Can’t get the gift of speaking in tongues

Straight Talk

The Question

I have read your articles on speaking in tongues and gifts. I am a born again believer and have been most of my life, though I have walked away at times. I do not speak in tongues and I have sought it. Is there something that could be stopping me? I believe if you seek you should receive, right?

DB From Scottsburg, Indiana

The Answer
Part 1: Holy Spirit is the giver
Part 2: Hindrances to receiving

Holy Spirit is the giver (Part 1)

Let’s take the pressure off you as we begin. After Paul highlighted some of the gifts of the Holy Spirit to the Corinthian church he said this, “But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as he wills.” (1 Corinthians 12:11) Later in the same chapter he says, “All do not have gifts of healings, do they? All do not speak with tongues, do they? All do not interpret, do they?” Verse 30)

Curiously, I’ve never heard anyone wonder what is wrong with them regarding not having any Holy Spirit gift besides speaking in tongues. Yet, it is actually not tongues, but prophecy that Paul encourages us to strive for. “Pursue love, yet desire earnestly spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy.” (1 Corinthians 14:1) So why aren’t people who are not prophetic all stressed out over that?

In some portions of the Pentecostal/Charismatic streams of Christianity, speaking in tongues is unfortunately somewhat of a litmus test. I understand why that happened. Back in 1906 during the Azuza Street Revival (birth of the modern day Pentecostal movement), tongues was the watershed event. Once you spoke in tongues you were considered baptized in the Holy Spirit just like on the original day of Pentecost with the 120 in the upper room. Until it happened you were still tarrying down at the altar at the end of every service.

Eventually denominations arose out of these revival roots and in the course of time they formulated statements of faith and held particular doctrine as essential to their group. Speaking in tongues as the initial evidence of the baptism of the Holy Spirit came to be one of those articles of faith for several denominations. Without meaning to, this strong emphasis created terrible pressure for people who tried and tried to receive the gift but couldn’t. Something must be wrong with THEM.

I don’t know what church you attend or what teaching you have had about the gift of tongues but I can deduce that somewhere along the line you have gotten the idea that if you have not received it, it is your fault. Let the scriptures above sink into you. You might try speaking them out loud at the start of every day until all guilt flees from you entirely.

So should you give up on ever speaking in tongues? No, let’s not go that route either.

Hindrances to receiving (Part 2)

I don’t know what gifts the Holy Spirit has already deposited in you or which ones he might still deposit but it is always a good idea to ask him for MORE. He loves our seeking and he loves our desire.

Is it possible that something is hindering you from receiving this gift rather than that the Holy Spirit simply hasn’t chosen it for you? Yes, of course. If that is the case, let’s try to uncover it and remove it. I don’t think I have all the answers here but in my observation of people striving for this gift a few things have jumped out over time.


    • The biggest thing I have seen is what I mentioned in Part 1: pressure that you must have this gift to prove something. Therefore the object becomes the gift itself, not the Giver. “But seek His kingdom, and these things will be added to you.” (Luke 12:31)

Bad Experiences

    • Some people have tried so hard and had so many experiences with failure that their receptors have been almost completely choked off. Sometimes well meaning but ignorant “helpers” caused the failures.

      I remember the Sunday night I went to the altar along with others seeking to receive the baptism in the Holy Spirit. As time passed an old time Pentecostal man started yelling out at individuals at the other end of the line who had not yet “received” (code for had not yet broken out into tongues). He was grabbing their heads and telling them if they hadn’t been baptized it sure wasn’t God’s fault. God wasn’t the holdup—they were!

      This horrible distraction started shutting me down but then by God’s grace a very gentle woman came up behind me and whispered encouragement and helped me put my eyes back on the Lord. I’m so glad I was able to tune out that naysayer but I don’t know what became of those who were subjected to him.

Personal Style

  • I know a woman who sought the gift you’ve been seeking for several hours at a church service and who was prayed over every which way without success. That night she went home sad and disappointed and went to bed. In the middle of the night she was awakened hearing herself speaking with great joy in a new language. It was a very blessed experience.

    The point here is that people have different personalities and receiving the gifts of the Holy Spirit will come in different settings and circumstances to accommodate that. One size does not fit all. Maybe you are a very private person and need a very private experience or maybe you are most comfortable in groups and need help and encouragement around you. Don’t ignore your natural preferences and style as you ask the Holy Spirit to give you the gifts you desire.

Finally, I agree with you about God’s Word which says, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” (Luke 11:9) Don’t give up. Make sure your eyes are on him rather than any gifts themselves and the motivation of your heart is to serve him. After that, trust him to give you in his timing ALL that he intends for you—tongues or not!

Note: Following the release of this article I received some very helpful feedback from a reader which I pass on in case it is beneficial to others. He writes about his own experience: “I prayed for tongues as a 17 year old and nothing happened. I asked my Jesuit priest Uncle and he in turn asked me whether I ever sang to God without recognisable words, much as you might have done as a child using a “special language”. This I most certainly did and he explained that I could not receive the gift afresh because I already had it! I was then able to relax and speak as well as sing in tongues.”

Whether as a child or not, singing relaxes the soul and may in turn get past any blocks and enable a person to receive more easily.