Over the years, I have watched as one of the beautiful gifts God has given to us became a point of division, strife, or struggle for many people. There have actually been whole denominations formed over controversies regarding this gift. Is it THE evidence of the baptism of the Holy Spirit? Do you have to speak in tongues to be filled with the Holy Spirit? People have quit churches, split churches, and started new churches over these issues. Sadly, some people have lived with feelings of spiritual inferiority, because no matter how hard they tried they just couldn’t get their prayer language. Evidently, even in the early church of Corinth controversy and confusion surrounded the use or misuse of tongues in their public setting.
As a believer and Pastor for over 40 years, I must humbly admit that I still have many questions about speaking in tongues. In 1 Corinthians 14:5, I read the Apostle Paul say, “I would that you all spoke in tongues…” (NIV). In fact, it seemed normative that people in the New Testament who were prayed for to receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit did speak in tongues. However, I also read Paul saying, “Are all prophets? Are all teachers?... Do all speak in tongues?” (I Corinthians 12:29-30 NIV). This implies that the answer is “no”, not all in the Corinthian church spoke in tongues.
Because there is a clear example of the early Christians receiving the gift of their prayer language (tongues) when they were prayed for to receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit, I have always felt I should include a teaching and explanation on what “speaking in tongues” means. Speaking in tongues is speaking in a language from God through our spirit as an expression of prayer and worship. It is a language not understood by our natural mind. In other words, it is not a language we already know and speak. It edifies our spirit helping us pray when we don’t know what to pray or feel inadequate to pray naturally. It helps us pray what needs to be prayed or to worship the way our heart longs to worship. It needs to be accompanied by the interpretation if it is a message spoken to the people for their edification (1 Cor. 14:2).
As with most who operate in this gift, I can’t overstate how much of a blessing and a benefit the operation of this gift has been in my life. For me, it is a daily life line of communication with God and has been a way of seeing God do miraculous things in and through my life. It is both because of Scripture and my experience that I want to encourage people to desire, be open, and even expectant to receive and flow in this gift.
At the same time, I know of so many beautiful Spirit-filled Christians who haven’t had the release of this gift in their life. Yet, they beautifully illustrate what Ephesians 5:18-20 talks about when it says “…be filled with the Holy Spirit speaking to yourselves in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, making melody in your heart to the Lord” (KJV). In their case, the “spiritual songs” don’t include singing in tongues; yet, they fully worship in the Spirit. They often have as beautiful or even a more beautiful relationship with the Holy Spirit than others who speak in tongues. They sense His help, guidance, strength and operate in other gifts that He gives.
Consequently, in my mind, “not getting hung up on speaking in tongues” means two things.
First, refuse to receive any sense of failure or inferiority because you have never spoken in tongues. Please continue to press in and grow in appreciation of the Presence of the Holy Spirit in a daily way. Continually cultivate a deeper awareness of Him in your life; whether that is through worship, prayer, studying God’s Word, or just leaning in and praying “Come Holy Spirit”. Ask Him to empower you to have insight, words, or ability beyond your own in every situation in life. At the same time, dial in and operate in whatever gifts He obviously is giving you; such as, encouragement, prophecy, giving, leadership, teaching, evangelism…
Second, don’t fall victim to the mentality that Paul talked about in I Corinthians 12 that says, “because I’m not an eye…” an ear, an Adam’s apple, or whatever, I am, therefore, a “lesser part of the Body.” You and your gifts are every bit as significant, and needed, as those who have gifts that are different than yours (I Cor. 12:15-17).
At the same time, could I urge you to remain open to the possibility that the Holy Spirit might yet want to release this gift in you? Richael Brown, one of our Pastors, was just telling me that it was 8 years after the first time she was prayed for to be baptized in the Holy Spirit and asked for a prayer language before she received it. In my experience in ministry this is normal; in fact, more often than not people don’t receive their prayer language the first time they ask. I believe it is very Scriptural to believe you have all the gifts in you because the Holy Spirit is in you. Just because you haven’t discovered a channel on your TV yet doesn’t mean it’s not there.
If you haven’t had hands laid on you to be prayed for to receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit, please consider doing this. There are many Scriptural examples in the book of Acts (Acts 8:12-17, etc.) and in a description by Paul of a time he did this for his spiritual son Timothy. Paul exhorted Timothy to “fan into flame” the gift he had received when Paul laid his hands on him (2 Timothy 1:6 NLT). If you have been prayed for once, it is also OK to get prayed for again and again. In the context of speaking about receiving the Holy Spirit, Jesus encouraged us to ask, seek, and knock. The verb used connotates, [keep] asking, seeking, and knocking “…for how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him” (Luke 11:9-13 NLT).
Finally, I would encourage you as you pray about this or get prayed for, seek to demystify the experience. Sometimes the expectation has been built up to be one of being “zapped with a thousand volts of electricity.” While that might have been the experience of a few, most people receive a prayer language in a very subdued and simple way; that is, switching gears from their native language to speaking with the Holy Spirit effortlessly. Richael mentioned that when her spiritual language was released, the lady who prayed for her simply asked her to look and, in the context of prayer and worship, had her repeat a syllable like “ti ti ti ti...”. That was like a launch pad for Richael to plug into the language the Spirit was releasing in her spirit. Millions of people have experienced in a personal moment or in the context of a worship service, simply feeling their heart warmed with an awareness of the Spirit in worship. Then, they took a step of faith to free float words that were forming from within. They describe what felt like the uncorking of something in their heart that began to flow freely.
Whatever does or doesn’t happen in this regard, let us all agree that an intimate and growing relationship with the Holy Spirit is an indisputable essential necessity to experiencing and growing in all that God has for us. Let us earnestly desire the Holy Spirit and His gifts; pressing in every way we know how to live more aware of Him, more filled with Him, and more used by Him.