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Demystifying speaking in tongues

By James Fields

We can’t read the Book of Acts and avoid the subject of speaking in tongues. The word tongues means languages. Basically, the Holy Spirit’s powerful presence enabled Jesus’ followers to speak to God in languages they had never learned.

Acts 2:4 shows 120 followers of Jesus filled with the Holy Spirit and speaking in tongues.

Acts 10 records Peter’s ministry to a group of non-Christians in Cornelius’ home. These people received Jesus as their personal Savior and then spoke in tongues when the Holy Spirit came upon them (see Acts 10:45,46).

Then we read about the apostle Paul’s visit to a city in Turkey named Ephesus. There he met 12 followers of John the Baptist who accepted Jesus as their Lord. Subsequently, “When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied” (Acts 19:6, NIV).

Speaking in tongues was a part of the early Christians’ experience. What’s it all about?

Speaking in tongues is an act of the human spirit apart from the human mind.

The apostle Paul declared, “If I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful. … I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my mind; I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my mind” (1 Corinthians 14:14,15). So, the speaking in tongues recorded in Acts 2, 10 and 19 describes people who spoke to God from their spirits. Speaking in tongues is simply speaking from the human spirit in languages unknown to the mind of the speaker. It’s that simple.

Speaking in tongues lets us address God from our spirits when our minds don’t know what to say.

Paul pointed out, “Anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God” (1 Corinthians 14:2). You see, speaking in tongues is primarily (though not exclusively) for addressing God from the human spirit.

When the human spirit yearns to describe our appreciation of God and our love for Him, it hits a roadblock. We feel love for God and want to utter our affection for Him, but our restricted vocabulary prevents us from saying what we feel. As a result, the Holy Spirit makes His unlimited vocabulary available to our spirits, and we speak forth adoration for God that surpasses our mental block.

Tongues is a cooperative language.

God’s Spirit yearns to work in and through His children, but He refuses to force His will on us. God works with people who willingly cooperate with the Lord’s desires. For example, we were born again by the power of the Holy Spirit only after we submitted to Jesus’ lordship. We cooperated with the Holy Spirit before He transformed us into God’s children.

So it is with speaking languages He inspires. The Holy Spirit never forces us to speak in languages our minds don’t know. On the other hand, He makes His unlimited vocabulary available for born-again believers willing to speak from the human spirit.

Notice the emphasis of Acts 2:4: “Everyone present was filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in other languages, as the Holy Spirit gave them this ability” (NLT). The Holy Spirit gave them this ability as the people surrendered their vocal mechanisms to Him.

Pouring forth our love for God in languages provided by the Holy Spirit is a miracle that is not mysterious. We belong to the God of miracles who unhesitatingly injects miracles into the lives of all His children.

Jesus promised that the Heavenly Father willingly gives the Holy Spirit to those who ask for Him (see Luke 11:13). After asking the Father for the Holy Spirit baptism, respond by choosing to speak. The God of miracles will act in your behalf and enable you to praise Him in a language supplied by Him.

JAMES FIELDS and his wife, Delores, are co-founders of Comfort and Encouragement Ministries based in Corpus Christi, Texas.

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