Tongues on the Football Field (continued)

Tongues on the Football Field (continued)

This column is a continuation from last week. It is about tongues and prophecy. 
When I was in my early twenties, I read a quote from a Christian philosopher who said that for Christians life is not just a problem to be solved; life is also a mystery. The tendency of many Christians, like me, is sometimes to approach the Christian life (and even God Himself) as a series of problems to be solved with our minds. We think that if we apply reason to the Bible, we can solve almost anything! (We forget that we cannot understand anything truly important about God without the Holy Spirit.
The Christian philosopher I mentioned, Gabriel Marcel, reminds us that much about God and life is mysterious. In the letter of I Corinthians (2:9-10), Paul says that the Spirit searches the depths of God. He says that eye has not seen, ear has not heard, and the heart has not conceived what God has prepared for us, but God has revealed it to us through His Holy Spirit. Then, in I Corinthians 14:2, he goes on to say that when we pray in the Spirit/in tongues we “utter mysteries”. (I Corinthians 14:2). This subject can be pretty overwhelming for an ordinary Christian who isn’t acquainted with these things, so read on!
In last week’s column I commented on the yahoo sports piece revealing that substitute freshman quarterback Tua Tagovailoa had said that speaking in tongues/praying in the Spirit had kept him calm during Alabama’s national championship win. According to Paul, when a person truly exercises that gift, he or she “builds himself up” (I Corinthians 14:4).

So why am I talking about this? For three reasons: First, I believe in the authority of the Bible. God’s inspired Word talks positively about tongues, not as a gift that every believer has, but as a spiritual gift that Paul wishes more people had (I Corinthians 14:5). Second, the Bible says that the proper use of tongues “builds a believer up.” Tua Tagovailoa made headlines when he reported just that…not that praying in tongues made him play football any better, but that it gave him peace and calm in a very stressful situation. Third, my own personal experience over several decades is that getting out of one’s mind and “speaking mysteries to God by the Spirit” can truly build up those who exercise this gift.

When I was a child of about ten or eleven (but maybe younger) I was very much in love with Jesus.  One day after church and Sunday School, I went hiking in the woods, and I had the impulse to praise God by singing the melody “Ode to Joy” (by Beethoven) but I sang to God “in a language I made up.” It was exhilarating. I felt so close to Him. I had never heard of tongues. I was just singing to the awesome God in words whose meaning I did not know—because He was so awesome.
Some would say that if a pastor, in his or her prayer closet (or in the woods), prays to God in a prayer language, that should remain private. Yet in I Corinthians 14:18 Paul wrote “I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you.” As part of his teaching them, he wanted them to know that this was a gift he exercised and that it helped build him up. He wanted some of them to benefit from exercising this gift just as he had. Yet if he had to choose, he wanted them all to have the gift of prophecy. And he also warned them about the misuse of the gift of tongues in worship without an interpreter. 
Tongues and prophecy. Paul did both. He could exercise his spirit by speaking in his “prayer language” in private, strengthening and building himself up for all he would have to face, and he also could speak a word from God in a particular situation (prophecy with a small “p”)  to build up the body of believers. The church today desperately needs both gifts of God’s Spirit.
Thanks to a college football player for getting me to write about this for the last two weeks.

Winfield Casey Jones is a retired pastor and can be reached at This column first appears in the Pearland and Friendswood Reporter News.  


  1. Casey, the thought comes to mind that Paul meant to instruct us on the difference in "personal" worship versus "communal" worship. In individual prayer/worship the language is inconsequential. God understands our heart and mind, so it matters only that we want contact with Him. Your walk in the woods was understood by God, he knew your "tongue" expressed His awesomeness to you.
    With group prayer/worship it IS important that we express in common tongue, so that all may know the meaning. It reminds me of an early experience I had in attending a Catholic service when the entire thing was in Latin. I had no idea what was going on, I was uncomfortable when I should have been understanding of the worship and communication taking place. I have that same lack of comfort when, as Paul said, I find myself in a worship service without an interpreter to explain the meaning of various rites and rituals taking place, even if expressed in common language. Now, as to that "gift of prophecy"......


  2. Drake, thank you so much for commenting! I liked your sharing how once attending a Roman Catholic service entirely in Latin was both confusing and made you uncomfortable. You likened that to being in a worship service where someone was speaking in tongues (and no one was interpreting). I think Paul would agree with you a hundred percent. He emphatically does not think that exercising the gift of a personal prayer language in public worship is at all helpful (in fact is harmful) unless there is an interpreter, because people will be confused just as you say.

    However, you seem to indicate that for you there is no difference between my praying to God in English and my praying to God in my prayer language (tongues) because God understands both, and what is important is that He knows I want contact with him. Drake, while I think this makes great sense logically, I do not think it is exactly what Scripture says in I Corinthians chapters 12 and 14.

    There Paul says that a person who speaks to God in syllables they do not understand somehow is praying “in the spirit”( not their mind) and somehow is “building themselves up.” Now we could spend a lot of time discussing how this could possibly be true but I believe Scripture says that it is true. My hunch is that speaking to God in this way, using syllables we do not understand, enables God to touch our spirits directly, bypassing our minds. In fact there are studies that show that when a person speaks in tongues, a different part of their brain lights up.

    So I agree emphatically with part of what you say and disagree somewhat with another part of what you say. I would be happy to discuss this further with you or anyone else.Thanks again for commenting.

    God Bless! Casey


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