Time check. It’s 1:38am. I’ve just carried my youngest daughter to her mum for a feed. Seconds prior, I was enthralled by a strange dream. But her loud wail next door interrupted it. Before opening my eyes, I dreamt that I was shovelling a large amount of broken glass from my mouth. Strange indeed. In my early Christian years, strange dreams like this one would have driven me in a panic to my pastor’s office. My ‘spiritual father’ would have offered, “such a dream means broken ambitions.” Maybe a shattered [insert something]. Anything. Because a Christian’s dream always means something, right?
Dreams can reveal anxieties or simply reiterate something you read or watched. But such explanations were never entertained.
My pastor would never attribute such vivid and weird dreams to the very possible alternative causes. For example, heavy and rich meals tend to stir strange dreams. Scientists have identified dreams as – at least in part – late night brain activity. On the other hand, dreams can reveal anxieties or simply reiterate something you read or watched. But such explanations were never entertained. Instead, sensational interpretations were and are given.
What Should We Do With Dreams?
How should blood-bought Christians view strange dreams? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve dreamt about sitting down to a nice meal only to be awakened by my wife’s nudge or the alarm clock. Just when I was about to feast on some sumptuous culinary delights. In many African Christian circles, eating food in a dream invites absurd, essay length interpretations. I won’t relay those here. Anyway, chances are you have had similar dreams yet heard very different interpretations. After all, ask four people about last night’s vision (i.e. dream) and you will hear four unique answers. This is because dreams, unlike Scripture, are not located within an overarching story.
Countless Christians are obsessively caught up in the meaning of their dreams
Yet countless Christians, who joyfully count themselves redeemed through the love of Christ, are obsessively caught up in the meaning of their dreams. As is so often the case, it is apparently only pastors and spiritual mentors who can provide authoritative interpretations. But, what is worse: we do not only see people carrying the weighty burdens of their sleeping visions to pastors in search of an explanation. For many pastors can be heard carrying their private dreams into the pulpit. These are treated as fresh revelation, with Christian leaders grandly claiming: ‘God spoke to me.’
Dreams Are Not Inspired, Scripture Is
Ironically, the Scriptures are often cited to back up these claims. For passages such as Genesis 37, Joel 2 quoted in Acts 2, and Daniel 7 mention dreams. Yet Scripture, inspired by God and “sufficient” (2 Timothy 3:16), is used to support the supposed need for newer, more exciting, better, and clearer revelations from God. Dreams. Only God has already given us his sufficient guide. The Old and New Testaments – approached with good contextual, theological interpretation – have been the normative guide for Christians in every age.
God has already given us his sufficient guide. The Old and New Testaments
Paul never commended any in his audience to the dreams of private testimony. The word of grace is able to build up (Acts 20:32). Centred on Christ, God’s Word is our singular guide (Luke 24:13-35; John 5:39). Scripture drives us to Christ but dreams drive us in many other directions.
How will Christians be prepared to live the Christian life? Again, Paul does not recommend 3am dreams. Instead he says that the Bible is profitable for teaching, rebuking, correction and training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16). He also says the Scriptures are enough or sufficient, since they are inspired by God himself.
Everything Is Under God’s Providence
However God does daily direct even the most mundane events for his purposes. These include dreams resulting from whatever cause. A spouse flirting with adultery may wake up from a terrifying dream and consequently stop his sinful patterns. But these examples are at most descriptive rather than prescriptive.
While God can (and does) work in any number of ways, we should not conclude these means are normative for every believer.
God may orchestrate a literal nightmare to nudge a believer out of Satan’s claws and away from unrepentant sin. But this is different to waiting on a dream in order to flee from lust. God’s Word is already abundantly clear on this matter: flee from sexual immorality (1 Corinthians 6:19). Thus while God can (and does) work in any number of ways, we should not conclude these means are normative for every believer.
Live As Those Who Are Awake
A lot happens when we physically sleep, giving rise to dreams. But—more importantly— God insists that much more happens when we ‘spiritually’ go to sleep. Thus he encourages us to live as those who belong not to the night but the day (1 Thessalonians 5:6). We are to be those who are awake (Ephesians 4:14), watching carefully how we live (Ephesians 4:15). Isn’t it interesting that instead of encouraging us to receive messages while we sleep, God exhorts us to be sober minded and awake?
Instead of encouraging us to receive messages while we sleep, God exhorts us to be sober minded and awake
Taking this contrast further, you could say that just as my daughter’s midnight wailing woke me from an unsettling nightmare, God’s Word should awaken us from a regressive expectation of supernatural revelation outside of the inspired and sufficient scriptures.
Ultimately, this begs the question: which revelation do you consider authoritative? One kind is produced by your day-long instincts and late-night carbohydrates. The second comes to us in scripture. It is the faith handed down to the saints “once and for all” (Jude 3), through Jesus the son (Hebrews 1:1).
At the end of it all, a Christian’s dream will certainly mean one thing: you slept.