Tongues on the Football Field
Tongues on the Football Field
Recently Alabama came from behind to beat Georgia in the college national championships. In the second half of the game, with Alabama down 13-0, coach Nick Saban put into the game a freshman quarterback, Tua Tagovailoa. People were amazed that Alabama came back from a deficit to win the game in overtime. Yahoo sports wrote an interesting article on this, from which I will now quote at some length. “How, in the name of Bear Bryant, did a freshman bench jockey rise to this ridiculously pressurized occasion and become an instant hero? ‘I was praying,’ Tagovailoa said. ‘I was speaking in tongues. It kept me calm.’” “He prayed before possessions. He prayed after possessions. He prayed and passed and scrambled his way into Alabama lore. ‘I would say my poise comes from my faith,’ Tagovailoa said. ‘I just pray for peace.’” https://sports.yahoo.com/savior-alabama-never-knew-needed-tua-tagovailoa-084441084.html
Another website, seccountry.com, had this headline: “Alabama QB Tua Tagovailoa spoke in tongues to keep calm during National Championship Game.” https://www.seccountry.com/alabama/alabama-qb-tua-tagovailoa-spoke-tongues-keep-calm-national-championship-game
As a pastor who believes we should emphasize the Holy Spirit more, these accounts raise many questions. “What is tongues? Does it exist today? What is it for?” Let me start to respond to these questions, knowing that once again, my response will take two weeks. But before I do that, please notice that Tagovailoa reportedly spoke in tongues privately or silently during the game to gain peace, strength, and confidence. He did not speak in tongues to his teammates on the field or in the huddle. That would have been chaotic, confusing, and highly disheartening because they would not have understood! As I will show, in the Bible, tongues is a private prayer language that builds up the individual.
First of all, for Christians tongues is the ability to speak in unintelligible syllables to God, and it is a way of praying with our spirit not our mind. The Apostle Paul discusses this gift in scripture, and much of what I will say comes from what he wrote at I Corinthians, chapters 12 and 14. He says tongues is a gift (12:10). He emphasizes that particular gifts like tongues and healing are not shared by everyone in the Christian community, but that everyone has at least one gift (12:30.)
He goes on in I Corinthians, chapter 13, to make the point that love is more important than any gift, and that no gift is going to work without love.
In I Corinthians 14, Paul speaks mostly about two gifts—prophecy and tongues. More about “prophecy,” next week, but let me say for now it usually does not so much mean predicting the future as speaking a direct word from God into a situation or to a person. All gifts, except tongues, are used to build up other believers in the body of Christ. But tongues is a private prayer language which only builds up an individual. Paul says, “For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit.” A person once told me tongues is not a form of prayer, and I told him that if I Corinthians says in tongues a person “speaks to God,” then that looks like prayer to me! Some people call tongues their prayer language, and I find that a good description. But what good does it do?
Paul says “the one who speaks in tongues build himself up.”(I Corinthians 14:4) It helps the individual. Paul goes on to say that when we pray in a language we understand, our mind is at work—cognitively. But when a person prays in syllables they do not understand, “their spirit prays but their mind is unfruitful.” (12:14)
A scholar (Thomas Smail) who had the gift of tongues once came to our (Presbyterian) seminary to give a chapel service. Of course he only spoke in English. After the chapel I asked him what effect tongues had on him. He said exercising the gift made him less cerebral in his faith. In other words, it got him a bit out of his mind and into his spirit!
Tua Tagovailoa reported that speaking in his prayer language gave him calm in a high pressured situation. Next week I will continue with this description of the Biblical view of tongues as a gift which can strengthen individual faith.
Winfield Casey Jones can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. This column first appeared in the Pearland and Friendswood Reporter News.