We are supposed to obey simply because He is giving us an order. Suppose we do and no one else interprets our message. Or suppose we are alone and no one even hears what we’ve said. What’s the point?
We must remember that we can’t rely on our senses to tell us what is happening in this world. Just because no one speaks up in a crowd doesn’t mean that no one understood your message. When God speaks, He has a productive purpose in doing so. Someone somewhere is going to benefit from His message. It could be someone who is not going to stand up and share with the whole room. It could be that His message was only meant for one individual and He delivered it through you so the person would recognize the miracle and be all the more impacted. If you speak in tongues alone, you must remember that the spiritual realm of angels and demons are always watching us. It could be the message He gave you means something to them. It could be that He’s speaking His own praises through your lips just because He wants to. It could be an exercise in obeying—a warm up for future tongue speaking experiences in a public place. God always has good reasons for what He does, and if He involves you, then you can know there is some personal lesson to be gained. Always obey, and then ask the Holy Spirit to help you fully grasp whatever it is He wants to teach you.
In our relationship with God, we must get used to Him being the Leader and the Initiator in every area. We don’t want to rush off ahead of Him down some strange road simply because other Christians tell us that is where He will eventually take us. Let God set His own pace of growth in your life. Let Him determine what topics He wants to teach you about and what experiences He wants you to have. Honesty is essential in your relationship with Him: you can’t grow closer to Him as long as you are embracing deception in order to please people. Don’t try to fake tongues. Some people will advise you that you ought to start mumbling on your own at first to sort of grease the chutes—then the Holy Spirit will step in and start speaking for real. Such behavior is an attempt to lead God instead of submitting to His will in the moment. Don’t follow the advice of people in your relationship with God—you need to take any concerns you have directly to Him. If Satan has you fretting over your security with God because you don’t speak in tongues, then ask the Holy Spirit to show you the truth about your position with Him. Remember that when God has a problem with us, He convicts us with clear, specific, doable instructions for how we can correct the situation. God isn’t going to tell you that you’re not saved because He didn’t make some big external show out of the Spirit’s arrival in your being. Resting our security in externals is a trap that Satan tries to coax us into. God tells us to put our trust in His good Character and His faithfulness to us even when things don’t make sense on the outside. Remember that all power comes from God, and unless He performs a miracle, that miracle will be totally useless. Those who sit around faking tongues and encouraging others to do so simply so they can feel spiritually superior are trying God’s patience. Spiritual gifts are not something we grab off of a shelf—they are the property of God which He shares with us for temporary seasons as He sees fit. Spiritual gifts are not an indication of His approval or a badge of maturity. Instead they are opportunities to honor God which we want to make the most of. We honor God by seeking His direction on how to use any gift He gives us, and by desiring to see Him alone exalted in everything we do.