A member of our church prayer team now prays regularly in tongues. Whenever she does so, she always uses the same words, no matter which situation we are praying for. As I’ve never spoken in tongues myself, is this normal, or would you expect the Holy Spirit to give different words for different situations to the person praying?
A conservative response: the prayer in tongues might mean something like “Lord, please help and bless this situation” and hence would be appropriate for all occasions.
A liberal/psychospiritual response: the person may be in touch with some deep psychological material, and have some disinhibition that allows him or her to express this, but in a limited and repetitive way at present.
A middle-of-the-road response: gentle and loving critical inquiry has its place in church life, but it can sometimes become a preoccupation and distraction. “What is that to you? You follow me.” I would encourage the questioner to focus on what his or her own heart and lips are doing in this situation.
Viv Rimmer, Reading, Berks
Is using the same words when praying in tongues normal? No more than using the same English words every time would be. Speaking in tongues is both normal and controversial (1 Corinthians), so should be handled sensitively. If the words are always the same, the interpretation must be general, such as “God bless this person.”
Is something as non-specific as this good ministry in every circumstance? Prayer ministry should be co-operative among those who pray, the prayed-for, and God. The use of tongues is not guaranteed to be inspired by the Holy Spirit. Are there other signs of his work?
Sometimes, tongues-users are following their own agendas. Speak to your vicar (or some other wise person who knows the individual) to gain a wider perspective.
Name and address supplied
This is not “normal”. Praying in tongues is a glorious gift, but a “tongue” is not given as a showpiece. One is given a full language, not just a few words. Although there may be an element of repetition in that language (“Praise the Lord” has a wonderful sameness about it whenever it is said, even in English), one would expect more than three words in a language.
It should never be used to show off, or set oneself above others. In 1 Corinthians 14, St Paul offers guidelines for its use and suggests it is something for private prayer, and should only ever be used in public when an interpreter is available, as otherwise no one can learn from it.
If people say the same few words every time they pray publicly, they should be gently asked to keep their “tongue” for private prayer, unless someone is on hand to interpret.
Name and address supplied
God already knows our thoughts. We use words in prayer to direct our minds. Prayer is addressed primarily to God, who is the same yesterday and today and for ever, but we also need to connect with the particularities of the person prayed for. St Paul urges the Corinthians to use the intellect as well as the Spirit in prayer. Your person praying may need to move on.
(Canon) John Goodchild, Liverpool
A student plans to spend time in China, but is concerned about the validity of the sacraments there, since the dissolving of the Anglican Church there in the 1950s. What can I advise him? G. S.
Out of the Question, Church Times, 3rd floor, Invicta House, 108-114 Golden Lane, London EC1Y 0TG.