Tongues: An Interview

Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? Now eagerly desire the greater gifts.

1 Corinthians 12:27-31

The gift of tongues has caused much controversy in the life of the church. This was true in the first century in Corinth and was part of the reason Paul wrote his letters to the Corinthians. He felt compelled to address this issue. It’s also been true of the modern church ever since the Azusa Street revival broke out in 1905. Since then much of the church has been divided over this gift of the Spirit. However, I believe we are entering a new season that is bringing clarity and understanding where previously there was only confusion and misunderstanding.

What follows is a conversation between a Christian who is curious about tongues and their pastor. We’ll name the curious Christian “CC” and the pastor “P.”

CC: My first question is this, “Is the gift of tongues even operating today?” Some traditions of the church don’t believe it is.

P: Yes, I believe all the gifts of the Spirit are still operating today. We have no indication from scripture that they ever stopped.

CC: I’ve heard that some parts of the church believe that if you haven’t spoken in tongues, you don’t have the Holy Spirit. Is that true?

P: Well, maybe some churches somewhere believe that, but that is an exaggeration of a theological view called “Second Blessing” theology. Most charismatics and Pentecostals believe that if you believe in Jesus you have the Holy Spirit. Period.

The source of some of the confusion is that many people have testified to having a second experience with the Spirit, after salvation, where they felt set free from sin and empowered with gifts in a new way. Many call this second experience being “baptized” in the Spirit or “filled” with the Spirit. Charismatics and Pentecostals often witnessed people speaking in tongues during or after this second experience with the Spirit. What developed over time was “Second Blessing” theology that states, “if you haven’t spoken in tongues, you must not have been filled with the Spirit.” This is the theology that most other evangelicals find troubling.

CC: So do you think that if a person hasn’t spoken in tongues that they aren’t filled with the Spirit?

P: First, we need to understand that “receiving” the Spirit at salvation is one thing and getting “filled” with the Spirit is a different thing. I like to say that when we are filled with the Spirit we don’t get more of the Spirit but the Spirit gets more of us.

As to your question, my answer is “No.” I don’t think tongues are the only sign of someone experiencing a filling of the Spirit. I think there are many “signs” that a person has experienced a “baptism” in the Spirit or “filling” of the Spirit. One of those signs may be that they now pray in tongues. But I believe there are other signs that accompany that experience. Some people weep, others shake, others fall down under the weight of God’s power and glory, and the list goes on. I believe tongues is sometimes a sign and sometimes not.

More important than the initial sign is the actual fruit in a person’s life. If a person truly did experience a filling of the Spirit, they will have increased victory over sin in their life, increased power to live holy and surrendered, increased intimacy with the Lord, likely brand new gifts of the Spirit and/or gifts that were already there get lit on fire by the power of God.

CC: Are you saying you do think there is such a thing as a “baptism in the Spirit” that is different than what happens when we receive the Spirit at salvation?

P: I believe that we receive all of the Holy Spirit at salvation. I also believe we can experience these moments after salvation were we get “filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18). When charismatics and Pentecostals talk about the “baptism of the Spirit” I believe they are referring the the “first time” a person experiences a filling of the Spirit. Yet, I believe we can have many of these moments throughout our journey with Christ.

Evangelicals tend to believe that the “baptism of the Spirit” is what happens at salvation when you receive the Spirit. Yet, I grew up in the Southern Baptist church where people would have moments after salvation that they would call “rededicating their life” to the Lord. These “rededication” moments sometimes involved a new victory over sin and a general turn around in their life. I wonder sometimes if they simply experienced a “filling of the Spirit” in those moments and, because we were Baptist, just didn’t have language for it.

CC: So where do tongues fit into your theology?

P: Like I said, I do believe they can be a sign that accompanies a moment where a person has an encounter with God and experiences a filling of the Spirit. I also believe it can show up like any other gift. For me, I had a radical encounter with God that was a “filling of the Spirit” more intense than anything I had ever experienced before. Charismatics and Pentecostals would probably call this my “baptism in the Spirit” moment. But for me, this moment was preceded by a process and this moment did not involve speaking in tongues.

Imagine wading out into the ocean until finally a wave crashes down on your head. This is how it was for me with the Holy Spirit. There was a year and a half process of wading deeper and deeper into the waters of the Spirit until I experienced a wave of the Spirit that crashed over me. Pentecostals might call the wave crashing my “baptism in the Spirit” but really, it started with a process and culminated in an event. It wasn’t just about the event.

After that I kept having new and fresh encounters with the Lord in different ways. It definitely was a “filling of the Spirit.” But for me, when a person is filled with the Spirit it isn’t that they get more of the Holy Spirit. It is that the Holy Spirit gets more of them. That’s what happened to me.

For six months after that I didn’t pray in tongues. I wasn’t given that gift. But I did want that gift, so I asked a friend of mine to pray for me that I receive it. And it didn’t come like a volcano, erupting out of me from the depths of my belly like it does for some. It came more like a slow trickle. Then the trickle became a stream and the stream became a river. It grew in me much like many other gifts have. It was a process.

CC: So you speak in tongues?

P: I pray in tongues. Meaning, I have a prayer language that is in tongues. I do not have the corporate gift of speaking in a tongue in a public setting and having it interpreted. That is a different kind of tongues. What people may not realize is that there are many kinds of tongues, and the Greek in 1 Corinthians 12:10 is in the plural. There is the tongues that erupts out of some people when they are filled with the Spirit for the first time and it acts as a sign (and less like a continual gift). There is the tongues that is the prayer language. There is the tongues that is the public gift that should be interpreted in a public setting. There is the tongues that is a literal human language given to people for the spread of the gospel in missionary settings. All of these are real and all of these are a version of the gift of tongues.

CC: So you pray in tongues. What does that mean?

P: It means in my private prayer life, I will often shift from praying in English, my native language, to praying in tongues, which is more of a Holy Spirit language. Paul said, “If I speak in tongues of men or of angels….”(1 Corinthians 13:1). Some people’s private prayer language sounds nothing like a human language. Some people’s private prayer language sounds just like a foreign language that they don’t know.

This shift into tongues can happen whenever I choose, but it sometimes happens without me choosing. Specifically, if I am praying either in great celebration and joy or in great agony and pain, I find that I will almost automatically shift into tongues during those moments. It’s like the Spirit is saying, “Here, since you don’t know what to pray, I’ll pray through you.”

CC: Fascinating! What would you say is the purpose of praying in tongues if you don’t even know what you are saying?

P: The way I describe it to people is this…you know how you can start a worship service feeling disconnected from God or just distracted. Maybe your heart and mind aren’t really focused on Jesus. But then you worship, and 30 minutes later you feel totally different. You feel connected to God. You feel His Presence. Your heart and mind are focused on Him. Your worries have dropped to the ground and your faith is rising. You feel His love for you and your heart feels like it is back to a place of peace, grounded in Christ. When you pray in tongues, what would take 30 minutes of worship to get you into that place spiritually takes only a matter of minutes, sometimes seconds.

The apostle Paul said the purpose of a person praying in tongues is to “edify themselves” (1 Corinthians 14:4). In other words, praying in tongues quickly realigns your heart and mind toward Christ and ushers you quickly into the Presence of God in a way that few other things can. When a person prays in tongues for extended periods of time, there is a kind of saturation of the Spirit that happens where hearing God becomes easier and communing with God feels natural.

CC: Are there other purposes for praying in tongues?

P: Definitely. The other kinds of tongues have other kinds of purposes. But “praying in tongues” specifically can also be used in spiritual warfare. I have found that demonic spirits hate when people pray in tongues. It’s like nails on a chalkboard to them. So there have been times in deliverance prayer sessions where we used it as a kind of weapon to weaken and expose the enemy.

CC: Are there certain times you pray in tongues more than others?

P: I try to pray in tongues every morning more as a spiritual discipline. But I especially find myself praying in tongues in moments of need. Like, if I am on my way to pray for someone who is critically ill and desperately needs healing, I would likely pray in tongues. In that moment I desperately need to hear from God, feel His Presence, and bolster my faith. Tongues helps that happen in a very short amount of time.

Or, if I am in a worship environment that is supercharged with the tangible Presence of God, I will likely find myself praying in tongues. This happens not because I am in a state of desperate need, but more as a reaction to the manifest Presence of God. It’s like the Psalmist wrote, “deep calls to deep” (Psalm 42:7). The Holy Spirit in me is responding to the Father making His Presence felt in the room.

CC: Do you pray in tongues out loud in a worship service? And if so, does that distract the people around you?

P: When I am praying for a person individually or I’m in a worship service, and I feel the urge or need to pray in tongues, I tend to do so under my breath. I don’t do this because I am somehow ashamed of tongues. Not at all. I love the gift of tongues and would want it for everyone. But I pray under my breath out of respect for the people around me who might take issue with it. I don’t want to be a distraction or a hinderance to their worship. But, if I am in the company of people that also pray in tongues or don’t object to praying in tongues, then I will do so in a way that is more vocal.

CC: Do you think people who don’t pray in tongues are somehow lesser Christians or less mature?

P: No. God is more concerned with our character than our gifts, and tongues is just one gift among many. It’s an awesome gift and a useful tool, but it shouldn’t be used as a barometer of spiritual maturity. There are plenty of spiritually immature Christians who can pray in tongues and plenty of mature Christians who cannot.

CC: Any final comments about praying in tongues?

P: The apostle Paul said, “I would like every one of you to speak in tongues” and “do not forbid speaking in tongues“(1 Corinthians 14:5, 39). And I understand why he felt this way. It’s a great tool for the believer to have. So if you want to pray in tongues, pursue it. Pray for it. Ask someone who can pray in tongues to pray over you to get this gift.

But also understand that we shouldn’t fret over not having this gift. The Holy Spirit decides who gets which gifts. And while he does respond to our asking, he also is sovereign. If you don’t pray in a tongue, don’t worry about it and don’t judge others who do. Those are the two errors I see people fall into the most. Often out of insecurity, they either fret about not having the gift or they get cynical and judge others who do have this gift. Both reactions are unhealthy. Grow in the gifts you already have. Be a faithful steward of those gifts and trust God with the rest.

Why are charismatics so weird?

 “What should we do with these men? For it is plain to all who live in Jerusalem that a notable miraculous sign has come about through them, and we cannot deny it. But to keep this matter from spreading any further among the people, let us warn them to speak no more to anyone in this name.” 

And they called them in and ordered them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John replied, “Whether it is right before God to obey you rather than God, you decide, for it is impossible for us not to speak about what we have seen and heard.”

Acts 4:16-20

Why is it that Christians who operate in the supernatural gifts of the Spirit listed in 1 Corinthians 12 are so often weird and awkward?

Or put another way, why do charismatics often seem to lack emotional intelligence around people?

In my journey with these supernatural gifts and their proper use, I’m starting to understand why people who use these gifts seem so weird to your average evangelical. First, we need to acknowledge that low emotional intelligence can be found in every tradition of the church. I’ve met super-awkward Presbyterians, Baptists, Catholics, and progressives. So that part isn’t necessarily unique.

But I believe one factor that can sometimes increase awkwardness with charismatics is what happens when one receives these gifts. There is often a massive moment of full surrender in our relationship with Jesus before we start seeing the flourishing of the supernatural gifts. They may have even been there in seedling form already, but the gifts don’t flourish without surrender.

What this surrender requires is a gigantic “Yes” with our life. It is telling Jesus that we will do what He tells us to do no matter what. It is agreeing to operate with quick obedience even if it is hard, even if it is awkward, even if we’re afraid, even if it makes us look bad, even if it doesn’t fit with social norms. If the “fear of man” had a hold on our life, its stranglehold gets broken in this process of surrender.

Proverbs 29:25 says, “Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe.” The fear of man is being overly concerned about what others will think of us. It is being overly concerned about our image and reputation. It is an oppressive desire to be liked and to have people say nice things about us. In order to fully operate in the supernatural gifts of the Spirit, this part of us must die.

So there is a process of surrender whereby we are killing or suppressing the voice that says, “But what will people think?” or “But how will this look?” This voice is often used by the enemy to keep us from stepping out in faith and taking bold risks in obedience to the Lord. The problem is that there is a part of this voice that involves emotional intelligence.

Emotional intelligence, or EQ, is often summarized as having four main parts:

  1. Self-awareness
  2. Self-management
  3. Relational awareness (empathy)
  4. Relational management

When one is trying to be obedient to the Lord, part of putting to death the fear of man in our life is knowing that something will be awkward (self-awareness) and yet doing it anyway. This sometimes comes across to others as someone who doesn’t have self-management or relational awareness. An observer may assume, “If they knew how that looked, they wouldn’t do it.” But sometimes that’s not true. Sometimes the person trying to act in obedience knows how it looks and does it anyway.

Why?

Obedience. Surrender. I gave God my unequivocal “Yes” and don’t want to take it back.

But God would never ask us to do something embarrassing or awkward, right? Wrong. This is a myth that is believed by too many American Christians. We see throughout the Bible and throughout the history of the church that God continually asks people to do things that are awkward, embarrassing, and often misunderstood. And as we witness the lives of the persecuted church around the world, God even asks us to be willing to be killed for the sake of Christ.

Now, all of that said, there is a place for EQ in knowing “how” to do that thing God is asking us to do. He wants us to be loving. Many charismatics, in their deep desire to be bold in faith and quick in their obedience, have forgotten that not all EQ is the fear of man. We still are called to operate in love, and loving someone often looks like the four parts of emotional intelligence.

In other words, the reason many charismatics come across as awkward is because, in their deep desire not to give in to the fear of man, they have “thrown the baby out with the bathwater.” It is, of course, true that some charismatics just have a deficit in EQ like many other Christians. But it isn’t always that.

In my life I have found that, more often, it is a deep desire to be unquestioningly obedient and, in doing so, sometimes missing the mark on the difference between the fear of man and appropriate EQ. Charismatics don’t always get it right. They don’t always know where that line is. But I love their heart of wanting to obey the Lord no matter what. I’ll take that over a life full of fear any day. Being awkward for the sake of obedience to Christ seems like a small price to pay compared to the high price many Christians are paying around the world for their faith.

Words of Knowledge for Healing

Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (which means “son of Timaeus”), was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.”

So they called to the blind man, “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.” Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus.

“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him.

The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.”

“Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.

Mark 10:46-52

Sometimes on a Sunday morning before church, I’ll ask God if He wants me to focus on praying for anything in particular in the church service that morning. Sometimes I don’t hear anything. Sometimes I sense that He wants me to invite people to give their lives to Jesus or pray for people dealing with emotional needs. Other times I will hear a particular physical ailment to pray for.

I want to be obedient to do whatever it is He asked me to do. People tend to be fine with me praying for salvation or for emotional healing. Yet, when I pray for physical healing, that can sometimes cause some discomfort in the room.

The reason I pray for healing like this is multifaceted. I’ll admit that I don’t always hear the Lord correctly. My gifts have a lot of room to grow, and I am still a work in progress. But here is why I try:

1) The Lord has given me spiritual gifts that I want to faithfully steward. This requires their use. I want others to discover their gifts and put them to good use as well.

2) I want to take risks of obedience that don’t always make rational sense. I want to model obedience over rationalism and skepticism.

3) I believe it is loving to pray for healing. Those who desperately desire to be physically healed tend to love healing prayer. Those who live with the privilege of a healthy body sometimes don’t.

4) The Sunday morning worship service is my workplace. Praying this way is me stepping out in faith at work. I want people in our church to do the same. I want them to sit at their work desk, ask the Holy Spirit who and what they should pray for that day, and then obey…even if it doesn’t make sense…even if it is a little awkward.

5) I want to see people get miraculously healed in our midst. I’ve seen it happen a lot at our church. I want to continue to see it happen more and more. The only way for it to continue is for us to continue to step out in faith and ask for it.

6) I want to normalize the supernatural side of the Kingdom of God. I believe this is what following Jesus was always meant to be. This is what Christianity looks like in the rest of the world. The church in the West is lagging behind. Healings, signs & wonders, casting out demons, words of knowledge, prophesy, prophetic dreams, encounters with the Holy Spirit…I want all of it to become “normal Christianity” for my whole church just as it has become normal Christianity for me and some others. This is what following Jesus looked like in the Gospels and the book of Acts. This is what normal Christianity currently looks like in the Southern Hemisphere of the world and in the East.

A “word of knowledge” is a supernatural download of information from the Lord to our mind from the Holy Spirit. It’s often about another person. It is one of the gifts of the Spirit listed in 1 Corinthians 12. Many followers of Jesus have gotten little bits of information about people from the Spirit and didn’t know that’s what was happening. Maybe they didn’t know it was the Holy Spirit or that it was a gift meant for the church. A word of knowledge for healing is a supernatural download of information about someone else’s physical illness as an indicator that God wants to heal it.

I was asked by a friend if standing up and giving a word of knowledge and then praying for healing was ever in the Bible. It’s a question that is rooted in legitimate skepticism about the charismatic tradition and the abuses of televangelists in the past.

There are a few things that came to mind when this question was asked. First, you can’t read more than two paragraphs of the Gospels without Jesus healing someone, performing a miracle, or casting out a demon. Healing was a regular, daily part of Jesus ministry and the ministry of the disciples.

Secondly, one must believe that Jesus used supernatural gifts of the Spirit to do His supernatural ministry in order to find an example of Jesus using “words of knowledge.” Some Christians believe Jesus just used His divinity to do all of His miracles. But if one holds this view, then we could never expect to find any example of Jesus using any of the supernatural gifts of the Spirit.

I do believe Jesus used the supernatural gifts of the Spirit in order to set an example to His disciples and to us. If He simply used His divinity, we could never follow His example (something we’re asked to do repeatedly). And I do believe that, in many of these scenarios of healing, Jesus used what we would call a “word of knowledge” to determine the source and identity of the illness. We see this specifically with the crippled woman in the synagogue in Luke 13:10-17 and the demonized boy after the Transfiguration in Mark 9:14-29. In both cases Jesus supernaturally diagnoses the source of the physical ailment and the solution. These were words of knowledge for healing (maybe with a little “discerning the spirits” mixed in, another gift listed in 1 Corinthians 12).

I also believe there were lots of instances with Jesus that resemble what we do when we give words of knowledge for healing in a church service. For instance, when the demon in the man at the synagogue in Capernaum starting yelling at Jesus, He immediately cast the demon out of the man in front of the whole congregation (Mark 1:21-34; Luke 4:31-37). We likely wouldn’t be that bold in our church. We’d likely drag the person off to the prayer room and do deliverance there. In other words, in so many ways, we are much more tame with the supernatural than Jesus ever was.

We know that Jesus dropped a bunch of words of knowledge on the woman at the well, and these words of knowledge actually exposed her sin (John 4:1-42). We would rightly hesitate to be so bold as that! Yet Jesus didn’t hesitate at all. The woman’s own testimony was, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did!” Again, we are much more tame with the supernatural than Jesus ever was.

But the scenario that most resembles doing words of knowledge for healing in a church service is the interaction between Jesus, the disciples, and blind Bartimaeus. Here is the sequence from Mark 10:

  1. Bartimaeus cries out to Jesus for healing.
  2. Jesus sent a message to Bartimaeus through His disciples indicating that Jesus wanted to heal him.
  3. The disciples delivered the personal message to Bartimaeus in the midst of a large crowd of people.
  4. Bartimaeus identifies his need for healing, his desire for healing, and his faith for Jesus healing him.
  5. Jesus heals Bartimaeus through the conduit of Bartimaeus’s own faith.

That same chain of events is what happens when a person gives a word of knowledge for healing in a church service. Jesus is sending a message through a disciple that indicates what Jesus wants to do. That person/disciple must be obedient and say what they heard. The person needing healing then responds in faith, acknowledging their need and believing that Jesus wants to heal them in that moment. Their faith becomes a possible conduit through which Jesus heals them.

I’ve personally seen this happen a number of times in a number of different worship services. And once you’ve seen it once, you believe it can happen again and again. But it requires obedience and faith, both on the part of the “disciple delivering Jesus’s message” and on the part of the “Bartimaeus” in the room.

Even after all of these biblical examples, I understand the skepticism that still may exist. There have been abuses with this kind of healing ministry in the past in certain streams of the church. It makes sense that people would be wary of the improper use of words of knowledge for healing. Someone may read all of the above and respond with something like, “Yeah, but we aren’t Jesus. His ministry was different.” I get it. But to this objection I would offer Jesus’ own words.

Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. 

John 14:12

I am fine with the critique that argues that there are better ways to pray for healing in a church service than doing words of knowledge for healing. Maybe so. If so, let’s discover what those are. But I believe not praying for healing is just not an option for churches moving forward. The churches around the world that are growing are the ones who are fully embracing the gifts of the Spirit. Our post-Christian culture is resembling the rest of the world more and more. And so, I believe we must resemble the faithful global church more and more.

Consider the possibility that you have already been getting words of knowledge and just didn’t know what they were. Maybe you don’t use that terminology, or maybe you didn’t know it was a gift of the Spirit. Yet, many of you reading this right now have experienced the Lord give you a small nugget of information about someone through the Holy Spirit that you couldn’t have possibly known otherwise. Consider how God may want to use that gift in your life to love others. Could seeing others get healed be a part of that?

One Thing I Do Know

A second time they summoned the man who had been blind. “Give glory to God by telling the truth,” they said. “We know this man is a sinner.”

He replied, “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!”

John 9:24-25

Jesus spit on the ground, made mud, and put in on the blind man’s eyes. Then Jesus told him to go wash in the Pool of Siloam. The man went and washed and came home seeing. People were astonished. The man’s neighbors couldn’t believe it. His own parents couldn’t believe it. But the Pharisees had the hardest time believing it.

The man told the Pharisees his testimony about Jesus but they were sure Jesus was not from God. So they asked the parents to confirm the story. Still in unbelief, they asked the man to explain his healing again.

What I love about the man’s second response is that he confesses his own lack of theological acumen. He is not a scribe. He is not a scholar. He can’t break down Torah law like a professor. All he knows is his testimony. He was blind and now he can see. And this is the heart of every follower of Jesus.

This is also why I love praying for people and leaning into the supernatural gifts of the Spirit. You can find me most Wednesday mornings praying for someone in an extended prayer session of two to three hours. My prayer partner and I do a lot of listening to the Holy Spirit during these prayer sessions. We try to follow His lead. We engage in the gifts of discerning the spirits, healing, prophecy, impartation and the like. We see the power of God move as we pray. It is truly an amazing and humbling experience.

But the best part is yet to come. The best part is the testimony emails that we get a few days later. When the Presence of God comes in power, people are changed. People are set free from demonic oppression. People are healed in their soul. People are healed in their bodies. People reconnect with the love of the Father and are forever changed.

If you want to read some of these awesome testimonies, we’ve collected some of them here. We received a recent testimony from a person we prayed for. They had felt anger and bitterness in their chest for a long time. This person wrote to tell us that on their drive home from work two days after our prayer session they realized that feeling was gone. God had lifted it off their chest and it wasn’t there anymore. Instead, the Lord had filled them with peace. Upon realizing this, the person broke down and wept tears of joy for the first time in their life. They described this experience as “wild.”

This is why we do what we do. This is why gifts of the Spirit are so vital to the Church and shouldn’t be abandoned just because we’ve seen them used poorly in the past. They are tools that were given to the Church to bring life-change.

What people often need is not a theological explanation of Jesus. They need an encounter with Him. They need to feel His Presence and be changed by it. They may walk away not having all their theology worked out, but their testimony will be the same as the blind man who was healed. “Whether Jesus is _________ or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was hurting and broken but now I‘m healed!

Praying Together

We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many.

2 Corinthians 1:8-11

It is often said, “God will never give you more than you can handle.” But this statement is an extrapolation of 1 Corinthians 10:13 which actually states, “God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” But this must be taken together with the above passage where Paul clearly states that he and his companions, “were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired for life itself.

God does hold back temptation so that it is not beyond our capacity to resist. He also provides a way out. But life is not so kind. Life will throw stuff at us that feels beyond our ability to endure. But, as Paul recognizes, these are always opportunities to rely on God instead of relying on ourselves.

Paul remembers the times in the past when God delivered him from trouble, so Paul is able to trust in Him again. He also has a community of people praying for him. This seems to be a great encouragement to Paul as he faces such hardships.

Have you ever joined together with a number of people in praying for something and then got to rejoice together with them when God answered your collective prayer? It is such a powerful moment. And the passage of scripture above in the Greek calls that moment a “χάρισμα” (charisma).

We are used to seeing the Greek word “χάρισμα” (charisma) in 1 Corinthians 12 when Paul is listing the spiritual gifts. The word is usually translated “gift.” The word “χάρισμα” (charisma) combines the Greek word for grace, “χάρισ” (charis), with either the singular ending -μα (-ma) or the plural ending -ματα (-mata). The plural “χαρίσματα” (charismata) is where we get the term “charismatic.”

The full meaning of this word is more than just “gift.” The connotation is more like “grace-enablement,” or “grace-empowerment.” We could even translated it more literally as “gracelet.” Whereas the word “droplet” describes a small bit of liquid that comes from a larger source of liquid, the word “χάρισμα” (charisma) or “gracelet” describes a small bit of grace-enablement that comes from a larger source of grace. In other words, a “χάρισμα” (charisma) is a divine enablement of grace given by the Spirit. This is why we tend to call it a “spiritual gift.”

In the above passage, that moment where a group of people pray for something and see a miraculous intervention or a divine breakthrough as a result of their collective praying is called a “χάρισμα” (charisma). The English version above translates it “gracious favor.” Some translations translate it “gracious gift.” In other words, one of the “gifts of the Spirit” not listed in 1 Corinthians 12 is listed here. Many of us have experienced this spiritual gift but didn’t know it was a gift of the Spirit. It is the gift of having God’s grace poured out in a situation as a group of people agree together in prayer. And, as His grace is released, there is a breakthrough or an intervention that wouldn’t have happened otherwise.

The potential of this collective spiritual gift gave Paul encouragement and endurance as he faced trials and persecutions in his ministry. He set his hope on the Lord as he knew his churches were praying for him. There is real power in a group of people collectively agreeing together in prayer.

Faithfulness Rewarded

“The man with two bags of gold also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two bags of gold; see, I have gained two more.’

“His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

Matthew 25:22-23

In the Parable of the Talents, the man who was given two bags of gold and gained two more was given the same response by the master as the man who was given five bags of gold and gained five more. The master’s response was based on faithfulness. The question for the master was not how much they had been given but what they did with what they were given. They were faithful servants who had been faithful with what they had been given, so the master rewarded them for it.

The other day our oldest son was asking about the difference between GT/Advanced classes, honors classes, and standard classes. My wife was a high school teacher for years before teaching at the college level, so she launched into descriptions of how they might be different.

One thing we both made clear to him was that when colleges look at a student’s grades, an A in an honors class is better than a C or D in a GT class. Likewise, an A in a standard class is better than a C in an honors class. We were trying to make the same point that the Parable of the Talents makes: Faithfulness receives a greater reward than giftedness. And the more we are gifted, the greater the responsibility is to be faithful.

This applies to so many things in our life. God wants us to be faithful with what we have whether it is a lot or a little. This is true for money, relationships, spiritual gifts, opportunities, etc. And, often, the more we have, the more difficult it is to be faithful with it. We all say we want more money, but God will be looking for faithfulness if we get more money. Faithfulness with a lot of money can be more demanding than faithfulness with a little, just like getting an A in a GT class can be more demanding than getting an A in a standard class. Jesus said it this way:

From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.

Luke 12:48

This is why James warns about being a teacher. The greater the giftedness, the greater the responsibility it is to be faithful with that giftedness.

Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. 

James 3:1

And this doesn’t just apply to the responsibility and gift of teaching God’s word. It applies to other gifts of the Spirit as well. Whatever gifts and anointings we ask God for, we need to remember that He’s looking for faithfulness not giftedness. We may want to be more gifted than we are right now, but we will also be held accountable for being faithful with the gifts we are given. The more gifts of the Holy Spirit that are given to us, the more anointings placed on our life, the more that will be required of us in order to be faithful.

This truth should sober us when we look at people who are incredibly gifted. It is great to admire them, but we need to admire them for the right reasons. Rather than just being enamored with the level of their giftedness, we should look instead at their character and be in awe of how they have stewarded these great gifts. We should be impressed with their faithfulness, knowing how difficult it would be to be faithful with that level of giftedness.

If we’re not faithful with the gifts that we already have, what makes us think we’ll be faithful with more? If we’re not faithful with the money we already have, what makes us think we’ll be faithful with more? If we’re not faithful with the opportunities and responsibilities we already have, what makes us think we’ll be faithful with more?

God is a Good Father so he loves for us to ask for more. But He also doesn’t want to crush us with the “more” that we’re asking for. As we ask for more, let’s also ask for the capacity to be faithful with it. As we ask for more money, let’s also ask for more wisdom in how to faithfully manage it. As we ask for more gifts, let’s also ask for a strengthening of our character so that we can be faithful.

Residential and Occasional Gifts

Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.

1 Corinthians 12:7-11

There is some confusion in the church about the gifts of the Spirit and how they operate. One point of misunderstanding revolves around gifts of the Spirit like healing and miracles. The comment usually goes like this, “If someone has the gift of healing, why don’t they just walk around and go into hospitals and just heal everyone.” The logic is that if they have the gift, they should be able to use it whenever and wherever they want. People often think of “gifts” as no more than supercharged abilities that we can control at will.

But this shows a lack of understanding of how many of the gifts of the Spirit work. All spiritual gifts given by the Holy Spirit are not always fully controlled by the will of the person who has them. It is true that some gifts are “residential” in nature in that they are always able to be accessed and used by the person who has that gift. Examples of a residential gift would be the gift of mercy, gift of hospitality, or gift of teaching. In nearly every setting, a person is able to access this gift and use it for the glory of God. The gift seems to “reside” in the person in a way that doesn’t depend on a special request of God. The person is a kind of reservoir for the gift.

Other gifts are “non-residential” and are sometimes called “occasional” gifts by theologians. By occasional they don’t mean temporary or rare. They mean that these gifts show up in particular occasions and can’t be fully controlled by the person who has this gift. Examples of “occasional” gifts are gifts of healing, gifts of miracles, gift of prophecy, etc. Those who have operated in these “occasional” gifts usually have to request that the Lord move through them in that way for that particular situation. The gift is there, but it is not released automatically. It must be released by God through the person. Rather than a reservoir, the person is simply a conduit of the gift.

We could say that a person with one of the non-residential gifts has to wait on the Lord and has to invite the Lord to use them as a conduit in that moment. When we say they “have” the gift of healing or miracles or prophecy we don’t mean they own the gift and control it at will. We mean that we have seen the Lord regularly use them as a conduit of that gift. And as a person grows in a non-residential gift, they are used more and more often to be a conduit. It happens more regularly.

With a residential gift, a person can use it all the time. Growing in that kind of gift doesn’t mean that it happens more regularly but that, when it is used, it is used more powerfully. Meaning, the effect of the gift when it is used grows in impact.

We could use modern technology as an analogy. Having a residential gift is like having the song on your hard drive. Having a non-residential gift is like having to pull it down from the cloud. Either way, you have access to it, but it’s a different kind of access.

Knowing this distinction about the different gifts is important so that we can learn to cooperate with the Spirit in the operation of the gifts given to us. Different gifts require a different kind of cooperation. When we know this, we can wield these gifts for the sake of the Kingdom of God and for the glory of the name Jesus.

One of the Twelve

Now the Festival of Unleavened Bread, called the Passover, was approaching, and the chief priests and the teachers of the law were looking for some way to get rid of Jesus, for they were afraid of the people. Then Satan entered Judas, called Iscariot, one of the Twelve. And Judas went to the chief priests and the officers of the temple guard and discussed with them how he might betray Jesus. They were delighted and agreed to give him money. 

Luke 22:1-5

I have seen this strategy of the enemy over and over again. Satan didn’t need to enter the Pharisees or the chief priests. He already had them as allies. Satan didn’t need to enter the temple guards. They were already at his disposal. But, in order to get to Jesus, satan had to enter Judas, one of the Twelve.

I have found that the enemy often attacks those who are the greatest threat to his kingdom of darkness. If he already has people as obedient servants, he doesn’t need to waste time or resources on them. Yet, those who are a real threat to the kingdom of darkness and don’t know it–don’t yet know their true identity–this is who he tries to heavily demonize. Satan had to try to enter one of the Twelve, but he had to go after the one who didn’t yet know who they were.

During deliverance sessions, if someone is a Christian and they are heavily demonized, we often discover that they are incredibly gifted. They have the potential to be incredibly powerful in the Kingdom of God, but ever since they were young, they were abused, lied to, or neglected. In other words, their identity is in shambles. If they ever found out who they really are in Christ, they would be an absolutely destructive force against the darkness. So the strategy of the enemy is to torment them to the point that they hate themselves and just want to die. The last thing satan can allow is for them to discover who they really are. Like a young superhero before they fully understand their powers, these people have to be taken out early.

But what if they get free from their demons? What if they start to understand who they are in Christ? What if the Light starts to break through the darkness? It’s not just that these folks go from being demonized to being free. It’s that they go from being buried under darkness to becoming supernovas in God’s Kingdom.

Some might think that if a Christian is heavily demonized, they must be really messed up. And there is truth in that. But the greater truth is that they are heavily demonized because they are so dangerous to the kingdom of darkness; they just don’t know it yet. They don’t know who God has created them to be or what their gifts are. And because satan does know, he tries to torment them into powerlessness before they can become dangerous.

Black church

For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

Ephesians 2:14-18

I saw a funny video on Facebook of a comedian talking about his experience at “white church” when his white friends invited him on Sunday. It was not only hilarious but it highlighted some of the different experiences Christians have in church based on their race.

More and more churches have a diversity of races among them. Non-denominationalism has greatly helped this, but we still have a long way to go. There are still “white Protestant” and “black Protestant” churches and traditions. There are “white Pentecostal” and “black Pentecostal” churches and traditions. There are Baptist churches that are predominantly and historically white and there are Baptist churches that are predominantly and historically black.

When you look at studies done of the American church–from organizations like Pew Research and Barna Group–they show that the “black church” has had a strong emphasis on social justice. The “white church” in America has been trying to catch up to this emphasis for decades, first in the mainline Protestant traditions and now among evangelicals. But the other emphasis–the one that is hardly ever mentioned in the news, among evangelicals, or among mainline protestants–is how the black church has for decades emphasized the Holy Spirit, the gifts of the Spirit and the movement of the Spirit within the worship setting.

The Holy Spirit, the gifts of the Spirit, and the movement of the Spirit is not only emphasized in black Pentecostal churches, but even within historically black Protestant traditions. In other words, it seems that in the fight against oppression and injustice, the black church not only focused on the importance of social justice and transformation but also focused on the need for the empowerment of the Holy Spirit.

This hardly ever gets discussed in conversations about racial reconciliation in the church. Why?

The reason is because the white churches that champion social justice the most completely reject the gifts of the Spirit and the importance of the movement of the Spirit.

Here is what I’d like to propose. Until the white church understands the Holy Spirit better, how the supernatural gifts of the Spirit operate today, and what it looks like for a movement of the Spirit to happen, there will be large gaps in racial reconciliation in the church. How can a white church that rejects the fullness of the Spirit embrace a black church that not only emphasizes the Spirit but absolutely depends on Him.

Let me take it a step further. Until the white church embraces the charismata, we will never fully embrace our black brothers and sisters in Christ. If we don’t understand what is happening when that black grandma prayer warrior falls down on the church carpet after being prayed for, if we, in all our whiteness, still label it “emotionalism” or worse (black people getting carried away) then we’ll never be able to move toward racial reconciliation in the church. I propose that until we, as white folks, start dropping under the power of the Holy Spirit, racial reconciliation will just be an academic pursuit.

Paul said, “For through Him (Jesus) we both have access to the same Father by one Spirit” (Ephesians 2:18). The Holy Spirit is the One who unifies the Church, the Body of Christ. Again, Paul reminds us, “…we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink” (1 Corinthians 12:13). In 1906 when the Holy Spirit sparked the Azuza Street revival–the birthplace of Pentecostalism–blacks, whites, and Latinos all came together and worshiped together. William Seymour, the son of emancipated slaves, led the revival. This was completely unheard of in that time of segregation. But the revival fires of the Holy Spirit brought unity and racial reconciliation (however temporary).

We cannot seek unity and racial reconciliation and reject the Spirit. We cannot say “No” to the supernatural gifts of the Spirit that are on full display in our black brothers and sisters and then turn around and try to say “Yes” to unity.

So, are you a Christian who is passionate about racial reconciliation in the Church? Then I propose that you start investigating the Holy Spirit. I invite you to seek the baptism of the Holy Spirit, the gifts of the Spirit, and the manifestations of the Spirit. Start there and you’ll be on your way to increasing your understanding of the black church in America.

Batteries Charging Batteries

Last November my family and I went to Disney World. It was one of those trips that you save and plan for so that the memories can last a lifetime. Part of the planning was to bring external battery packs that could recharge our phones in the middle of the day. We knew that we would be taking so many pictures that our phones would need recharging by the middle of the afternoon. We were right.

Since there weren’t really places to stop and charge our phones (and there really wasn’t time to waste) we would just plug our phones into the battery packs as we walked through the parks. It was so nice to have a fully charged phone without having to stop. At the end of each day we would have to remember not only to charge our phones but also the battery packs. The battery packs weren’t a source of power; they were simply a storage place and conduit of power that was generated somewhere else.

It is an interesting idea, though, when you really think about it–using one battery to charge another. The Lord brought this concept to mind this morning in the shower when I was reflecting on the spiritual reality of impartation.

What is impartation?

In basic terms, impartation is any time something is imparted from one person to another. In theological/spiritual terms, it is one Christian being a conduit of God’s power and anointing in order to transfer it to another believer. Impartation is a transference of the anointing of the Holy Spirit from one believer to another (and sometimes the transference of particular gifts of the Spirit). Impartation is one battery pack charging another. We see impartation in the Bible first with Moses and the elders.

The Lord said to Moses: “Bring me seventy of Israel’s elders who are known to you as leaders and officials among the people. Have them come to the tent of meeting, that they may stand there with you. I will come down and speak with you there, and I will take some of the power of the Spirit that is on you and put it on them. They will share the burden of the people with you so that you will not have to carry it alone.”

So Moses went out and told the people what the Lord had said. He brought together seventy of their elders and had them stand around the tent. Then the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke with him, and he took some of the power of the Spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders. When the Spirit rested on them, they prophesied—but did not do so again.

Numbers 11:16-17, 24-25

We see it again between Moses and Joshua with the laying on of hands/prayer.

Now Joshua son of Nun was filled with the spirit of wisdom because Moses had laid his hands on him. So the Israelites listened to him and did what the Lord had commanded Moses.

Deuteronomy 34:9

We see it in the New Testament between Paul and the believers in Ephesus.

they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus, and when Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they began to speak in tongues and to prophesy. 

Acts 19:5-6

And we see it again between Paul and Timothy.

Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through prophecy when the body of elders laid their hands on you.

For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands.

1 Timothy 4:14 & 2 Timothy 1:6

When impartation is released from one believer to another–when there is a transference of the power, anointing, and/or gifting of the Holy Spirit–amazing things can happen in the life of the person receiving the impartation. I have been on the receiving end of impartation and my life was radically transformed by the experience. I was flooded with the power and presence of the Spirit in a way that I had never experienced before. I was given new gifts of the Spirit, some in seedling form and some more fully formed.

I believe impartation is available for everyone. Our role in receiving it is to make sure the soil of our heart and our lives are ready to receive all that God has for us. We prepare the soil; God plants the seed. But that seed often comes through a conduit, a person commissioned to spread the seed that belongs to the Farmer. In other words, one battery pack is used to recharge another battery, but everyone knows that the Source of the power is not the battery pack. The battery pack is just a conduit of electricity that they themselves have first received.

This is what Jesus was telling His disciples when He sent them out to do ministry and miracles. He reminded them, “Freely you have received; freely give” (Matthew 10:8). Freely you have been charged up and empowered by the Holy Spirit, now freely release that power, that anointing, and those gifts to others.

If you are interested in learning more about impartation, I recommend the book There Is More by Dr. Randy Clark.