This weekend we ended our series on the Holy Spirit by addressing some of the questions that have come up throughout the series. Here is my response to a couple of those questions, with the full video of the Q&A below. The Q&A starts at 17:28.
How much should we depend on “words of prophecy” in normal decision making?
Conservatively speaking, 99.9% of the time, the Holy Spirit leads us through wisdom, not through direct revelation. Take a look at the book of Acts and notice how Paul makes his decisions. He says things like, “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us” (Acts 15:28–29). Those aren’t the words of someone who has every decision spelled out by God in his Wheaties. Those are the words of someone who the Spirit is guiding through wisdom. For the Apostle Paul, revelation was the unexpected exception, not the rule.
Henry Blackaby, in his classic Bible study—Experiencing God—offers what I have found to be a helpful paradigm. He mentions four aspects to Christian decision-making: (1) Scripture—What does the whole counsel of God say regarding this particular decision? (2) Experiences—What has God been doing in your life? Does this decision resonate with the experiences God has given you? (3) Wise Counsel of Friends—Friends can offer a perspective into your life that you lack, which helps reveal where God is at work. (4) Special instruction by The Holy Spirit (I’m interjecting a little of my own thoughts here; Blackaby calls this 4th category ‘prayer’)—The Spirit does, periodically, intervene in our lives, particularly through words of prophecy from other people. The key here is balance: I don’t want to give this last aspect so much weight that it trumps the other three.
You mentioned that the primary purpose of tongues is not a private prayer language. But doesn’t Paul mention that in tongues we “speak to God?”
As I mentioned last week, I do not believe we should forbid to speak in tongues. Paul makes that clear in 1 Cor 14:39.
I would, however, offer a word of caution to those who do. I often hear people say their private prayer language makes them feel close to God. But this is not the primary purpose of the gift of tongues. God intended the gift of tongues to be a sign of the new frontiers of the gospel. While Paul says that tongues “edify” the one using them, this would be a side-effect of the gift, not its purpose.
And when a person does speak in a tongue, Paul recommends that they ask for interpretation, since it’s not really even that edifying to them unless they understand what is being said (1 Cor 14:13). Think about it: If God’s Spirit fills me to pray, “God, You have loved me, You know me, You care for me”, would it not be more edifying to hear myself say that than to have that come out in syllables I can’t understand?
Some say that Paul wants us to ask for the gift of tongues as evidenced by this statement that we should “desire all the spiritual gifts.” To desire, of course, is not the same as to seek. I desire that God give you all the ability to walk on water. But even though I might desire that, I don’t tell you to seek it. Paul desires that we all have the gift of celibacy. We are not commanded, however, to seek it. Whenever Paul gives instructions about seeking, he doesn’t instruct us to seek the gift of tongues; instead, he directs us towards the gifts that edify others.
If in the middle of your prayer time, you feel something bubble up inside of you, and you want to let it out, I won’t try to stop you. Paul doesn’t forbid it, and neither will I. But you should immediately ask God for interpretation. As Paul says, it is best to pray with both your spirit and your mind.