Have you ever heard someone speak in tongues? What are tongues anyway?
Before we get any further along in my story with tongues, I’m going to run through a quick crash course so we’re all on the same page as best as we can be.
It’s in the Bible. Acts 2 is the first time tongues were spoken, on the day of the Pentecost, when the apostles “were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Acts 2:4).
Now most people, I feel, have the conception in mind that tongues are some entirely unintelligible thing — they might even think it’s a secret language. But the gift of tongues can also be the Spirit-given ability to speak a human language the speaker doesn’t know, to spread the gospel to someone else in his own language as in the example in Acts (Acts 2:11).
Finally, tongues should be translated for the edification of the whole church (1 Corinthians 14:27), must be orderly in worship (1 Corinthians 14:27-28), peace-bringing (1 Corinthians 14:33) and glorifying to God.
Full disclosure: I grew up in a Pentecostal church. But that meant I had weekly court-side seats to good examples of tongues being spoken and tongues being interpreted.
In weekly worship as a child, upon the end of the last song, a person with the gift would usually begin speaking in tongues to the congregation. He or she would be proclaiming unintelligible words for about thirty seconds. Then my Pastor would stand up to interpret whatever it was that person said — and I would be in awe because I didn’t understood a word until the translation.
How did she understand what the person was saying? How did she remember all that was said? I just couldn’t wrap my head around it.
But I was deeply impacted by tongues — I wanted it. Most of my family could speak in tongues. But for some reason it just never came to me or one of my sisters. Frankly speaking, I wanted the gift solely for the childish reason that it would be cool to have.
By the time I was in my preteens, I had already been trying to “receive” it for a few years — almost as if it was a problem of not praying or trusting God enough. I had gone up for altar calls, I had been anointed multiple times, had hands laid on me by many a visiting preacher … But it just wasn’t happening.
Looking back, I realise I was stumbled as a child, while no one explained to me what was going on. Tongues just became, to me, a Christian thing that (for some inexplicable reason) wasn’t part of my experience of faith.
So as I wasn’t getting what I wanted and tried for, I settled for an uneasy acceptance of God’s sovereignty in this area.
Fast forward to my young adult years: I’m somewhere between earnest desire and wistful jesting on the whole “tongues thing”.
I admit that’s just my tendency – when something makes me feel bad, my personal coping mechanism is to find a way to laugh about it.
But the one thing that constantly bothered me were fellow believers who would start speaking in tongues disruptively, at times that would be distracting. I still struggle to find peace with this.
The truth is, I still believe that tongues are a beautiful gift. But as humans do with most things, some of us might be guilty of making it our own thing.
Far be it from me to overlook all the other gifts He’s given me just to covet one.
It broke my heart when I learnt that a friend left her church because she just couldn’t speak in tongues after years of trying. I’ve been there and it sucks. No believer should have to feel like a second-class Christian just for their inability to speak in tongues, or made to wonder if there’s something wrong with them.
What I am realising is that we cannot miss the point about tongues or any other spiritual gift for that matter. It’s not about you. It’s for the common good (1 Corinthians 12:7) of believers and to build up the church (1 Corinthians 14:12). It must be orderly (1 Corinthians 14:40) and it must glorify God.
I still don’t speak in tongues. But now I’m neither proud nor ashamed of that. It’s just the way it is, and that’s okay.
I’ve repented of occasionally making fun of the gift of tongues. It’s just as uncool as making fun of prophecies or healing, and I don’t want to be that guy.
Ultimately, the sovereign God apportions spiritual gifts to each believer as He wills (1 Corinthians 12:11). So no longer will I sit in the seat of mockers, and far be it from me to overlook all the other gifts He’s given me just to covet one.
Whatever our gifts may be, we must display unity in the Body of Christ. May our gifts build us up as a church, glorifying God to the utmost as we lift Him up to the nations.
Have an insight into the gift of tongues? We’d love to hear them – just drop us an email with your thoughts.