Speaking in Tongues

God has given us the gift to speak in a language we do not know by human means. This is a gift of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 12:10) and therefore of great help to us. Paul said: "Thank God, I speak in tongues more than any of you" (1 Cor 14:18). Through the gift of tongues, the Lord builds us up (1 Cor 14:4), enables us to utter "mysteries in the Spirit" (1 Cor 14:2), and empowers us to thank and praise Him (1 Cor 14:16-17). The gift of tongues is a sign, especially for unbelievers (1 Cor 14:22).


However, many turn up their noses at God's precious gift, as if we couldn't trust God to give us good gifts. I myself, in my pride, did not want the gift of tongues, but the Lord gently called me to repentance. A woman from our parish occasionally reminded me that I could speak in tongues. I disagreed with her, but she never gave me a chance to argue.

One time while praying the rosary, I felt so exhausted I prayed in tongues while the others answered with the second half of the prayers. I didn't know what I was saying, but I experienced an immediate burst of energy. God promised: "He who speaks in a tongue builds up himself" (1 Cor 14:4). Nevertheless, I didn't continue to pray in tongues but "prayed about it."

A woman from Hawaii gave me a present of a Hawaiian Bible. I thought she might be God's way of answering my prayer. Two words went through my mind. I mentioned these words to her without telling her where they came from. She told me these words meant "great wind" in Hawaiian. I knew "wind," "breath," and "Spirit" were the same word in the Bible. I was saying "great Spirit" in Hawaiian. This shocked me, and I spoke in tongues that evening in our prayer group. The language was interpreted, and I have been speaking in tongues ever since. God has broken through my stubbornness and pride. The most important aspect of the gift of tongues for many in our culture is that it challenges our pride.


I had accepted God's gift of tongues but was still confused about the interpretation of tongues. The Lord led me to an article that explained there are different "kinds of tongues" (see 1 Cor 12:10 in the Greek). Paul taught: "If there is no one to interpret, there should be silence in the assembly, each one speaking only to himself and to God" (1 Cor 14:28). Tongues are either interpreted for the upbuilding of the Church or are spoken only to ourselves and to God. This second kind of tongues is often called a "prayer language." It does not need to be interpreted since we are not speaking to human beings but to God, Who needs no interpretation (1 Cor 14:2).

I believe that any Christian can receive this personal prayer form of tongues (see Mk 16:17), although some do not because of ignorance and misunderstanding. The Holy Spirit, unlike the evil spirit, does not seek to manipulate us. He respects our freedom. Therefore, we must yield to His promptings. He will not force us to speak in tongues, just as He will not force us to speak in our native language. But the Spirit will take the lead and prompt us. We must respond by obeying and choosing to open our mouths. We speak in tongues the same way we speak in our native language. We speak in obedience to God.

For years, I did not speak in tongues because I had a double standard. I tried to speak in English in obedience to God, but I expected God to force any other language out of my mouth. I thought that, because I did not know what I was speaking in another tongue, God would have to make me speak rather than tell me to speak. God made it clear to me that whether or not I knew what I was saying was not the issue; obedience was. This was an important lesson for me to learn. It not only helped me pray in tongues but showed me the dynamics of life in the Spirit. The Spirit-filled life is not a matter of taking initiative but of obeying. Nor is it passively sitting there but actively responding. In the life in the Spirit, we never take the first step, but we should always respond to the first step of the Spirit.


After we have given our lives to Jesus as Lord and received the Holy Spirit, we begin to realize that the purpose of our existence is to praise the Lord (Eph 1:12). Most of our earthly life will pass away, but praising the Lord will last forever. Although praising Him is our heart's desire and our eternal destiny, we have difficulty living a life of praise.

1) Giving thanks is the beginning of praising the Lord. We enter His gates with thanksgiving in our hearts (Ps 100:4). Those who are not familiar with praising the Lord should begin by thanking Him.

2) We naturally move to praise from thanksgiving (Ps 100:4). We move from focusing on the works of God to the God of works. We come to realize He is worthy to be praised (Rv 5:12).

3) After thanking and praising the Lord for a few minutes, we run out of ways to express ourselves. Not that there isn't more to say in praise of God, but our consciousness, memory, and vocabulary are limited. When someone or something exceeds our ability to communicate, we usually try to extend our powers of communication by shouting or singing. We may even get into non-verbal forms of communication, such as clapping, dancing, and liturgical actions such as lifting our hands, genuflecting, bowing, etc.

4) But even if we have the best Biblical vocabulary and are free and talented enough to shout, sing, and dance; we cannot sustain praising God for more than a few minutes. We need the Spirit's gift of praising the Lord in another language, the gift of tongues (1 Cor 12:10). As with our native language, we form the words but the Lord provides the motivation. We pray in other tongues in obedience, simply because we believe the Lord is telling us to do so.

5) Although praying and singing in tongues is a quantum-leap forward in our praise-power, it is still limited. Finally, our praise in tongues turns to silence (Zeph 1:7; Rv 8:1). We are so aware of God's glory that we are rendered speechless. This type of profound silence after praise in tongues is the ultimate praise of God by a person on earth.


"A man who speaks in a tongue is talking not to men but to God. No one understands him, because he utters mysteries in the Spirit" (1 Cor 14:2). When we speak in tongues, we utter mysteries to God. We communicate at a level which is beyond our human capabilities. Our prayer life is revolutionized, and our relationship with the Lord is appreciably deepened. To understand this, we can look at the example of communication in marriage. On some occasions, a married couple is able to communicate on a much deeper level. This transforms their relationship and is fulfilling for each of the marriage partners. Likewise, praying in tongues moves our relationship with the Lord into a deeper dimension. As we grow in His love, we realize more and more the need for the gift of tongues.


Father, fill me with love for You and a desire to praise You. In Jesus' name, stir up the Holy Spirit in me to pray in another language. Remove all obstacles in the way of receiving this gift. May I pray in tongues daily for several minutes. Thank You. Amen.

You have asked and received. Now, thank and praise the Lord in your native language. Then obediently extend your expressions of love by praying in tongues.


Nihil obstat: Reverend Ralph J. Lawrence, October 11, 1997,
Imprimatur: † Most Reverend Carl K. Moeddel, Vicar General and Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, October 16, 1997.