Friday, February 25, 2011

Learning How to Speak in Tongues

Does it make sense to learn how to speak in tongues? How can we know for sure that tongues are really from the Spirit of God and not simply from random movements of our own mouths? Although I've been pondering and praying about this for several months now, my mind is not completely settled on what to think. But, I can tell you that at the present moment, I believe that speaking in tongues is something that Christians should pursue. It's such a foreign concept to so many Christians that perhaps it could be helpful if I share my experiences so far. Feel free to share your own experiences or to ask questions below by posting a comment!

How I "Learned" to Speak in Tongues

When I first started exploring the topic of speaking in tongues, I battled with a lot of skepticism. I grew up with the idea that there wasn't any substance to "speaking in tongues," but that the phenomenon was merely an outflow of heightened emotion. Plus, I didn't have any Christian mentors in my established Christian community who endorsed speaking in tongues, put aside actually doing it themselves. However, after hearing testimony after testimony of people's lives being changed through supernatural encounters with God (accompanied by speaking in tongues), I felt as though my faith was strong enough to invite the Holy Spirit to fill me in whatever capacity He would. I remember praying this on a handful of occasions without any apparent result, but it caused me to go deeper in my investigation and I didn't give up.

One day (after several weeks), I prayed for the Spirit of God to fill me and to make it evident through my speaking in tongues, and three words came to my mind. I spoke them to my husband, who was with me at the time. We looked up the words, and they were Hebrew words. Later that day, a few more words came to me in the same fashion, and they also were Hebrew. Although this was intriguing, it still didn't convince me 100% that these words were actually from God's Spirit. Besides, it didn't seem to me that speaking in tongues should be so painstakingly slow and difficult!

Well, that was all for awhile. But several days later, I prayed to God saying, "Father, please teach me how to submit to your Spirit and speak in tongues!" And then I started speaking in tongues--very slowly. I spoke just a word or two at a time, as I waited to "hear" the words in my mind before speaking them. But I persisted and spoke whatever came to my mind for about 5 or 10 minutes in a row. "Lord, is this really what speaking in tongues is like? It sure doesn't seem like it should be like this," I said.

I had heard testimonies where people started speaking in tongues with just a syllable or two. But I didn't see any evidence of that sort of thing from Scripture, so I was skeptical and wondered whether this was simply a process of fooling oneself into learning how to speak fluent gibberish. I struggled with this, and I still struggle with it somewhat, especially when some Christians whole-heartedly teach that speaking in tongues is of the devil. But, I felt in my heart that there was something good about pursuing tongues, so I continued to do so. For I know that my Father in heaven gives good things to those who ask Him (Matthew 7:11).

After multiple "episodes" of speaking in tongues in a slow, painstaking manner, I again asked the Lord to teach me how to speak according to His Spirit. A few weeks ago, I had the thought that I didn't have to work so hard, and that I just needed to let go and quit over-analyzing everything that came out of my mouth. So, one day while I was in my house by myself, I just started speaking. I didn't "hear" any words in my mind. I just started speaking. It was flowing and natural, not painstaking and slow. I even spoke with emotion, although I didn't know what I was saying. Perhaps this is what the Apostle Paul is talking about when he says, "For if I speak in tongues, my spirit is praying, but I don't understand what I am saying" (1 Corinthians 14:14, NLT). Does Paul conclude that he shouldn't speak in tongues because he can't understand what he is saying? No--in fact, he says that he will pray and sing in tongues as well as with his mind (vs. 15). He says later that he is glad to speak in tongues more than anyone in the Corinthian church (vs. 18)!

Ever since that day when I first spoke "fluently" in tongues, it has been effortless for me to choose to speak in this fashion. On one occasion, I spoke in tongues for more than an hour and was intrigued to hear how the language shifted from sounding like Hebrew to a Romance language to an African language to something like Chinese. But even with this experience, I still have a little shadow of doubt concerning whether the words are truly from God's Spirit.

Recently, I came across a transcript of an interview with Sid Roth about supernatural languages here. Surprisingly, he once had the same shadow of doubt that I have. He spoke with words he didn't understand, but later he thought that perhaps he just made it all up. Sid then talks about the day when all his doubts disappeared. He prayed in tongues over a pregnant woman whose baby died in utero, and a Rabbi standing nearby informed Sid that he prophesied in an ancient form of Hebrew that the baby was with God and that she need not worry. From that day forward, he never doubted that tongues were from the Spirit of God!

I will keep pursuing God about supernatural languages, but an outside confirmation would sure be a huge faith-builder for me. Hopefully I will have the faith to speak in tongues in a situation where God could give me that sign of confirmation! It will take courage! But He is the one who gives me strength, and with God, nothing is impossible. God, please keep growing my heart to be more like Yours.



  1. Hi, Rachel. I'm curious about what got you interested in speaking in tongues.

    It seems like speaking in tongues would be most useful if someone listening could interpret it (or if you could interpret it yourself).

    I know you quoted from 1 Corinthians 14, but I don't read it as Paul enthusiastically supporting speaking in tongues. Rather, I read it as Paul saying that speaking in tongues shouldn't be your main goal.

    1 Corinthians 14:14-19
    14) For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful. 15) So what shall I do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my understanding; I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my understanding. 16) Otherwise when you are praising God in the Spirit, how can someone else, who is now put in the position of an inquirer, say “Amen” to your thanksgiving, since they do not know what you are saying? 17) You are giving thanks well enough, but no one else is edified.

    18) I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. 19) But in the church I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue.

  2. If Paul wasn't enthusiastic about praying in tongues, then why was he happy that he prayed in tongues "more than all of you", and why does he instruct us in Ephesians to "pray in the Spirit on all occasions" (also see Jude 20)?

    I believe Paul's point here in this passage is that in a setting where believers are gathered together, certain activities are more beneficial for building everyone up than others. That's why Paul says that the person who prophesies is greater than the one speaking in tongues *unless* someone interprets.

    I gather from Scripture that "speaking in tongues" is not only valuable if it is interpreted (1 Cor. 14:5) or used as a sign to unbelievers (Mark 16:17), but that it is also useful--if not more so--for building up the individual speaking (1 Cor. 14:4).

    Another interesting thought slightly off topic: Paul says in 1 Cor. 13:1, "If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or clanging cymbal." By implication, then, Paul indicates that he speaks both in the tongues of men and in the tongues of angels. We can then infer that "speaking in tongues" (or "praying in the Spirit") might not necessarily contain human language. In fact, we may expect that when a believer "speaks in a tongue" he/she speaks in a "heavenly language", as Paul says that a person speaking in a tongue utters mysteries by the Spirit and no person understands what is said (1 Cor. 14:2). I'm not going to say that "speaking in tongues" *always* occurs in a heavenly or angelic language... I'm just saying that it shouldn't be surprising if the language happens not to be an earthly language 100% of the time.

    For an interesting perspective on speaking in tongues, read this article: