Speaking in Tongues

1 When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. 5 Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. 6 When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. 7 Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? 9 Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs – we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” 12 Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”  (Acts 2:1-12)
1 Follow the way of love and eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit, especially prophecy. 2 For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to people but to God. Indeed, no one understands them; they utter mysteries by the Spirit. 3 But the one who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouraging and comfort. 4 Anyone who speaks in a tongue edifies themselves, but the one who prophesies edifies the church. 5 I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be 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.  (1 Corinthians 14:1-19)
We saw yesterday that there were four signs on the Day of Pentecost that God was finally fulfilling his promise to fill all his followers with the Holy Spirit. Two of them are never recorded again in Scripture. The sound of rushing “wind” and the sight of flames of “fire” were one-off signs that a new era had begun for humanity and that it was time for the church to move out of lockdown. The other two signs are not just mentioned on the Day of Pentecost, but are repeated in Scripture thereafter. Being filled with the Holy Spirit stirs and empowers people to speak in tongues and worship freely.

The phrase ‘speaking in tongues’ is actually Old English. It simply means ‘speaking in languages’ that we do not have to learn. The Holy Spirit in our own spirit empowers us to pray and praise God using his words rather than our own. If we read Acts 2 slowly, it is clear that these hundred and twenty believers in Jerusalem were not granted miraculous tongues in order to preach to the crowds. The crowds merely overheard them “declaring the wonders of God” in languages they had not learned. They were granted the gift of tongues by the Holy Spirit in order to help them pray and worship God – the conversion of the crowds was simply a wonderful side-effect of this! The Apostle Paul teaches a similar emphasis in 1 Corinthians 14, where he points out that the gift of tongues is the only gift of the Spirit that is given us in order to help us to build up ourselves, rather than to build up the church. He tells the Corinthians not to show off that they have the gift when they are with one another, but instead to make sure that they exercise the gift each day on their own. He boasts that he speaks in tongues more than any of them, and he encourages them to follow his example. It’s amazing that God’s Spirit has come to help us pray and praise him!

Many of the Christian leaders who have helped to shape Everyday Church over the years have done as Paul encourages us. Just the other day, in one of our 8am prayer gatherings on Zoom, somebody shared that speaking in tongues is the gift that God gives us in order to fan the other gifts into flame. As we allow God’s Spirit to empower us to speak in languages we have not learned, we create a clear channel through which the other gifts can also flow. Here is one testimony from Jackie Pullinger, a Croydon girl who became a missionary to Hong Kong and to China, taken from her best-selling book ‘Chasing the Dragon’:
“Who do they think they are?’ I thought, when I first heard about the Willans. An American couple, their young daughter Suzanne and companion Gail Castle had just arrived in Hong Kong and were going to start a prayer meeting. ‘What a cheek! Hong Kong doesn’t need another one. I’m already going to one of these every day of the week. Anyway, they’ve only just come – they should wait to see the church situation first.’ It was two years since I had left England – a year since I had supposedly received the ‘gift of the Spirit’. I felt quite an authority on prayer meetings in the Colony. But my clarinet pupil’s mother – Clare Harding – urged me to go, saying that it would be charismatic. This new term described a meeting where they expected the various gifts of the Spirit – charisma – to be manifested. ‘Well, I’ll just go for a few weeks until I’ve learned all about it – then I’ll go back to the other meetings,’ I told Clare. And so I was introduced to Rick and Jean Stone Willans. 
“‘Do you pray in tongues, Jackie?’ I was shocked by Jean's American forthrightness. No English person would be that direct. ‘Well, no actually. I haven’t found it that useful. I don’t get anything out of it so I’ve stopped.’ It was a relief to discuss it with someone. But Jean would not be sympathetic. ‘That’s very rude of you,’ she said. ‘It’s not a gift of emotion – it’s a gift of the Spirit. You shouldn't despise the gifts God has given you. The Bible says he who prays in tongues will be built up spiritually, so never mind what you feel – do it.’ Then she and Rick made me promise to pray daily in my heavenly language. They insisted that the Holy Spirit was given in power to the Early Church to make them effective witnesses to the risen Christ. Then to my horror they suggested we pray together in tongues. I was not sure if this was all right since the Bible said that people should not all speak aloud in tongues at the same time. They explained that St. Paul was referring to a public meeting where an outsider coming in would think everyone was crazy; we three would not be offending anyone, and would be praying to God in the languages He gave us. I could not get out of it. We prayed and I felt silly saying words I did not understand. I felt hot. And then to my consternation they stopped praying while I felt impelled to continue. I knew already that this gift, although holy, is under our control; I could stop or start at will. I would have done anything not to be praying out loud in a strange language in front of strange Americans, but just as I thought I would die of self-consciousness God said to me, ‘Are you willing to be a fool for My sake?’ I gave in. ‘All right, Lord – this doesn't make sense to me, but since You invented it, it must be a good gift, so I’ll go ahead in obedience and You teach me how to pray.’ After we finished praying Jean said she understood what I had said. God had given her the interpretation. She translated. But it was beautiful; my heart was yearning for the Lord and calling as from the depths of a valley stream to the mountain tops for Him. I loved Him and worshipped Him and longed for Him to use me. It was in language so much more explicit and glorious than any I could have formulated. I decided that if God helped me to pray like that when I was praying in tongues, then I would never despise this gift again. I accepted that he was helping me to pray perfectly.
Every day – as I had promised the Willans – I prayed in the language of the Spirit. Fifteen minutes by the clock. I still felt it to be an exercise. Before praying in the Spirit I said, ‘Lord, I don't know how to pray, or whom to pray for. Will You pray through me – and will You lead me to the people who want You.’ And I would begin my fifteen-minute stint. After about six weeks I noticed something remarkable. Those I talked to about Christ believed. I could not understand it at first and wondered how my Chinese had so suddenly improved, or if I had stumbled on a splendid new evangelistic technique. But I was saying the same things as before. It was some time before I realized what had changed. This time I was talking about Jesus to people who wanted to hear. I had let God have a hand in my prayers and it produced a direct result. Instead of my deciding what I wanted to do for God and asking His blessing I was asking Him to do His will through me as I prayed in the language He gave me. Now I found that person after person wanted to receive Jesus. I could not be proud – I could only wonder that God let me be a small part of His work.”
  1. Do you ever pray in tongues?
  2. If not, would you like to? Why not ask the Lord to help you to step into that gift right now, then begin praying?
  3. If you are already growing in the gift of tongues, is it a gift that you use often? Why not conduct the same experiment with God that Jackie Pullinger did in Hong Kong? You will be surprised what happens next if you do!
Father God, I thank you that the gift of tongues is real and that you have given me this gift as part of being filled with your Holy Spirit. Please help me to step more and more into that gift each day. I want to be empowered to declare your wonders in other languages, as your Spirit leads me in prayer and praise. I want to be built up in my spirit by this gift through your Spirit, so please help me to step into it today. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Today’s Everyday Devotions were brought to you by Phil Moore, who leads our team of whole-church elders.
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