Firstly, here is some recommended reading.
The first book I’ve recommended is They Speak With Other Tongues by John Sherrill
It is a classic book, which he recently updated for its 40th anniversary. In the early 1960s he began to research this phenomenon, and obtained interviews and information and put it all together in the book. Because it is written as an outsider looking in, you can follow along and make your own conclusions. If you have read it before, go back and re-read it. I re-read it last year and have recently finished rereading it again, and I am appreciating nuances of it today that even 12 months ago would have gone over my head.
The second book is As By A New Pentecost by Patti Mansfield Gallagher
It tells the story of how the Catholic Charismatic Renewal began, and how it was preceded by the actions of Pope Leo XIII and the various Pentecostal movements of the first half of the 20th century. I have yet to read it, because it is only available in hardcopy, but I have watched a few video-clips of Patti telling the story, and it is both an inspiring and a sad story. Sad because the Catholic Church would have received this gift much earlier if it had responded to Pope Leo XIII’s requests with vigour; inspiring because it shows that God responds magnificently when we call out to Him in faith.
Here is one of those video-clips https://youtu.be/twizOkRIzLo
Primarily the Catholic Church provides holistic support for the gift of tongues because in Council under the guidance of the Holy Spirit the canon of Scripture was put together by the Church in the 3rd/4th centuries, which includes the New Testament writings about speaking in tongues. If this gift wasn't considered real and relevant we wouldn't have the Gospel of Mark, the Acts of the Apostles or 1 Corinthians in the canon of Scripture.
How do you know it’s the Holy Spirit? Usually it is an act of faith and trust, and sometimes there is evidence of God’s fingerprints. The same can be said for any method of prayer.
In the ‘They Speak With Other Tongues’ book there is a story of the author making recordings of people praying in tongues and one woman said that for her she needed to pray about a specific situation in order to do so. The author knew his wife had been having trouble writing an article with a deadline, and he suggested this situation, and the woman used the author as a proxy for his wife. She prayed over him in tongues, and he felt something spiritually and emotionally, and his wife completed the article in record time. Whether the praying woman felt anything is unknown. God's fingerprints are all over this situation.
There is an effect that St Paul talks about in 1 Cor 14:4, ‘The one with the gift of tongues talks for his own benefit’, but there are other translations eg ‘Anyone who speaks in a tongue edifies themselves’ or ‘A person who speaks in tongues is strengthened personally’.
Patti Gallagher Mansfield talks about praying in tongues as refreshment for the soul/spirit, and others writers speak about health benefits. This effect is one way you can tell that the Holy Spirit has been at work in addition to the classic signs of the activity of the Spirit of God in Gal 5:22, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, trustfulness, gentleness and self-control.
The gift of tongues is one of those situations where the adage applies, ‘For those who believe, no explanation is necessary. For those who do not believe, no explanation will be sufficient’. That blessed leap of faith is the gap between.
John Sherrill talks about an interesting experiment in his book. Together with the recordings he made from people who believed they had the gift of tongues, he added in two recordings that were pure gibberish, and then asked some linguistic experts to comment. The former mostly had discernible structures of language, the gibberish did not, and it was quite obviously different.
Do people when they pray in tongues know whether they are praising God or interceding for a situation? Not for sure they don’t. If they have formed an intention to do one or the other, then the expectation is that language will flow according to that intention. If no intention has been formed, then sometimes the rhythms and cadence will give a clue. But do we know for sure? Not unless someone is around who can interpret.
I think this is what St Paul meant when he said that you have to be willing to look foolish before you can truly be wise (1 Cor 3:18). There are few things as foolish looking as someone taking the early steps of yielding to God and letting Him control the vocal chords. But it is extraordinary and necessary training, because the same willingness to look foolish and to yield to God is necessary for the gifts of prophecy, miracles, healing etc to happen.
In preparation for the 1967 weekend at the Ark & Dove, the student group read through the first 4 chapters of the Acts of the Apostles, and also ‘The Cross and the Switchblade’. David Mangan was drawn to the Greek word used by St Luke in Acts 1:8 that gets translated ‘power’. In the Greek this word has the same roots as the word we use for dynamite. David wanted to see the dynamite power of the Holy Spirit in action, and he prayed for this.
David Mangan had reasoned it out this way. He wanted to experience the dynamite of the Holy Spirit, and he wanted to hear someone speak in tongues, but he was intelligent enough to know that he’d never believe if it was someone else, there would always be some doubt if it was someone else, so he wrote down in his notebook, ‘I want to hear someone speak in tongues: me’.
The charism list in 1 Cor 12:8-10 are all gifts that have the power to change lives dramatically: preaching with wisdom; preaching instruction; faith, healing; miracles: prophecy; recognising spirits; gift of tongues; ability to interpret them.
The gift of tongues is in that list. It wasn’t left out.
There are plenty of gifts of prayer (vocal, mental, contemplative) and many acceptable forms of prayer (liturgy of the hours, lectio divina, rosary, prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, spontaneous prayer, the Jesus prayer, singing hymns, novenas etc) and they all have their impact according to the mysterious co-workings of our efforts, His will and His grace.
But there is something about the gift of tongues that aids a connection with the dynamite of the Holy Spirit that has no comparison. When individuals and groups pray this way, the spiritual climate changes, and in some way access to the other charisms in the 1 Cor 12:8-10 list becomes easier.
Re-reading Romans 8:26-27 in the light of the gift of tongues is worth doing:
The Spirit too comes to help us in our weakness. For when we cannot choose words in order to pray properly, the Spirit Himself expresses our plea in a way that could never be put into words, and God who knows everything in our hearts knows perfectly well what He means, and that the pleas of the saints expressed by the Spirit are according to the mind of God.
This is true of all prayer, but it is especially true of the gift of tongues.
Any prayer that God Himself prays in us is going to be according to His will, and is going to have a swift answer.
The gift of tongues underlines in a dramatic manner that it is the Holy Spirit who prays in us, who causes us to call out ‘Abba Father’ (Romans 8:15)
We see human analogies of this gift in families, both with youngsters who communicate their needs quite well without words and sentences, and with adults who with insider family jargon can communicate with a specific grunt and gesture a whole page worth of meaning.
I thought the story from John Sherrill’s book was instructive, where someone gets called to a hospital to pray for a seriously ill girl, and this person has no idea whether to pray for death or for complete healing, so the decision is made to pray in tongues, because God knows what is needed and what is perfect. This person prays for a while and as the prayer continues the impression that the girl will make a full recovery grows. She indeed made a full recovery. The praying in tongues was the equivalent of praying ‘May Your kingdom come in this situation’.
We know that the pleas of the saints as expressed by the Spirit are according to the mind of God, so God is not going to curse Himself, and likewise when under His influence we are not going to curse Him either. Sons and daughters of God don’t do that.
You could say that prayer in tongues is more effective at getting God to answer the prayer the way God thinks it should be answered, especially in emergency and spiritual warfare situations.
Each of us has a multitude of weapons of prayer in our private arsenals. We turn to some forms of prayer when seeking discernment. We turn to other forms of prayer when praying for healing. We turn to other forms of prayer when we want to study the life of Jesus more closely. We turn to other forms of prayer when praying for big miracles.
You can think of the gift of tongues as just another weapon in your prayer arsenal. Like any weapon in that arsenal we can choose to use it, or ignore it. We can use to learn it well and skillfully, or bumble-footedly.
To use the same prayer weapon for every situation would be loopy, just like using a bread knife is loopy if you need to carve meat and you possess a carving knife.
If you are still on the outside looking in, the arguments boil down to:
Is God good? Mark 10:18
Does He only give good gifts? Matt 7:11
Why would God give the gift of tongues to so many people as described in the Acts of the Apostles (eg Acts 10:44-46, at Pentecost and elsewhere) if it wasn’t a good and necessary gift for the Matt 28:19-20 mission?
Are speaking in tongues a gift of the Spirit? 1 Cor 12:10
If the answers are Yes, then we have to believe that speaking in tongues is a good gift, and a worthwhile gift to have, otherwise it would not have been so widely prevalent among believers in the early Church. We know for a fact that St Paul spoke in tongues, (1 Cor 14:18), and that he thought it was a good gift, otherwise he would not have provided teaching on it. We also have him saying, 'Imitate me as I imitate Christ' (1 Cor 11:1).
If you are willing to let God be God, and to let Him be able to do things in you that are beyond your ability to comprehend, then all you have to do is ask and wait:
Holy Spirit I believe in You. I believe that Your power to save is mighty indeed. I believe that You bestow good gifts for good purposes among the members of the Body of Christ. Although I struggle, I believe that the gift of tongues that I have so much trouble wrapping my mind around is also one of Your gifts. If You want to give it to me, I want to receive it. I don't want to be without Your heavenly weapons in the battles that I must face against the enemies of our souls. You know my fears, You know my reluctance, but You also know that I am willing to trust You and follow where You lead me. Help me. Amen.
St Paul, Apostle of Jesus, pray for me.