Pentecost Sunday:
It’s Nothing to Be Ashamed Of

by J. Lee Grady of Charisma online, May 25, 2007

What happened in the upper room in Acts 2 was not some trivial episode
in church history. So why do we downplay it?

A few weeks ago a reporter from USA Today asked if she could interview me about the misunderstood subject of glossolalia, or speaking in tongues. Since I had talked with this woman before and I knew she handled matters of faith with sensitivity, I readily agreed to answer her questions. Besides, I’m not afraid to tell anyone that I have a prayer language.

The article ran in the newspaper this week, just a few days before Christians around the world planned to celebrate Pentecost Sunday. It mentioned a recent scientific study of the human brain and how it is affected when people pray in tongues.

"Aside from Jesus’ death and resurrection, the Holy Spirit’s outpouring on the day of Pentecost was the single most important moment in history."


Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania monitored the brain waves of Christians who prayed in tongues and compared them to the brainwaves of Buddhists who meditated and Catholic nuns who prayed the rosary. The results showed that the Christian prayer language had a unique impact on the body, essentially shifting brain waves into an "off" position.

The researchers concluded that when people engage in glossolalia, the frontal lobe of the brain that normally monitors speech and body function slips into low gear. The man who led the research team, Andrew B. Newberg, told USA Today: "Our findings are very consistent with what people say they are feeling—that they are not in charge of what is happening and are experiencing an intense sense of themselves in relation to God."

I won’t hold my breath for this report to be published in Psychology Today or The American Journal of Medicine, but it certainly offers a skeptical world one more reason to ponder the claims of the Bible. It also gives the American church—which has restricted, feared or even the demonized Pentecostal practice—another reason to reconsider our desperate need for the Holy Spirit’s miraculous, unexplainable work.

Aside from Jesus’ death and resurrection, the Holy Spirit’s outpouring on the day of Pentecost was the single most important moment in history. Yet we treat it with a take-it-or-leave-it attitude. Crowds pack churches on Easter, but how many times have you seen everyone show up to celebrate Pentecost? (Especially when it falls on Memorial Day weekend when many folks go on vacation! [to our non American readers: "Memorial Day" is a special holiday in the USA])

Pentecost was God’s big coming out party, a grand inaugural celebration accompanied by wind, fire and ecstatic, supernatural speech. It was heaven’s wondrous way of announcing that the Lord had chosen not only to dwell inside His redeemed people but also to mantle them with otherworldly power. When the early disciples were filled with the Spirit they were not embarrassed to speak in their new heavenly language. They raised a holy ruckus that eventually shook an empire.

Yet today many Christians have developed a defensive posture about tongues. Southern Baptists actually outlawed the practice among their missionaries last year. Some fundamentalists still teach that the Pentecostal experience is nothing more than religious hysteria.

And, worst of all, some modern charismatics and Pentecostals who prefer seeker-friendly worship and user-friendly sermons have stopped offering prayer for the baptism in the Holy Spirit at their altars. They don’t want to offend the crowd by encouraging anything too weird or embarrassing. They prefer church to be neat, orderly and rational. They want a faith that can be controlled.

They don’t realize this is the fundamental reason God gave us the gift of tongues in the first place: To shift our frontal brain lobes into neutral and get us out of the driver’s seat so He can take over.

When I pray in my spiritual language, my mind yields to a higher authority. I don’t know what I’m saying, yet the Holy Spirit prays through me and releases His anointing. It makes no sense in the natural, yet when I pray in tongues I override the limitations of reasoning and shift into a powerful spiritual dimension.

Speaking in tongues is a precious gift, one that the modern church has despised and devalued. We shouldn’t be apologizing for it. It’s time we renounced our intellectual pride and embraced the wild, unpredictable and unexplainable power of Pentecost.

J. Lee Grady is editor of Charisma. On Pentecost Sunday, he will be speaking at Mars Hill Church in Sacramento, Calf. To read the article about speaking in tongues in USA Today (“Speaking in Tongues: Faith’s Language Barrier?” by Kimberly Winston) click here.

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