The place of dreams and visions in the Christian life can cause debate and confusion among believers and in churches. Does God still speak to people through dreams and visions? Or has the time of these dreams and visions passed, never to return?
What Are Dreams and Visions?
First, we need to clarify the difference between a dream and a vision. A vision occurs when a person is awake and alert; a dream occurs when a person is asleep. Peter was awake for his vision of the unclean food (Acts 10:9-23). John was awake for his vision recorded in Revelation (Revelation 1:9-11). However, Pharaoh’s cup-bearer and baker were asleep when they had dreams that Joseph interpreted (Genesis 40:5-19). Also, Joseph, Mary’s fiancé, was asleep when an angel spoke to him in a dream (Matthew 1:20-24).
Some feel almost every dream is significant and they need to know the interpretation
Dreams and visions are important for many of us. Some feel almost every dream is significant and they need to know the interpretation of these dreams. Some claim to receive messages from their ancestors through dreams. Perhaps they consult mediums or pastors whom they believe have the gift of interpretation. Certain dreams have traditional patterns for interpretations, while others do not. In some cases the dreamer will remember the dream until something happens to which he or she will attribute to the dream.
3 Types Of Dreams in The Bible
Based on biblical teaching, dreams can be classified in three categories:
First, some dreams are a result of what has been on a person’s mind or stored in the subconscious. These can be memories, past events, repressed desires, and unfulfilled hopes. Isaiah says, “A hungry person dreams of eating but wakes up still hungry” (Isaiah 29:8). And Solomon writes, “Too much activity gives you restless dreams” (Ecclesiastes 5:3).
Second, some dreams may be false messages from our spiritual enemies (Deuteronomy 13:1-5, Jude 1:8). Through Jeremiah, God said this about the “smooth tongued” false prophets: “Their imaginary dreams are flagrant lies that lead my people into sin. I did not send or appoint them, and they have no message at all for my people” (Jeremiah 23:32).
Third, God sometimes gives special dreams, such as the two Pharaoh received in Genesis 41:1-7; those experienced by Joseph (Genesis 37:5-10), Solomon (1 Kings 3:5), and Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 2:28); and the dreams that accompanied the birth of the Lord Jesus (Matthew 1–2). These dreams give important messages that God’s servants need to understand.
Dreams, Discernment and Scripture
Since there is no indication in the Bible that God has stopped using dreams, the simple answer to whether God still speaks through dreams and visions is “Yes.” But we must be careful how we apply this. Remember that God’s special revelation—the Bible—has been completed, and it covers all things we must know about God, his work, and his purposes. We should not look for or expect new revelations that expand our knowledge of God, doctrine, and the Bible. New information from any source, including dreams and visions, must agree with Scripture.
New information from any source, including dreams and visions, must agree with Scripture
If God chooses to speak to a person in a dream, the message of that dream will be consistent with, and not contradict, the teachings of the Bible. Remember, the Bible is inspired by God and is sufficient for instruction (2 Timothy 3:16).
What we do in response to our dreams must be in agreement with the teachings of the Bible. Also, the dreams and visions of God’s servants like Daniel, Paul, and John show us that special messages are usually very rare. If one is given, it might only occur once in an entire lifetime. These great leaders in the Bible received messages only a few times in their lives. People who receive dreams or visions frequently should be viewed with some scepticism.
God Has Used Dreams Throughout Africa
God may also use dreams to bring people to himself. Many Africans testify that they began their search for God, or came to faith in Christ, after receiving a special dream.
In North Africa, we are told of a man who was very active in one of the civil society associations. His father-in-law, a believer in Christ, had talked with him often about the gospel. But this man would never listen. Jesus appeared to him in a dream and said, this. “All the charitable things you do are good, but I want you with me on my path.” Sadly, this man did not respond positively. Instead he rejected the dream and its message because of his social position and what he would need to sacrifice to follow Jesus.
Many Africans testify that they began their search for God, or came to faith in Christ, after receiving a special dream.
Another person from the same area was an unbeliever until Christ appeared to him at night and spoke with him in a dream. That experience began his journey of searching until he came to faith. Today he is a leader in one of the churches.
What these two stories show is that God may use dreams and visions to speak to people today. But ultimately we must choose to follow and respond in obedience.
How Should We React To Dreams?
What should we do when we have dreams that appear to be significant?
- Write out any significant dream so you will not forget the details.
- Ask God to give you insight into whether your dreams have meaning and what the meaning is. God can confirm the meaning of a dream in many other ways.
- Make sure the interpretation of your dream is consistent with the teachings of the Bible. God will not give you one message in his Word and another in a subjective manner like a dream.
- Consult with a pastor or other mature and wise Christian, asking for their perspective on the dream.
- If the dream suggests something you should do, wait until the Lord clearly opens the door. Patience is a common requirement in the Bible.
- If the dream suggests something you will experience, give God time to work out the details of the dream.
- In humility, do not be discouraged if you find the dream was not a word from God.
Godly dreams glorify God and help to encourage people to proclaim the gospel
The Marks of Godly Dreams and Visions
As the Bible’s writers show us, dreams and visions usually are given in special time of need or crisis. For example, when you need God’s specific direction or encouragement. Many are especially for those who are proclaiming the gospel in new areas.
We should not allow ourselves to be manipulated by someone who says, ‘I received this word for you in a dream.’
Godly dreams glorify God and help to encourage people to proclaim the gospel. They are not given to bring acclaim or glory to an individual. We should not allow ourselves to be manipulated by someone who says, “I received this word for you in a dream.” We should listen, pray, and test the message for ourselves to confirm if it is from God.
If God speaks to you through dreams, rejoice and follow God’s instructions. If God does not speak to you through dreams, you are no worse or less spiritual than the one who receives dreams.