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In the beginning of 2017, I sensed the Lord impressing on my heart that speaking in tongues was going to be an important spiritual discipline moving forward into the new year. Up until that point I had been speaking in tongues for many years and incorporated it into my devotional life on a regular basis. But I had never seriously considered the idea of tongues as a spiritual discipline.
Soon after getting this impression, I heard the testimony of Jackie Pullinger. As a young believer she followed the Lord into the mission field, going to a dangerous and dark part of Hong Kong known as the Walled City. She was soon baptized with the Holy Spirit and spoke in tongues. Nothing dramatic changed at first, and she was not having any success in sharing the gospel. Then, another missionary encouraged her to spend at least fifteen minutes a day praying in tongues. She committed to do this as a daily discipline and the results were clear and powerful. She began to be led by the Holy Spirit to the right people to share the gospel with and conversions started to happen regularly. Many drug addicts and gang members began to be saved, and as they were also filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke in tongues, they would not have any of the normal withdrawal symptoms. (Check out Jackie’s amazing story in the book Chasing the Dragon.)
When I heard Jackie’s testimony, something clicked inside of me. I knew that I was supposed to spend at least fifteen minutes every day speaking in tongues. I began to add this to my regular spiritual disciplines.
Speaking in Tongues by Choice
Once a person has been filled with the Holy Spirit and spoken in tongues, they can choose to speak in tongues at any time. The apostle Paul explains this in 1 Corinthians 14:14-15:
“For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my understanding is unfruitful. What is the conclusion then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will also pray with the understanding. I will sing with the spirit, and I will also sing with the understanding.”
Notice that he says I will pray with the spirit (that is, in tongues). It is a decision. Once you have received this gift, you can flow from your native language to speaking or singing in tongues at will. Notice also that he says that when praying in tongues, the mind is not engaged (“my understanding is unfruitful.”) One of the beautiful things about this is that you can speak in tongues while also engaging in other activities. While I often spend concentrated times praying in tongues, I also regularly speak in tongues while doing other things. As I shower and get ready for the day, drive to an appointment, or go about other tasks, I pray in the Spirit. This keeps my spirit engaged in prayer even when my mind is engaged elsewhere.
You don’t have to feel a special anointing in order to speak in tongues. It doesn’t have to be an intense emotional or spiritual experience, although at times it may be. When we speak in tongues, we don’t know what we are saying but God does. It might be praise and thanksgiving, intercession, spiritual warfare, or other types of prayer. But even when we don’t know what we are saying, our spirit is being built up and we are praying according to the will of God by the help of the Holy Spirit (see 1 Corinthians 14:4 and Romans 8: 26-27).
Expanding the Discipline of Tongues
Since 2017 I have been praying in tongues for at least fifteen minutes a day. And over this past year the Lord has been leading me to expand this practice to greater lengths of time. First I was led to increase to at least an hour and then to two hours daily (not necessarily in the same stretch). At first I was concerned that this would be difficult to maintain, but have found that with intentionality and discipline, it has been much easier than expected. I share some of these specifics of my journey simply to encourage you to step out and begin practicing speaking in tongues as a spiritual discipline. Start with whatever amount of time you feel led and begin there. Be consistent and faithful and build up over time.
I have read and heard many testimonies recently of how God began to move powerfully in people’s lives once they started spending extended times speaking in tongues, and I know that He is speaking to me accordingly. I know that things are happening and God is moving as I pray in tongues, whether or not I feel anything in the moment.
If you have received the gift of tongues, my question to you is what are you doing with it? Are you being intentional with this precious gift of the Holy Spirit? Are you practicing it regularly and consistently in private prayer? Tongues is not just meant to be an initial sign of being baptized with the Holy Spirit or some kind of spiritual badge that we wear in church. It is meant for so much more. When we make a spiritual discipline of praying in tongues, we will begin to maximize this gift and see great things as a result!
Resources on Speaking in Tongues