Go ahead, admit it…you’ve either said that, or perhaps thought it, or at least you’ve heard it before. I have heard that myself more times than I care to count over the last 50 years of Catholic Charismatic Renewal. So I thought I would actually make note of some advantages, in my opinion, to praying in tongues. At least ten reasons occur to me right off the bat, and I want to go through them here. So what is the gift of tongues good for, anyway?
FOR PRAISING GOD
Praise of God has always been considered “the highest form of prayer,” because it is directed exclusively to the Lord with no selfish interest on our part. “The one who speaks in tongues speaks not to men but to God…for he utters mysteries in the Spirit” (cf. 1 Cor. 14:2). Andi Oney’s highly recommended book, Extravagant Praise, is an excellent treatment of the prayer of praise. Chapter 2 discusses the role of tongues in particular. It is well worth the read, during Lent or any other time! A tremendous advantage to the gift of tongues, by far, is giving us the ability to praise God!
FOR CREATING A SPIRITUAL ATMOSPHERE
Admittedly, this could sound a little “vague” or “otherworldly.” Those who have actually experienced this phenomenon, however, can testify that it is very real indeed! I remember the first few times that I experienced hearing groups – both large and small – praying or singing in unison using the gift of tongues. In some mysterious way it had the effect of bringing about the experiential anointing of the Holy Spirit and making it real, present, and “felt.” Anecdotal evidence over the past 50 years would indicate the Lord honors this kind of worship by manifesting His presence and glory. Some have said it’s like “touching heaven” or “heaven touching earth.”
FOR BRINGING ABOUT GREATER FREEDOM IN THE SPIRIT
Again, it is somewhat mysterious how this happens. There seems to be a strange, but real, connection between a person exercising the gift of tongues and that person experiencing a greater sense of interior freedom. There seems to be something about the very act of praying in tongues that makes one “freer in the Spirit.”
FOR OPENING US TO OTHER GIFTS
The gift of tongues has been called a doorway, an entrance way. Learning how to yield to the gift of tongues is a big help in learning how to yield to other gifts such as prophecy, revelation, discerning of spirits, healing, etc. Since St. Paul tells us to “earnestly desire the spiritual gifts” (cf. 1 Cor. 14:1), yielding to tongues can be considered an valuable “training ground” for growing in the exercise of those gifts.
Romans 8:26 says that “the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for when we do not know how to pray as we ought, the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words.” The gift of tongues is similar to this type of Spirit-led intercession. The gift of tongues is very useful in particular “when we do not know how to pray as we ought.” This is especially true in times of crisis or personal tragedy.
FOR SPIRITUAL WARFARE
The gift of tongues has been found to be a valuable weapon in spiritual warfare. At the end of the passage on spiritual warfare in Ephesians 6:10-19, St. Paul urges us to “pray at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication” (cf. Eph. 6:18). Those who pray for deliverance indicate that prayer in tongues is a powerful and useful aid in this ministry.
FOR EXPRESSING SURRENDER TO GOD
St. Paul tells us that when we pray in tongues, our spirit prays to the Lord but the “mind is unfruitful” (cf. 1 Cor. 14:14). That is to say that we are not using our rational mind in expressing our thoughts. We are, so to speak, surrendering our mind and our faculty of speech to the Lord as a sign of a deeper surrender, that of our inmost being, to the Lord. In this sense, tongues could be said to have a symbolic quality to it – an outward sign of an inward reality.
FOR BUILDING UP IN THE SPIRIT
St. Paul says in 1 Cor. 14:4 that “he who speaks in a tongue edifies himself” or builds himself up. Similarly, Jude 1:20 urges us to build ourselves up in our most holy faith “praying in the Holy Spirit.” There is, yet again, one of those “mysterious connections” between praying in tongues and “building oneself up” in the Spirit.
FOR DEEPENING IN PRAYER
As mentioned earlier, St. Paul says that “he who speaks in tongues speaks not to men but to God…for he utters mysteries in the Spirit” (cf. 1 Cor. 14:2). We have also seen that tongues is a way of praying when we do not know how to pray (cf. Rom. 8:26). Many who pray in tongues find that it helps them enter into prayer and maintain their focus during prayer. Romans 8:27 says, “The one searching hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit because he intercedes for the holy ones according to God’s will.” Andi Oney comments on this passage as follows: “That means when we pray in the Spirit, we pray in unity with the will of the Father. This mysterious gift of tongues allows us to pray and praise more perfectly because it’s the Spirit Himself praying through us” (Extravagant Praise, p.26).
FOR IMITATING THE SCRIPTURAL PATTERN
It is striking to read in the Acts of the Apostles that almost each time it describes the Holy Spirit being poured out upon a group, the gift of tongues (glossolalia) was evident. At the household of Cornelius, St. Peter’s entourage was amazed that the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out upon the Gentiles because “they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God” (cf. Acts 10:46). In Acts 11:15-16, Peter likens this event to what happened at Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came upon Mary, the Apostles, and those gathered in the Cenacle and there was also the experience of glossolalia. In the episodes in Acts, there seems to be a close link between the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the outbreak of charismatic activity – usually tongues.
SO WHAT GOOD IS IT?
I think the answer is – much good in every way! Tongues is a gift from God and, as such, it is good. St. Paul exhorts us to “earnestly desire the spiritual gifts” (cf. 1 Cor. 14:1). He further states, “I want all of you to speak in tongues” (1 Cor. 14:5) and he then says, “I speak in tongues more than all of you” (cf. 1 Cor. 14:18). So, regarding this gift of tongues, all I can say in conclusion is: desire it; yield to it; exercise it – all to the glory to God!