When we read the Bible, we are not visitors in a museum of curious ancient artefacts, but participants engaging with a Contemporary Guide to Living.
As that guy says: “This is my Bible, I can do what it says I can do…!”
Well, so what does it say? This morning, I want to pick up several references to what we’ve come to call “speaking in tongues” or “praying in the Spirit” and underline its practical importance.
Here’s some clips from 1 Corinthians 14.
“Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy. For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God, for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit.”
“The one who speaks in a tongue builds up himself…
“I want you all to speak in tongues…
“If I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful. What am I to do? I will pray with my spirit but I will pray with my mind also…
“I thank God I speak in tongues more than all of you.”
Romans 8:26, 27: “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”
Mark 16: 17 “And these signs shall accompany those who believe. In my name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues…”
Jude 20,21: “But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God.”
Praying in the Spirit builds you up. “The one who speaks in a tongue builds up himself.” There’s a place for praying with the mind –of course there is! But there’s also a place for praying in the spirit. Why? Surely prayer is rational, intellectual, organising thoughts and requests?
The truth is, (looking here at the Romans 8 passage) we often don’t know how to pray. We don’t know what the best course of action is, or the best choice of direction. Sometimes we think we do, but we often don’t. We are like small children wanting and wishing for something we can’t handle, like a four year old begging Daddy for a chainsaw.
And sometimes we don’t have the energy or drive to push through in prayer. Do you always pray “strong”? Do you always know how to pray and what to pray for? Do you always understand it all? “I will pray with my understanding [mind] but I will pray with my spirit also.”
And when I fail or falter, “the Spirit helps us in our weakness” (Vines Dictionary of NT Words has “want of strength”), “For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.”
So how does the Spirit pray? Two specific parameters: He “intercedes for the saints” (that’s us!) and He prays “according to the will of God.” So the Spirit intercedes, stands in for, encourages and builds up the body of believers, and is totally synchronised with God’s heart –his will – for that moment. That’s what’s happening when you speak in tongues!
This is so powerful, so useful in practical everyday living. When you settle down to pray and meditate at the beginning of the day and at the end, or even when you’re stuck in a traffic jam, or whenever you’re stuck in a situation and you just don’t know how to deal it or the best path to choose… then “build yourself up in your most holy faith” and “speak mysteries.”
Everyone experiences those times of being stuck or desperate. We often experience “want of strength” or being lost for words at a critical moment. Be still. The Spirit himself is here. Build yourselves up in Him.