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Praying in the Spirit: Singing in the Spirit

The ninth chapter of the Praying in the Spirit Series. Author Robert Graves looks at the Scriptural use of the prayer language in song.

Robert W. Graves wrote Praying in the Spirit (Chosen Books) in 1987, when it received great reviews from a number of Pentecostal/charismatic scholars and leaders including John Sherrill, Dr. Vinson Synan, Dr. Gordon Fee, Dr. William Menzies, Dr. Howard Ervin, Dr. Walter Martin, and Dr. Stanley Horton. It is the great privilege of the Pneuma Review to republish it here.


Not long ago I had in my office on separate events two ministers from different churches. One was a minister of music, the other a senior pastor. Each one of them told me of a woman in his church who could not, as the saying goes, carry a tune in a bucket. Pastor William Sipes of North Mesquite Assembly of God in Texas spoke very candidly of having stood next to his parishioner and having painfully experienced her attempted singing. “She would sing off-key with a very broken and cracked voice,” he remembered. There is, of course, nothing new about this. But Reverend Sipes testifies that something incredible happened when this woman sang in the Spirit. A once broken, cacophonous voice became a velvet, melodious one. Reverend Claude Plunk’s story is identical to this. In addition, he noted a visible change as well: “her face seemed to radiate the joy of the Lord.”

I, too, have heard Christians who were not known for their singing ability break into glossolalic singing that far surpassed the quality of their normal and natural voices. This is not to say that all glossolalic singing will be better than native singing. In fact, if it is, it may be the exception rather than rule. But singing in tongues is certainly scriptural. Paul calls it singing in the Spirit as opposed to singing with the mind. It is right out of 1 Corinthians 14: “So what shall I do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my mind; I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my mind” (verse 15; emphasis added). Unfortunately, this is all that Paul had to say about singing in the Spirit. As a matter of fact, this is all the entire Bible has to say about singing in the Spirit. It only seems logical, though, that if one can speak and sing in his native language and one can speak in tongues, he should be able also to sing in tongues. If one can speak, one can sing. (Incidentally, since Paul may have meant singing in the human spirit, some may question my calling it singing in the Spirit, upper-case. I feel, however, given its context, that it is a manifestation of the Holy Spirit and results from a mixture the human and the divine. Therefore, it is at once singing in the spirit and singing in the Spirit.)

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Category: Spirit, Spring 2001

About the Author: Robert W. Graves, M. A. (Literary Studies, Georgia State University), is the co-founder and president of The Foundation for Pentecostal Scholarship, Inc., a non-profit organization supporting Pentecostal scholarship through research grants. He is a Christian educator and a former faculty member of Southwestern Assemblies of God College in Waxahachie, Texas, and Kennesaw State University (adjunct). He edited and contributed to Strangers to Fire: When Tradition Trumps Scripture and is the author of Increasing Your Theological Vocabulary, Praying in the Spirit (1987 and Second Edition, 2017) and The Gospel According to Angels (Chosen Books, 1998).

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