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Praying in the spirit

THIS week we want to deal with perhaps one of the most controversial subjects in the Christian faith — that of praying in the spirit, commonly known as speaking in tongues.


The major questions around this issue include whether or not tongues are for today; or whether or not they should be spoken in a public assembly if there is no one to interpret; or whether or not they should be spoken at all.

I know there are many Christians who don’t believe in speaking in tongues, and maybe you are one of them. In the New Testament, our Lord Jesus was the first person to speak about this subject. Mark 16:17: “And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues…”

Tongues simply refer to languages. But scripturally, the catch is that these languages are supernaturally given to a believer by the Holy Spirit such that they are able to speak in a language they have never learnt or studied and would otherwise never be able to speak.

In his landmark book, The Walk of the Spirit, the Walk of Power (The Vital Role of Speaking in Tongues), Dave Roberson writes: “Have you ever noticed that people who don’t speak with other tongues usually don’t operate in the other gifts of the Spirit either? On the other hand, people who do speak with tongues are more apt to operate in spiritual gifts… In fact, within many churches that don’t recognise tongues as a manifestation for this day and age, even the preaching of salvation has been lost.” (pp32).

If Jesus said those who believed in him would speak in tongues, who are we to trash that? Paul the apostle built on what Jesus said in his discourse on the nine primary gifts of the Spirit, where he makes reference to “diverse kinds of tongues” (1 Corinthians 12:7-11).

This means there are different kinds of tongues and allow me to break this down as we look at four diversities of tongues.

A sign to unbelievers

This is probably the diversity of tongues that people who don’t generally believe in the idea of speaking in tongues are familiar with. Acts 2:6-8:“Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them (the disciples), speak in his own language. And they were all amazed and marvelled, saying one to another, Behold, are not all these which speak Galilaeans? And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born?”

In this case, people of different nationalities heard the apostles, who were Galileans, speaking in their own languages. It was a mystery.
The challenge we have now is that most Christians have not gone beyond Acts Chapter 2 in their interpretation and analysis of the subject, so you hear ignorant arguments such as: the tongues they spoke were heard by other people, so why should you speak in tongues that no one can interpret?

Tongues for edification

This is the most common diversity of tongues. The reason why we pray in these tongues is so that we can be edified, or strengthened, in our spirits, not so that someone would interpret. 1 Corinthians 14:4: “He that speaketh in an unknown tongue edifieth himself…”

You speak these tongues to build yourself up in the spirit, not so that someone should interpret. This is a personal prayer language that nobody else should worry about because you are directing your prayer to God. 1 Corinthians 14:2: “For he that speaketh in an unknown tongue speaketh not unto men, but unto God: *for no man understandeth him; howbeit in the spirit he speaketh mysteries.”

So you can’t use Acts 2 to argue that those 120 disciples in the Upper Room where heard speaking in the native languages of other nationalities. So why is it that no man understands you when you speak in tongues? The scripture says you are speaking to God. It’s irrelevant that other people should hear what you’re saying when you speak in tongues!

Tongues for interpretation

There is, however, a diversity of tongues that lend themselves to interpretation. These are often prophetic tongues. 1 Corinthians 14:9: “So likewise ye, except ye utter by the tongue words easy to be understood, how shall it be known what is spoken? for ye shall speak into the air.”

There are times when a prophetic message is given in tongues, and if prophecy is meant to edify the church — and not just an individual believer — it is necessary that they should be interpreted because if not, it’s as good (or bad) as if the speaker, as Paul says, “shall speak into the air”.

What I have observed and experienced, however, is that you don’t use this diversity of tongues as and when you will, but it is strictly by the Spirit. 

Spiritual groanings

There are times during prayer when an individual can start groaning, sighing deeply or even crying — and perhaps not even understand why that is happening. But it is very biblical. It’s yet another diversity of praying in the spirit. Romans 8:26-27: “Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.” 

Any Christian who desires can speak in tongues. If not, Paul wouldn’t have made this bold declaration in 1 Corinthians 14:18: “I thank my God, I speak with tongues more than ye all…” He expected all the believers at Corinth to speak in tongues.

During my infancy in the faith, over 10 years ago, I also thought speaking in tongues was for some, and not all, believers, until someone explained the “present truths” to me and prayed for me to receive the gift, and I did. I have also imparted the gift to many others through the laying-on of hands.

Phillip Chidavaenzi is the author of several books including Walking in the Spirit (2017) and Give Me Souls, Or I Die! (2018)

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