What must I do to be able to speak in tongues?
As with any spiritual gift we do not have the ability to speak in tongues naturally, but it is one of many special gifts from God – like a tool which He enables us to use so that He is glorified and the church is strengthened.
In 1 Corinthians 12:27-31 the Apostle Paul explains that God gives a variety of different gifts to the church. Nobody has all of them, but everybody is given some.
Most of the gifts are given to build up other Christians, but ‘tongues’ is a gift that encourages the person who speaks unless interpretation is also given so that the church can understand what has been said:
“He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church. I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but I would rather have you prophesy. He who prophesies is greater than one who speaks in tongues, unless he interprets, so that the church may be edified.” 1 Corinthians 14:4-6 (NIV)
Do read 1 Corinthians chapters 12-14 through slowly and carefully to understand the logic of what the apostle Paul is teaching.
There have been some misunderstandings about the use of speaking in tongues. While the early church recognised tongues as a sign that somebody was a believer in Jesus, it does not make a person a Christian, nor does every Christian have that gift. Neither is it the only evidence that someone is filled with the Holy Spirit; because we read that every believer in Christ has the Holy Spirit:
“You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ.” Romans 8:9 (NIV)
“And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God's possession—to the praise of his glory.” Ephesians 1:13-14 (NIV)
Neither are tongues evidence of being ‘super-spiritual’ because it is possible to speak in tongues and not have a heart full of God’s love: 1 Corinthians 13:1 says, “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.” (NIV)
But the Apostle Paul does not despise tongues: “I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but I would rather have you prophesy. He who prophesies is greater than one who speaks in tongues, unless he interprets, so that the church may be edified.” 1 Corinthians 14:5 (NIV) and also see 1 Corinthians 14:18.
There is nothing you have to do in order to be able to speak in tongues because it is not a human ability! It is a gift that God will give you if it is His will and your desire.
Speaking in tongues is not a right for all Christians. But what is to be expected is that God will graciously give you gifts that He knows will help you to build up His body (the church). It is up to you under the guidance of your church leaders to discover what those God given gifts are. If you eagerly desire the greater gifts and are asking God out of a genuine motivation to glorify Him and build up His church then why would He not equip you for His service?
However if you seek to use gifts for your own ends – gaining a better standing in the church, for example, then you will need to revisit 1 Cor. chapters 13&14. We read there that the greatest gift of all is love. Where love comes first the desire for gifts is to glorify Christ and serve His church:
“Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy.” 1 Corinthians 14:1 (NIV)