Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health issue in the United States. 1 in 6 adults take an anti-depressant or anti-anxiety medication. Both inside and outside the church, anxiety is a rampant issue, and people are desperate for relief.
Heaven’s Cure for Anxiety
It may sound cliché to say that the answer to anxiety is in the Bible, but there really is a heavenly remedy that has often been overlooked.
The answer comes in 1 Corinthians 14:4, “The one who speaks in tongues advances his own spiritual progress” (TPT). Other translations say, “Anyone who speaks in a tongue edifies themselves” (NIV).
Edify means to enlighten, encourage, or otherwise build up. So what does speaking in tongues have to do with anxiety? Let’s look at what science is finding.
What Science Says about Speaking in Tongues
Studies on glossolalia (the scientific term for speaking in tongues) have found that the cortisol levels associated with anxiety drop when you speak in tongues.
Other studies looking at how the brain behaves while speaking in tongues have found decreases in frontal lobe and left caudate activity confirming claims that tongues are not simply the person speaking themselves unintelligibly and showing evidence of the emotionally calming effect of tongues.
These brain scan studies also found, that unlike meditation, SPL activity levels do not significantly decrease while speaking in tongues, indicating that there is not a loss in the sense of self.
Another study found that 80% of participants who spoke in tongues had greater emotional stability and less neuroticism.
What all of these studies have repeatedly found is that contrary to popular belief, those who speak in tongues are not experiencing a form of psychosis and they are not making it up either.
The experiences of speaking in tongues are real, measurable, and significantly different from other religious experiences such as singing in worship, chanting, meditating, or praying.
A Biblical View of Speaking in Tongues
Depending on your church background, you may have heard that tongues are bad, prideful, crazy — or some other vague but stay away warning. The problem is the church has largely rejected speaking in tongues because we have not understood it.
Assuming that “edify” is a bad thing full of pride, many churchgoers have been told to avoid speaking in tongues. Through a false humility of self-deprecation we’ve shied away from things that are designed by God to be personally beneficial.
1 Corinthians 14:4 is often used to teach not to speak in tongues during a church service because it is prideful. Even the NIV heading for 1 Corinthians fourteen identifies the chapter as “Intelligibility in Worship”, showing clear bias against speaking in tongues.
“Anyone who speaks in a tongue edifies themselves, but the one who prophesies edifies the church” 1 Corinthians 14:4 (NIV).
What 1 Corinthians actually tells us is that speaking in tongues is a good thing we should do for personal benefit, and prophecy is a good thing we should do for the benefit of others.
Both are good. Paul does encourage prophecy over tongues, but he’s not saying tongues are bad.
Paul calls for an interpretation in public settings, because without an interpretation tongues are just tongues, benefitting only the speaker. But with an interpretation the tongues can become prophecy beneficial to the others listening.
With both tongues and prophecy the goal is the edification of the body of Christ. When the church neglects these practices we are missing out on the healing God intended to come through them.
Is it really all that surprising that something scripture tells us is edifying to the body would have such a powerful physical effect?
Learning to Speak in Tongues
In Romans 8:26-27 Paul teaches that when we don’t know what to pray the Spirit intercedes for us with groanings we cannot understand.
In extreme emotional states (positive or negative) it is hard to find words to express what you are feeling. If you want to speak in tongues sorrow or joy are good places to start letting the Spirit take over with intercession.
Think about when you’ve been in a place of extreme sorrow, only able to cry but not speak. On the edge of those cries is the cry of the Spirit waiting to speak for you for.
Or in worship, when the words of the songs just don’t feel like they are enough, let go and let the Spirit sing new songs through you.
Some other good ways to practice are in the shower or in your car with worship music – times where you have some privacy. As you sing with the worship music let yourself make noises that express how the song makes you feel. This might start as a hum, a repeated syllable, or utterances that seem incoherent.
Don’t worry about making sense of the sounds or if they are actually tongues. The first goal is just to get yourself comfortable with making sounds that aren’t normal speech. It may feel forced at first to just let yourself make nonsense sounds, but as you continue to practice engaging Holy Spirit through those feelings that are beyond words you will find that your speech takes on a different sound that you know is not just you making noises.
One common misconception about tongues is that you aren’t in control at all. Even though the speech of tongues is not your own, you do remain in control of your body and can control the volume, and can stop making sound at any time. Being able to turn tongues on/off, control the volume, etc. are not signs that you are just making sounds vs speaking in tongues.
I believe everyone is capable of speaking in tongues and that it is a practice God gifted us all with to edify, encourage, and grow ourselves emotionally and spiritually.
With my clients I recommend they spend five minutes a day praying in tongues and if able, to pray in tongues when they are in acute moments of anxiety and stress.
Even clients that already pray in tongues as part of their spiritual life have found immense relief from their anxiety by being intentional in their prayer and spending time in tongues daily.