The first time I spoke in tongues was at a Benny Hinn revival. Now before you get too judgmental remember, these revivals have over 30,000 committed Christians praising the Lord for many days straight. Even if Mr. Hinn is not the type of ‘godly’ you would like him to be, there is no doubt that there is power in this many people praising God. So here I was, singing with the choir with the rest of the stadium, lost in the fact that I loved the Lord, and it just happened. And it was wonderful. And I wanted to do it all day, everyday, which would have been weird. I think that reason that so many do not receive this gift is that we are rarely completely focused on praising God. I know that this is difficult for me. Even now my worship and prayer time are commonly a struggle between giving attention to God, and thinking about whatever else is going on in my life, mostly stupid little stuff, not even things I am greatly worried about. So what I am going to have for dinner often precludes being totally present with the Lord. Sad, but true. It is this tendency that keeps many from having an experience where the Holy Spirit can freely work in and through you. Being completely present when you worship and pray is therefore the goal I would recommend seeking if you want to experience His gift. Do not focus on the gift, but the giver, God, and be content letting Him decide where or when He will give you what you seek. Two things to remember though. God is a gentleman; He will not give you things you do not want, against your will. Second, this is a gift, and the giver gets to decide what and when a gift is given. Sometime it is not you. It is just not the right time, and when you do receive it, it is then that you know why He waited. Or maybe not.
So what is it like to speak in tongues? I really can’t say. Even though I am able to pray this way, it is incredibly difficult to describe. You are talking, but you are fervent, wanting to really pray. It is like you are going to fast for words. (Not that tongues is speaking fast, it just seems ‘efficient.’) Most of the time you know who or what you are led by God to pray for, just not really aware of what exactly you are praying. There is sometimes an urgency, like this really needs to be prayed for, but sometimes a peace, and a comfortable feeling. It probably depends on the person you are praying for’s need. One time I began laughing every time I prayed for a certain man. He was my pastor. (Not my current pastor.) It got to the point that I wanted to know what the joke was. Then he spoke on the gift of tongues and said that the first time God blessed him he could not stop laughing. Somehow this made sense. You don’t know what you are praying for, exactly, when you pray in tongues but you have a feeling that you are being effective and that God is hearing you intercede for whatever the need is. (How is that for a non-answer?)
Tongues in church, or other group setting is different. Why? Probably because you are not by yourself. This prayer is therefore not just between you and God, but for the edification (building up, benefit) of the group you are in. For this reason it is different. First, there should be someone else there who has accepted the gift of the Holy Spirit so that they may interpret in words people can understand what you have said. On Pentecost it seems that many, many people were gifted with the ability to interpret in their own language, and it makes sense that they would translate in the language that they are most comfortable speaking, probably the language they think in. Today it happens like this (at least in my experience). There is a feeling, almost a ‘heaviness.’ The church gets quiet. (Even my seven children shut up and settled down, which is how I know it must be from God!) It is as if people are waiting for something to happen. Someone will then say something. It sounds good, but no one understands. Then someone, usually someone different, translates and tells the room what was said. I have never spoken in tongues in a group, nor have I translated. I instead am often able to ‘confirm’ the message. (This is not in scripture, but it is what I do.) God gives me the translation after the interpreter speaks, usually about one or two words before they say them. Not fast enough to be the interpreter, but just early enough to know the message is from God.
Has anyone ever faked a message? Yes. One person I know always had messages that basically said ‘everyone needs to be nicer to me.’ Another group told a woman she would have a baby in a year. She didn’t and actually had her uterus removed. This I knew was false, but how do you tell an infertile woman people she loves are giving her false hope? She left the church over this, but has thankfully kept her faith. Faking this is an awful, awful thing to do. I am not sure everyone who does it understands that they are faking. I think some are emotional people who really want what they say to be true. But it hurts people and destroys their faith, so let’s be sure before we say anything, okay? And remember, God tends to trust people with maturity with His messages, so it is okay to consider the source.