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Fact from Fiction: Understanding Tongues


My first time speaking in heavenly language began as a small whisper. It was during a virtual worship service. The preached word filled my bedroom. I began to pray softly when gradually I noticed my words had changed.

It was beautiful, and sweet, and loving, and gentle. It felt like warmth. Peace. Absolute harmony. I never asked God for it. The Apostle Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians to prefer prophecy over tongues so that others might edified and the kingdom of God strengthened. I accepted my call to preach years before this moment, spent years teaching on spiritual gifts and languages yet never spoken one myself and was more than okay with that. I desired to understand the gifts even if they were not mine. First, answers. Then, anointing. Now, it is your turn. We cannot dig too deep in this space, but we can start with the basics. Let's get some answers.

Tongues and Languages

Not all divine communication is the same. Because the term tongues has been used so loosely in Christian circles it can be confusing, so we will begin with defining tongues.

Tongues is a divine oral expression disbursed and ignited by the Holy Spirit in a believer for one of three purposes:


Exposing God to the unbeliever through supernatural knowledge and speaking of known languages

Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues (other known languages) as the Spirit enabled them. Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. 6 When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?” ~Acts 2:2-12, New International Version


Kingdom building through the speaking and interpretation of unknown language

What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up. If anyone speaks in a tongue, two—or at the most three—should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret. ~1 Corinthians 14:26-28 NIV


Interaction with heavenly places through unknown, unintelligible communication (commonly called heavenly or prayer language)

For anyone who speaks in a tongue (unintelligible language) does not speak to people but to God. Indeed, no one understands them; they utter mysteries by the Spirit. ~1 Corinthians 14:2 NIV

If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and to God.~1 Corinthians 14:28 NIV

What We See Today

Because we do not commonly see or hear of tongues being interpreted or known languages being spoken by those who do not know the language, some scholars believe those gifts have reached their fullness in revealing Christ and therefore no longer exists. But how can we know when the fullness of the revelation of an omnipotent God has reached its point? If we believe his thoughts are not our thoughts and his ways are not our ways, then we must hold to the fact that God's divine timing is not on our clock. Gifts are a dispensation of grace and are disbursed at the will and timing of the Holy Spirit. Not ours.

The unknown, unintelligible expression of heavenly language is more commonly witnessed today. Publicly, we see it in corporate worship or even as a sermon is being preached. Not educating the body of Christ sufficiently about the workings of the Spirit leaves these experiences open to much scrutiny and skepticism.

So how do you know fact from fiction?


Pray for discernment.

We are finite beings. He is not. It is okay to ask God to reveal truth. As a matter of fact, he expects us to. And when you ask, do it with good intentions.

When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. ~1 Corinthians 13:11 NIV

If your reason for clarity is to shame or question the anointing on someone's life, do not expect heaven to join in.


Let the work they do speak for them.

Be mindful of those who seem so full of the Spirit in one moment and create havoc in the next. Do you see God working through them outside of this moment? Something that is helpful for me is when I hear a preacher speak heavenly language in the midst of a sermon, I ask myself "was this word blessing me he or she they spoke in a language I can't understand?" . If the answer is "yes", then I leave what I don't understand for the angels to interpret, not me. I use this frame of thinking with others in ministry as well. Only God knows about the language, but does the kingdom work they do speak for them?

Finally, remember this...

The nearer you draw to God - in life, love, worship, prayer, service - the more access he allows. Tongues is not a promotion. It is a progression, an ascension in the Spirit. If and when your time comes, embrace it. In the meantime, celebrate it in others. If you are a witness to the truth, know God is near.

Praying for your revelations and confirmations.

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About Phillipa



Phillipa Williams has dedicated her life to building God’s kingdom. A former programs director for new member and Christian education with over 36 years’ experience in leadership and discipleship, she has equipped thousands to serve God and community.

She is the Founder/CEO of GOD n Me International, a faith-based social enterprise equipping and inspiring others for spiritual intimacy, transparency, and destiny. Her blog,, was named one of the "Top 10 Black Christian Blogs, Websites, Newsletters To Follow in 2019“ by In Spring 2022, Phillipa published her first book, GOD 'n You: Finding Your Place in Forever. She also completed the licensing and ministerial requirements at the Potter's House School of Ministry in Dallas, Texas.

An advocate for women and children, Phillipa founded and serves as Executive Director of the 501 (c)(3) nonprofit, ilooklikeLOVE, Inc.. ilooklikeLOVE works to eradicate early childhood poverty through diaper assistance and capacity building for new mothers.


She is the proud parent on one adult son, Kenneth.

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