The Gift of Prayer Tongues
When people are being prepared for the Baptism in the Spirit very often some may
have a lot of difficulties with the gift of "praying in tongues." What is this
gift that often makes it either an attractive sign of the New Life or a very
difficult obstacle? Although it must be clear to all that the Baptism in the
Spirit is not only (nor necessarily) about "praying in tongues", however it is
our hope that all may desire and receive this wonderful gift of prayer from our
The gift often arouses many fears and touches deep feelings within people.
Often, a participant can think to himself, "Lord, give me any other gift but
tongues," or "I don't see the value of that gift." These feelings often reflect
misunderstandings, fears or anxieties about this wonderful manifestation of
God's love and power. A very important distinction is often overlooked between
praying in tongues, which can be experienced by almost everyone, and the gift of
speaking in tongues, which when exercised has to be regulated and accompanied by
interpretation (1 Cor 14:27). Often in some Bible translations, the general term
"speaking in tongues" is used for both, but understanding the context of the
passage helps us to know whether the writer is referring to the Gift of prayer
tongues or the Gift of speaking in tongues. This distinction will become clearer
as you read on.....
1. What is "Praying in Tongues"?
Praying in tongues is a gift whereby the person prays to God in a language which
he does not know, by simply "yielding" to the action of the Holy Spirit. When
"praying in tongues," the person does not use his rational powers of memory or
intellect which are usually employed in talking or praying. He does use the
other faculties associated with speech -- the lips, the tongue and the vocal
cord. He is the one actually speaking out the words, but the words are inspired
by the Spirit. On the day of Pentecost: "All were filled with the Holy Spirit.
They began to express themselves in foreign tongues and make bold proclamation
as the Spirit prompted them." (Acts 4:2 / NAB).
2. What does "Praying in Tongues" sound like?
It may sound very different from what is commonly known and even strange, but
that is to be expected since it is a language unknown to the speaker and to
those around him. Praying in tongues, when first yielded to, usually sounds like
five or six words repeated in various ways. It is like a child who first learns
to talk: He first makes some sounds, then utters some syllables, then pronounces
some words, and finally speaks some sentences. In the same way, as a person
grows in exercising this gift, the prayer tongues usually lengthens and becomes
more fluent. Also after a while it may change and, on occasion, a new different
language is received.
3. Can a person decide when to start and stop praying in tongues?
Yes. Praying in tongues is totally under the person's control. He can decide
when he wishes to pray in tongues and when he wishes to stop; to pray silently,
quietly or loudly. Just as in other gifts of the Spirit the person exercising
the gift of prayer tongues can decide when and how to exercise it (what to say
is inspired by the Spirit) and he has the responsibility to ensure that it is
done appropriately and in order. "The spirits of the prophets are under their
prophets' control, since God is a God, not of confusion, but of peace." (1 Cor
14:32,33 / NAB).
4. Why is prayer tongues different from
other Charismatic gifts of ministry listed in, for example, 1 Cor. 12?
It is different for the following reasons:
a) It is meant primarily for the individual's own prayer life. "He who speaks in
a tongue [prays in tongues] edifies himself." (1 Cor 14:4 / RSV). This gift of
prayer is given to us so that we can pray "in the Spirit." "Pray at all times in
the Spirit with all prayer and supplication..." (Eph 6:18 / RSV). "But you,
beloved, build yourselves up on your most holy faith; pray in the Holy Spirit."
(Jude 20 / RSV). In talking about the gift of tongues St Paul indicates that he
also prays in tongues: "I will pray with the spirit and I will pray with the
mind also." (1 Cor 14:15 / RSV).
b) It seems to be a universal gift, so that, in general, it can be said that all
should be encouraged to yield to prayer tongues. St Paul is encouraging all
Christians to pray in tongues when he says, "Now I want you all to speak in
tongues..." (1 Cor 14:5 / RSV).
c) No limitations is placed on praying in tongues when it is used as the
corporate expression of worship. In the book of Acts, where various groups of
Christians were filled with the Spirit and began to speak in tongues, there were
no restrictions or limitations placed on this free expression of worship. (Acts
2:4; 10:46; 19:6). All received the Spirit and were praying in tongues out loud
and at the same time. It was corporate praise: worshipping and praying in
Speaking in tongues and the other Charismatic gifts of ministry, in contrast:
a) Are meant for the good of others. "To each is given the manifestation of the
Spirit for the common good." (1 Cor 12:7 / RSV).
b) These gifts of ministry are spread throughout the Church, with different
ministries given to each. "All these [gifts] are inspired by one and the same
Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as He wills." (1 Cor 12:11 /
c) Speaking a message in tongues must be regulated in a gathering: "If any speak
in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn; and let
one interpret." (1 Cor 14:27 / RSV). And the message must be interpreted (using
the Gift of Interpretation).
5. Most people think that the "Gift of Tongues" at Pentecost was used by the
Apostles to teach. Is praying in tongues different from what the Apostles did at
On the contrary, praying in tongues is what the Apostles really did on the first
Pentecost. Most people do not realize that two distinct manifestations of the
Holy Spirit occurred on Pentecost, the first was the gift of prayer tongues and
the second was really a "miracle of hearing."
a) Acts 2:4 reads: "All were filled with the Holy Spirit. They began to express
themselves in foreign tongues and make bold proclamation as the Spirit prompted
them." (NAB). At this point, the gift of tongues was not used to teach, but to
praise God, since no one was present to hear.
b) The second manifestation at Pentecost occurred when the large crowd gathered.
"They were much confused because each one heard these men speaking in his own
language" (Acts 2:6 / NAB). This could either have been a "miracle of hearing"
or, perhaps, the disciples were speaking in tongues that the bystanders happened
6. Did Christ ever speak about "praying in tongues"?
In Mark 16:17, Jesus makes the following allusion to tongues: "And these signs
will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they
will speak in new tongues." (RSV). Scripture scholars seem to believe that these
words reflected the experience of the post-Pentecostal Church rather than a
personal teaching of Jesus. The passage, though, is still considered inspired.
7. When a person prays in tongues, is he actually speaking a language?
a) Prayer tongues are not gibberish as some believe, that is, noises unrelated
to a language. Prayer tongues have all the qualities usually associated with a
language -- accents, patterns, cadence, etc...and the person praying in tongues
has the subjective experience of speaking a language.
b) The Scriptures indicate the possibility that praying in tongues can be either
a known language or some form of "angelic speech." St Paul says, "If I speak in
the tongues of men and of angels...." (1 Cor 13:1 / RSV). And he also says, "For
one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God, for no one understands
him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit." (1 Cor 14:2 / RSV). So prayer
tongues can be in a language known to men, or in an ancient language that has
been forgotten, or even in "tongues of angels."
c) There are numerous cases of people who prayed in an unknown tongue which were
later confirmed by someone else in the meeting to be a language known.
8. So...why should I pray in tongues???
Here is a summary of important points:
a) It is a spiritual gift from God to build up your faith. (1 Cor 14:4)
b) It is an effective means of intercessory prayer, especially when the person
does not know exactly for what to pray. (Rom 8:26; 1 Cor 14:14).
c) It helps the individual to fulfill Christ's command to pray always "in the
Spirit". (Eph 6:18).
d) It is the doorway to receiving other charismatic gifts of ministry -- the use
of prayer tongues somehow sensitizes the person to yield to other charismatic
activity of the Spirit. Tongues is called "the least of the gifts". As we learn
to be open and faithful in little things, God will entrust us with more.
e) The Gift of Tongues is the unique spiritual gift identified with the New
Testament. Other gifts (Healing, Prophecy, etc...) were evident also in the Old
Testament. On the day of Pentecost, this new phenomenon came into evidence and
became uniquely identified with the Church. We should desire the fullness of the
Pentecostal experience, all that God wants to give us.
f) St Paul encourages all to have this gift (1 Cor 14:5) and that the gift
should not be forbidden (1 Cor 14:39).
g) It is a gift of prayer to help us worship God "in spirit and in truth".
Especially when it is expressed in melodic (musical) form this "singing in the
Spirit" can really lift up our souls. "I will sing with the spirit and I will
sing with the mind also." (1 Cor 14:15 / RSV). "...be filled with the Spirit,
addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and
making melody to the Lord with all your heart." (Eph 5:18,19 / RSV)
9. Can I receive the Baptism in the Spirit without receiving the gift of prayer
We encourage everyone seeking to be filled with the Holy Spirit to desire for
the gift of prayer tongues. Those who ask the question, "Do I have to pray in
tongues?" make it sound as if they are being asked to swallow an unpleasant dose
of medicine. Their question indicates they believe tongues is something to be
endured rather than enjoyed! Praying in tongues is a blessed experience! It is a
joy and a privilege to be able to communicate with the Lord in a new and
Very often the question or the way you ask is the answer you will get:
Question: Must I pray in tongues when I am baptized in the Spirit?
Answer: No! Of course you don't have to.
Question: Can I pray in tongues when I am baptized in the Spirit?
Answer: Yes! Of course you can.
We encourage all to ask not the first question but the second.
[This article is compiled by Edmund Ang,
The Burning Bush Charismatic Prayer Group.
References: "A Key to Charismatic Renewal in the Catholic Church" by Fr. Vincent
M. Walsh ; "A Handbook on Tongues, Interpretation & Prophecy" by Don Basham.
Scripture Quotations: NAB, New American Bible; RSV, Revised Standard Version].