I’ve always been fascinated by bilinguals and polyglots and did the required high school and college stint in a foreign language (French), but unfortunately for me it never seemed to truly click. I was never able to really read, let alone think, in my chosen alternative language and even conversation was a concerted effort requiring much preparation and searching for words. To this day I can only use a handful of the vocabulary, but any more than that escapes me. So as much as bilingualism intrigued me, I accepted it was not something I would ever become.
Language is one of the hallmarks of a culture and to be a member of that culture, one should possess an understanding of that culture’s language. Think of it this way, the language you are taught by your parents, along with the associated mannerisms, behaviors, and preferences marks you as a member of that specific culture. Southerners speak American English in some variety of dialect, say “yes ma’am” and “no, sir” to anyone over the age of eighteen, and often have a preference for SEC football teams.
So wouldn’t being a Christian operate in much the same manner? As a Christian shouldn’t one also have the marks of the Christian culture? Wait a minute. We have our own dialect often rife with words like “sanctification,” “crucify,” and “grace.” We have our own mannerisms: regular church attendance, prayer, and Bible reading. And we have preferences like choosing to hang out with like-minded believers and using grape juice or wine for communion. But is there a language to go along with all these?
The Apostle Paul said he spoke in the tongues of men and of angels. He was not only a polyglot in the natural (speaking Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek), but spiritually bilingual. When he wrote of the tongues of angels, he meant the gift of tongues. He even told the Corinthians to earnestly desire spiritual gifts, especially tongues. Why? It is a mark of being a Christian. “Tongues, then, are a sign, not for believers but for unbelievers;” (1 Cor. 14:22a).
The gift of tongues is often received at the baptism of the Holy Spirit and are an outward display of the baptism, but they can come later or not at all. There are two parts to this gift: the actual language and then the ability to interpret that language. A person may have one without the other. I have a prayer language, but I don’t have the ability to interpret my own words or those of others.
So once you have it, what do you do with it? Well, they are certainly not for the amusement of others. Tongues are also known as a “prayer language” for a reason and should be spoken in reverence, not used as a carnival side show. As such they should be used in a church meeting or in your private prayer time.
Paul cautions the Corinthians that if tongues are spoken in a service, it should be done “in good order.” What does that look like? He directs in 1 Cor. 14:27-28 that if a tongue is given in a gathering — and even then no more than two or three instances — it must be interpreted. If there is no one there who can interpret, then the tongue should not be spoken.
I remember one instance of tongue interpretation in all the years that I’ve been in church. I was attending a teeny tiny spirit-filled church several years ago when, during worship, I was given a song in my prayer language. This church desired for all of the gifts of the spirit to be practiced so one of the elders (a lady) quickly brought a microphone over and held it to my lips so that the rest of the group could hear. Then something stunning happened: she received the interpretation. Her words matched the cadence of my tongue and the interpretation was all praise and glory of God. We were both in awe by the end. I had never sung in the spirit and she had never interpreted a tongue.
But what if you attend a church that is not as open as my teeny tiny one or there isn’t really an opportunity for a tongue to be given and interpreted? That’s where the private use comes in. Speaking and praying in tongues also edifies or builds up your spirit. It will encourage you in dark and troubling times. Feeling depressed? Pray in the spirit. Feeling rejected? Pray in the spirit. Even though it will be an effort (trust me on this) it is well worth pushing through the garbage to do it.
Why? Your prayer language is yours. It is spoken by you directly to your Heavenly Father. It is also a language that Satan doesn’t comprehend and if he can’t comprehend it, he can’t fashion it into a fiery dart. He can’t turn your words or even God’s Word on their ear with even the tiniest niggle of doubt (remember Eve? “Hath God said you should not…?”). He can’t because he doesn’t have the faintest clue what you’re saying in the first place!
So do you have to have a prayer language to be a member of the Christian culture? No. Confessing Jesus as your Lord and Savior is the only qualifier needed. But speaking in tongues is a beautiful part of Christianity that is a gift from your Heavenly Father. And who doesn’t like getting gifts? Especially ones that are only meant to benefit you and your walk? If you don’t have a prayer language, ask for it. Believe me, being a bilingual Christian is an amazing blessing.
Guest Writer: Felicia Ferguson holds a masters’ degrees in healthcare administration and speech—language pathology. She has trained in SOZO and freedom prayer protocols and has worked in inner healing ministries. Felicia’s passion and heart are for the walking wounded – those who have been wounded by life but are holding their ground. She lives on Florida’s 30A with her two French Bulldogs. Read more great posts by Felicia at her blog Walking Wounded, Living Whole.
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