The Holy Spirit, the gift of tongues, and my experience

It was all-night prayer, a time of deep prayer and worship from evening to morning at Christian Cultural Center, one of the best times that I experience in the presence of God. I often speak with passion about the importance of our intimacy with God, and all-night prayer magnifies that passion for me.

I love praying throughout the night, but there’s always a special time set apart for believers to receive the gift of tongues, which always made me leery. Some call it the baptism of the Holy Spirit, which I still have qualms about, because I don’t believe tongues are the main evidence. Anyways, whenever this part of the service would come up and the minister would invite believers to come forward to receive the gift of tongues, I would remain firmly at my seat.

To briefly describe what tongues are, in 1 Corinthians 12 we read about how the Holy Spirit distributes His gifts to the body of Christ. From the gift of wisdom, to prophecy, knowledge, healing, and more, the Holy Spirit gives them to us in order to encourage and build us up as believers. Tongues is a specific gift that enables someone to speak in a language that they did not learn or understood before speaking it.

For a long time I wrestled with the gift of tongues, not because I didn’t believe that they were real, but because I really desired for the gift to be used biblically. There’s a variety of perspectives on tongues, ranging from it being a prayer language, to all tongues outside of speaking other known languages is gibberish. It’s easy to get lost in all of the debate.

So instead of going up, I usually stayed in my seat. However, this time was different. When the call came up to receive the gift of tongues, I decided to walk up there, in spite of what I was feeling. As I was prayed over and anointed with oil, I didn’t try and say words out loud in order to “start the process,” I just stayed there and worshipped calmly. If it was real, it was going to happen without me having to “practice.”

As I worshipped, my tongue and mouth began to move as I spoke in tongues for the first time! It was a tender moment filled with peace as I spoke words that I didn’t think of beforehand.

It has been a little over a year that I’ve spoken in tongues, and as I reflect on this experience, I think about the work of the Spirit and how He works in the Church. I’ve been a Christian for over 20 years, since the age of 5, and it took me till the age of 30 to receive this gift.

I wrestled for many years with my perspective on this, and even after I spoke in tongues, my walk with the Lord has had a different dynamic with it. I accepted that the Holy Spirit gave believers all the gifts, including tongues, yet I never experienced the comfort or desire to receive it myself.

I remember when the Lord spoke to me in 2007 at Nyack College as He said, “I have given you the gift of wisdom.” That was easy to accept and walk in, but to receive the gift of tongues? Well, that would open up debates about whether this was of God or not, even within myself. Would I be able to take someone accusing me or anyone who speaks in tongues that we’re speaking gibberish? For me, I felt it was better that I didn’t find out.

All of those questions, the wrestling, and even the fears were no match for what the Spirit wanted to do. After my first time speaking in tongues, it was surreal as I continued to speak whenever I would be in prayer and worship, where I would hear the syllables and inflections become more defined over time.

Inwardly, I feel a warmth right above my belly, and on my tongue I would feel that there were words ready to come out that I didn’t intentionally think about. Sometimes it’s hard to explain, but one thing that was important was that it was never forced, which I love.

If you’re reading this, and it hasn’t been your experience, I do want to point out that as great as this and every other gift of the Spirit is, that God’s ultimate desire is that we display the fruit of the Spirit in our lives. No amount of tongues, healings, words of wisdom and knowledge, etc., can replace the need for it. Below are the nine qualities of this fruit:

  1. Love
  2. Joy
  3. Peace
  4. Patience
  5. Gentleness
  6. Kindness
  7. Faithfulness
  8. Goodness
  9. Self-control

If we are not rooted and grounded in the love of Christ, where this fruit is produced, then nothing else in our lives would matter in the end. I’ve learned this far too well, as I’ve experienced my need for growth and to love like Jesus, even after speaking in tongues. Many mistakes and shortcomings about myself have been revealed since that moment.

Speaking in tongues doesn’t make you and I more spiritual than any other believer, it’s a display of the power of the Spirit in the life of a believer. But power is not all that is needed, since gifts alone don’t produce growth, like spiritual fruit will. If I speak in any language, yet lack the language of His love, then I lack everything.

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