1 Corinthians 14:1-19
Go after a life of love as if your life depended on it—because it does. Give yourselves to the gifts God gives you. Most of all, try to proclaim his truth. If you praise him in the private language of tongues, God understands you but no one else does, for you are sharing intimacies just between you and him. But when you proclaim his truth in everyday speech, you’re letting others in on the truth so that they can grow and be strong and experience his presence with you.
The one who prays using a private “prayer language” certainly gets a lot out of it, but proclaiming God’s truth to the church in its common language brings the whole church into growth and strength. I want all of you to develop intimacies with God in prayer, but please don’t stop with that. Go on and proclaim his clear truth to others. It’s more important that everyone have access to the knowledge and love of God in language everyone understands than that you go off and cultivate God’s presence in a mysterious prayer language—unless, of course, there is someone who can interpret what you are saying for the benefit of all.
Think, friends: If I come to you and all I do is pray privately to God in a way only he can understand, what are you going to get out of that? If I don’t address you plainly with some insight or truth or proclamation or teaching, what help am I to you? If musical instruments—flutes, say, or harps—aren’t played so that each note is distinct and in tune, how will anyone be able to catch the melody and enjoy the music? If the trumpet call can’t be distinguished, will anyone show up for the battle?
So if you speak in a way no one can understand, what’s the point of opening your mouth? There are many languages in the world and they all mean something to someone. But if I don’t understand the language, it’s not going to do me much good. It’s no different with you. Since you’re so eager to participate in what God is doing, why don’t you concentrate on doing what helps everyone in the church?
So, when you pray in your private prayer language, don’t hoard the experience for yourself. Pray for the insight and ability to bring others into that intimacy. If I pray in tongues, my spirit prays but my mind lies fallow, and all that intelligence is wasted. So what’s the solution? The answer is simple enough. Do both. I should be spiritually free and expressive as I pray, but I should also be thoughtful and mindful as I pray. I should sing with my spirit, and sing with my mind. If you give a blessing using your private prayer language, which no one else understands, how can some outsider who has just shown up and has no idea what’s going on know when to say “Amen”? Your blessing might be beautiful, but you have very effectively cut that person out of it.
I’m grateful to God for the gift of praying in tongues that he gives us for praising him, which leads to wonderful intimacies we enjoy with him. I enter into this as much or more than any of you. But when I’m in a church assembled for worship, I’d rather say five words that everyone can understand and learn from than say ten thousand that sound to others like gibberish.