How to Receive the Holy Spirit
A woman who lives in London, England was using her website search engine to find writings on “How to Speak in Tongues”. She came across a study at my www.evangelistdeawarford.org website, read it and was moved by the importance of speaking in tongues. She wrote me (This edited letter) saying, “Your article on the benefit of speaking in tongues is great and I believe that you are right, but how do you speak in tongues? I have tried speaking in tongues for years and I have not been able to. I do not want to pretend that what I do is speaking in tongues when it is not. I lead a pastorate group and believe in the power of God and a relationship with the Godhead, including the Holy Spirit. I am aware of his presence when I pray or am prayed for.” Her letter prompted me to provide both her and anyone else reading this message a scriptural and practical understanding of both “How to receive the Holy Spirit.” and “how to speak in tongues”.
Pentecostals historically believe that the Baptism in the Holy Spirit is an experience subsequent to salvation wherein the Spirit comes upon a believer filling him with His presence and power for service. They also believe that the “initial physical evidence” is speaking in tongues. And once a person has received this gift of “tongues” he may then use that language in his prayer and worship life. I have written extensively about the importance of Spirit-filled believers praying in tongues often. But, for my “sermon of the month” I want to answer the question, “How does one receive the Holy Spirit and ‘learn’ to speak in tongues?”
First, let’s make it clear, tongues is but one aspect of the multifaceted Spirit-filled life. One does not speak in tongues until after he’s filled with the Spirit. So, the proper question to ask is not, “How do I speak in tongues?” The question is, “How do I receive the Holy Spirit with His power and gifts and also gain this beautiful ‘prayer language’ called “tongues?” Here’s how . . .
1) Receiving the Holy Spirit is as easy as A, B, C!
A is “Ask!” Jesus said in Luke 11:9, “Ask and it shall be given to you; seek and you shall find.” Jesus was speaking specifically about receiving the Holy Spirit and His gifts, for He goes on to explain in v. 13, “How much more shall your Heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask?” So Step “A” is simply in faith ask the Father to fill you with the Holy Spirit!
B is “Believe!” Jesus promised that if you would ask for the Holy Spirit, you would receive. Can God lie? Of course not! The Bible says in Heb. 6:18 “It was impossible for God to lie.” And Titus 1:2, “God, who cannot lie, promised.” So, if it is impossible for God to lie and if He promised that if you’d ask, you would receive the Holy Spirit, then all you have to do is believe His Word!
Christ had told the Apostles in John 15:26, “It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you but if I depart, I will send Him to you.” Jesus “departed” ascending into heaven, and the Apostles and followers, totaling 120 people, began praying in the upper room, seeking and believing the promise of Jesus in Luke 24:49: “Behold, I send the Promise of My Father upon you; but tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high.” And the promise of Acts 1:5, 8: “John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now . . .But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you.” They believed and so they had a 10 day prayer meeting for the power to come upon them! If you “ask” and “believe” as the Apostles and early followers of Christ did, then you can expect the same results: the Spirit coming upon you which will lead to the third step:
C is “Converse!” In Acts 2:4 the Bible says on the Day of Pentecost, “They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues.” The first thing you should anticipate happening after you are “filled with the Holy Spirit” is that you “speak in other tongues.” Some argue that you can be filled with the Holy Spirit without speaking in tongues. Although this may be true, it would certainly be the great exception. And, no matter what “gift” one may have, if he isn’t speaking in tongues, he is not walking in the full-measure of blessing that the Holy Spirit intends for him to have! The apostles placed great value on speaking in tongues. A decade after that “birth of the church” on Pentecost Sunday, as Peter ministered to the house of Cornelius in Acts 10:44-47, “The Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word.” The Jews who observed this were “astonished . . . because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles.” The Holy Spirit is invisible, so how did they know that the Holy Spirit had fallen on these Gentiles? Did they shake? Did fire fall? Did winds blow? No! But something did happen, and this was all the “evidence” they needed. How did they know? “FOR (I repeat) FOR they heard them speak with tongues.” Tongues was how they knew that they had received the Holy Spirit! We know this because the Apostle Peter commented that these Christians, “have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” A decade after the first believers spoke in tongues the experience was still viewed as the determinate for having received the Holy Spirit! Dare we assume anything else?
Then about 2 decades after the first outpouring of the Spirit, Paul came to Ephesus and asked a group of disciples in Acts 19:1-6, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” (Some believe that when you are saved you receive the Holy Spirit. But, if that were the case, then Paul wouldn’t have asked the above question. That would be like asking a husband, “When you got married, did you receive a wife?”). Paul’s question proves that being saved and being filled are separate experiences, as does the rest of the text. After Paul’s question, “. . . they said to him, "We have not so much as heard whether there is a Holy Spirit. And he said to them, "Into what then were you baptized?" So they said, "Into John's baptism." Then Paul said, "John indeed baptized with a baptism of repentance, saying to the people that they should believe on Him who would come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus." When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.” (So next they became “officially” saved. But, they still hadn’t received the Holy Spirit yet as the next verse proves) “And when Paul had laid hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke with tongues and prophesied.” Again, notice, that the first thing they did when the Holy Spirit came upon them is that they spoke with tongues. (They also prophesied, which proves you can receive other gifts of the Spirit when you are filled with the Holy Spirit, but that is another writing. The important fact for this study is that tongues is mentioned first!) So, it is clear from the Word that if we ask and believe, we can expect to receive. And, when we receive the Holy Spirit, we can expect to speak or “Converse” in a heavenly language.
If someone who receives the Holy Spirit is going to speak or converse in tongues, who is going to do the speaking then: them or God? When I ask people this question, they usually answer “God”. But, let’s look again more closely at the Acts 2:4: “They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.” It was God who indeed “gave them utterance” (the ability to speak), but it says “They . . . began to speak”. They were the ones doing the speaking, not God! They “spoke”, but not without supernatural enablement from the Spirit of God. This is a very, very important distinction. I have met people whose attitude was like, “Well, if the Holy Spirit wants me to speak in tongues, I’m willing.” (As though one day they’d be watching television and suddenly, like a volcano, something would begin bubbling up within them forcing air out their lungs and forcing their mouth and tongue to speak in a language without any effort on their own.) No! In order for anyone to speak in tongues, they are going to have to speak! The Holy Spirit will make their words a language, but He is not likely to speak without their participation! Did God ever make you go to church? Did God ever make you pray? Did God ever make you pay your tithes? No! And God is not going to “make” you speak in tongues either! It’s a choice by faith and an action of your own volition! Paul wrote in 1 Cor. 14:15, “I will pray with the spirit, and I will also pray with the understanding. I will sing with the spirit, and I will also sing with the understanding.” Paul 4 times said, “I will”. Speaking in tongues is a choice and an act of the will!
You might ask, “Do I HAVE to speak in tongues?” No, you don’t have to, you GET to! If you were to go to the shoe store to buy a pair of shoes and were to tell the salesman, “I want to buy a pair of shoes, but I don’t want them to have tongues in them!” He’d say something like, “I am sorry, but all our shoes come with a tongues in them.” Most Christians want the Holy Spirit, but not every one wants to speak in “tongues”. Well, I must inform you, that the Holy Spirit comes with tongues included! You need shoes with tongues to stay put on your feet and you need tongues to stay full of the Spirit (1 Cor. 14:4). And, being filled after all is not an option, it’s a command: Paul wrote, “Be filled with the Spirit.” (Eph. 5:18).
If you are asking and believing to receive, you must also anticipate that at some point you will need to “by faith” speak in tongues. “You receive the Spirit . . . by the hearing of faith.” (Gal. 3:2). So, if you have accepted the fact that you can, should and will speak in tongues, you must then do three things . . .
1) Move your lips. It’s impossible to say a word without moving your lips!(Unless you’re a ventriloquist!)
2) Move your tongue. If you just move your lips, but don’t move your tongue, all you will do is say “ma, ma, ma” or “ba, ba, ba” over and over again. But, if you just move your lips and tongue without adding air, you still won’t say anything. So to “speak” you must also move your lips, move your tongue and then . . .
3) Give your vocal box air. Acts 2:4 says, “they were all filled . . . and began to speak.” Notice it doesn’t say that they “began to whisper.” So by faith, exhale air and start speaking out loud, in tongues! Additionally . . .
You cannot speak in English and tongues at the same time. I’ve often had lines of people praying to receive the Spirit and they’ll be saying things like, “Yes Jesus, do it, hallelujah!” I stop them if that is the case and tell them to stop speaking in English! You won’t speak in tongues as long as you’re speaking in English: it’s impossible to speak in two languages at the same time! The Holy Spirit must by-pass your intellect and all the synapses between your brain neurons and teach you a new language you’ve never learned. Experience shows that speaking in your native tongue hinders the flow of a new heavenly language.
Many people do not speak in tongues because they’re afraid they’ll be making up the words. Well, I have been speaking in tongues for almost 47 years and I still feel like I am making it up. Your intellect tells you you’re making it up, because you don’t understand the words and this is an instinctive response. Also, the devil tells you are making it up! One time I prayed for a girl to receive the Holy Spirit and she was speaking in tongues, but she came over to me a few minutes later and admitted, “I’m speaking in tongues, but the devil keeps telling me I am making it up.” I told her, “If you were making it up, the devil would be the last person to tell you that.” (Wouldn’t the devil love for you to waste your time jabbering nothingness instead of praying in English!). No, the devil tells us we’re making it up because he knows we are not and because he knows how much damage that language can do to his kingdom. Acts 2:4 says, “They spoke in tongues AS THE SPIRIT GAVE THEM UTTERANCE.” If the devil tells you that you are making up tongues, rebuke him saying, “Devil, the Word says “they spoke in tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.” I believe the Spirit is giving me the utterance!” Then, pray in tongues; by faith alone if need be!
Once in a while a tongue will be a foreign language (as it was on the day of Pentecost). This builds faith when it is authenticated by those who understand the language. One time a girl came up to me and said, “I am only speaking two words and I don’t feel like they are real.” I asked her, “What are the words?” She said the first one was “soma”. I told her “That is a real word: it’s Greek for “body”. I asked her what the other word was. She said, “Lama.” I informed her, “That is a real word too. It is Chaldean (Aramaic) for “My God” (Remember Jesus saying it on the cross?). I encouraged her by saying, “The Holy Spirit is probably praying, “My God, help this body of mine to get out of the way!” Yes, we have to get our body out of the way: our fleshly mind, unbelief and our fears! Futhermore, Jesus said, “Unless you become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom.” (Matt. 18:3). To receive the Spirit you must become like a little child! When a baby first begins to speak, is his 1st word “pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis” (Ha, ha! The longest word in the English language). No! His first word is “mama”, “dada” or “money!” (I could sure believe that was my wife’s first word!). In the same way, you might only speak a few words at first, but as you continue to speak, more and more words will come.
Others have a difficult time receiving the Holy Spirit and speaking in tongues because they are expecting some dramatic, exciting emotional experience! This can and does happen to some. But, at this juncture of church history, it often does not accompany an infilling of the Holy Spirit. The Bible doesn’t say, “They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and got the heebie-jeebies.” NO! It says, “They spoke in tongues.” The Bible says, “We walk by faith and not by sight (or feelings! II Cor. 5:7). When I speak in tongues, 99% of the time I feel nothing. It is truly an act of faith and obedience. I stand on the promises of God’s word. And I’m not save because I feel saved. Don’t look for or expect anything in the natural realm when you receive the Holy Spirit, except the clear scriptural evidence of speaking in tongues. If there is wind and fire and emotions, great, but that isn’t needed and should not be something you look for.
Assuming you really want to receive this “baptism” here’s what I recommend. Have a specific time when other believers gather to pray with you to receive the Holy Spirit. Humbly pray a prayer like the following, “Father, I ask you according to the promise of Luke 11:9-13 to fill me with the Holy Spirit. By faith I now receive and speak in tongues.” Then have the other believers lay hands on you, as Paul did in Acts 19:6, asking them all to begin praying in their prayer language (Experience shows that an atmosphere of worship and honoring of the Holy Spirit with everyone by faith speaking in tongues provides both the presence and the power of the Spirit to fill). And, it is easier for one to speak in tongues for the first time when he is not put on the hot seat, so to speak, as a “soloist” but is rather but one voice of a choir of Spirit-filled tongue-talkers! Pastor Jack Hayford encourages seekers to begin to worship the Lord at first in English, and then expect and by faith begin moving into a release of tongues. I’ve also found that it can help if one begins singing a worship song in English and then stops the English words and begins using tongues to “sing in the Spirit” (As in 1 Cor. 14:15).
Some people aren’t able to breakthrough to their prayer language around a other people, I’ve observed. If you’re one of these very private persons, I would counsel you to just kneel at your bed asking, believing and receiving as you find it is easier to pray in tongues alone with your Lord!
But, what if you do everything possible and still can’t seem to speak in tongues? Then it is time to “fight the good fight of faith.” (1 Tim. 6:12). Claim, on the authority of God’s promises that since you asked for the Holy Spirit, you have received the Holy Spirit! Mark the date on your calendar that you by faith have been baptized in the Spirit. Then, start thanking him daily, trusting him and believing that, since you are filled with the Holy Spirit, you will speak in tongues!
Finally, “use it or lose it!” Pray in tongues daily. “Stir up the gift which is in you by the laying on of my hands.” (2 Tim. 1:6). 2ce as a youth, I received the Holy Spirit at camp and spoke in tongues, but stopped doing it once I got home, backslid and completely lost the gift (and power of the Holy Spirit!). Stir up what God put in you and always be seeking to “be filled with the Spirit.” This sermon of the month was not intended to answer all the doubts and questions that those outside Pentecostal churches might have (Space wouldn’t allow it!). Rather, it was written to give sincere seekers (like the woman from London who wrote me) some guidelines to help you personally receive the Holy Spirit, if you haven’t already; and to help you help others also to receive the Spirit, His power and the wonderful gift of speaking in tongues!