God doesn’t give us a manual on the gifts of the Spirit. He gives us history—the experiences of people, and theology—the explanation of those experiences. So we look both at peoples’ experiences and the Bible’s explanations.
We demystify the gifts to make them more accessible. We teach on prophecy, so people don’t say, “I could never do that.” The gifts are for the elect, not the elite!
Jesus is the divine-human Savior. He isn’t half of one and half of the other. In like manner, the Bible is a divine book, the message of God to humanity. But it is also human, revealing the personalities of its authors.
In the same way, the gifts of the Spirit are divine. Paul says that “to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given…” (I Corinthians 12:6). But the Holy Spirit does not speak in tongues—people do: “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them” (Acts 2:4). Paul tells us that “if a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith” (Romans 12:6), suggesting that the gift matures as faith grows. We have a part to play.
And this affects not only how we exercise the gifts but also how we receive them. Our very desire has something to do with what we receive; otherwise Paul would not tell us twice to “earnestly desire the spiritual gifts” (I Cor. 12:31; 14:1). A beautiful dance takes place between heaven and earth, and our desires are not incompatible with divine will.
The Spirit gives the gifts as He determines (I Corinthians 12:11), but our pursuit is factored into the divine plan. So rather than saying, “I’m open,” a more appropriate response would be, “I am eager.”
So I encourage people to take steps of faith in receiving the gift of tongues, not to sit passively. My experience is that when people open their mouths and begin to speak words while at the same time shutting down their native language, God takes those sounds and turns them into a language. It is not uncommon for God to ask us to make the first move. He told the priests to step into the water when they were carrying the ark, and when they did, the waters would part (Joshua 3).
We are not blaspheming the Spirit by trying. When a child attempts to walk and fails, the family standing by cheers on the struggling infant.
“Faith without works is dead” (James 2:17), and dead faith is no faith. Our part in receiving tongues is to begin speaking unintelligible words, trusting the Gift-giver to turn it into a language of praise. And millions of people could testify that He does just that! And every time you use it, you are being built up! Radical!