Lesson 6 - Dreams and Visions:
One of the most common ways for the Lord to speak, both in the Bible and today, is through dreams (when we are asleep) and visions (when we are awake). He may use dreams because when we are asleep our rational mind cannot interfere with our listening or seeing. Visions are more common for those who have already learned to listen and see what God is doing.
Dreams and visions may be very matter-of-fact representations of reality, or highly symbolic metaphores. Where ideas transmitted by words stimulate and generate faith in the mind, pictures produce their effect more on the heart. They have great emotional power.
Mark and Patti Virkler define dreams as:
"An inner flow of pictures while one is asleep." (Mark and Patti Virkler, Am I Being Deceived?, p 47).
At first sight this may seem rather obvious, but let's look at it closely. The important words are 'inner flow'', 'pictures', and 'asleep'.
By 'inner flow' we mean the 'screen' in your mind upon which your imagination plays its images. This is how you see with your 'inner eyes'. The 'pictures' are the visual images that your imagination places on that screen. However, imagination is generally a function of the awake mind, yet this is happening while you are asleep. Clearly, in God's economy of design, the spirit, including the Holy Spirit, is able to use this same mechanism - the screen of the imagination - to display images for the unconscious mind (or the conscious mind in the case of an awake visions) to 'see'.
There are many places in Scripture where God uses dreams to communicate with humans - Joseph and Daniel being prime examples. It is also possible for Satan to interfere with our dreams. The usual tests for any word must be applied, and we need to keep our defences in good order.
In similar vein, the Virklers define visions as:
"A flow of pictures generally seen on the screen inside one's mind, although they can be seen externally, as well. Visions come from God or Satan. If pictures come from self, I would place them in the category of vain imagination." (Mark and Patti Virkler, Am I Being Deceived?, p 55).
While a dream is out of your control, unless you are in a trance (rare) a vision can normally be influenced by your own thoughts and feelings.
Interpreting dreams and visions
Much unhelpful material is available for those who try to interpret dreams. The problem with any systematisation of dream symbols is that they will be different for every dreamer, according to their life experience, calling, education, personality, and relationship with God.
This is not to say that there might not be some common features - just be careful about jumping to conclusions. The best interpreter of dreams is the Holy Spirit - ask him.
My own experience has led me to identify some elements of dreams and visions which appear constant for me. For example, when ministering to people I often have a picture of their spirit as a flower. The type, condition and situation of the flower says something about the person. I have learned to go with these impressions, and usually the person is helped.
Another example: while interceding I sometimes see a grey cloud or fog, which seems to indicate demonic or occult interference. This is helpful, because I can then pray against that influence until either the picture becomes clear, the source of the interference is revealed, or the work is finished.
A dream or vision may be highly symbolic, or it may be very literal. In either case, don't leap to a hasty conclusion. I have often experienced visions which I could have attempted to interpret at first site, but as I wait they change, either into something different, or more details become clear as I study them closely, or quite often they turn into a moving story - sometimes in cartoon form. If I had been hasty my interpretation would have been totally incorrect.
A dream or vision may seem so real that its symbolic nature may be missed. For example, Joseph saw seven cows come up out of the river (Genesis 41:1,2). If he had been a farmer he might have thought the dream was about cows, but the interpretation showed him the cows actually represented years. First, ask God what the dream means. Then try to relate it to things that are happening in your life.
For example, Peter had a vision in which he was commanded to kill and eat unclean animals (Acts 10:11-17). He was offended. Later, when he met men sent to him from the Gentile Cornelius, who was unclean to Jewish Peter, he understood the vision as God's permission to minister to the Gentiles (Acts 10:28).
Beginning in visions and dreams
Some people have vivid, technicolour, full sensation dreams, and remember every detail when they awaken. Others know they dream but they fade immediately on awakening. Some believe they do not dream. Let me assure you - you do dream. It has been scientifically demonstrated that lack of dreaming leads to insanity and death. You might not remember that you dreamed, however.
If you do not remember your dreams, and wish God to begin speaking to you in dreams, you might like to try what I did. I knew I dreamed but never remembered for more than a few seconds what the dream was. So one night, before going to sleep I asked God to speak to me in a dream, and to remind me when I awoke that I had dreamed and give me time to remember the details. That is exactly what happened. I slept and dreamed. In the morning the dream was there in my consciousness. In fact, it spoke clearly about something that I was grappling with at the time and did not want God to mention! That is what convinced me it was a dream from God.
If a dream seems to be important, write it down immediately - it is amazing how quickly something disappears when you decide to record it later. I keep pencil and paper by my bed for such eventualities. Of course, some of what I find on the pad in the morning is totally incomprehensible.
Not all dreams are from God. Some can be inspired by other spirits, by stress and worry, or by drugs or reactions to food, but most are just our minds disposing of emotional rubbish while we sleep. If a dream is from God, and we are wanting to hear from God, or he is trying to get our attention, then I believe we will either know it is from God, or he will confirm it in some way.
Beginning in visions is similar, except you are awake. If you suspect that God might be giving you a vision, it may help to close your eyes to keep out distractions. However, visions are usually quite easily seen even with eyes open. This is handy when you are ministering to a troubled person, or driving a car. Because you are awake it is easy to influence a vision by imagining other things. This is especially so if you try to guess ahead at what you are seeing or what it means.
Be patient. Watch and wait until you are sure it is complete. Then describe it as you see it, don't try to interpret it at first. The Lord might then begin to tell you what it means. If it is for someone else, tell them what you saw, not what you think it means. If it is from the Lord then he may have prepared them for what you describe. They will have more idea what it means than you do. They need to hear what he gave you, not your own thoughts about it. If they ask you what it means, then you might be able to tell them. But don't be afraid to say you don't know.
A good way to record a vision is to draw it, especially if you have any artistic talents. I have a friend who draws pictures the Lord gives him while his wife is ministering to you in another room. They are remarkably accurate 'words' from the Lord.
In Resource Sheet 11 - Dreams - Are they God's Messengers? Tracy Williamson describes a dream a friend had from God and what she learned about dreams from the experience.
Bibliography and Suggested Reading
Click on a title for more information about a book
- Goll, Jim W, The Beginner's Guide to Hearing God. Ventura, CA: Regal Books, 2004.
- Goll, Jim W, Coming Prophetic Revolution, The: A Call for Passionate, Consecrated Warriors . Grand Rapids, MI: Chosen Books, 2001
- Goll, Jim W, The Seer: The Prophetic Power of Visions, Dreams, and Open Heavens . Shippensburg, PA: Destiny Image, 2005.
- Seamands, David, Living With Your Dreams. Amersham-on-the-Hill, Bucks: Scripture Press, 1990.
- Thomas, Benny, Exploring the World of Dreams. Springdale, Pennsylvania: Whitaker House, 1995.
- Urquhart, Colin, Explaining Deception (The Explaining Series). Tonbridge, Kent: Sovereign World, 1993.
- Virkler, Mark and Patti, Am I Being Deceived?. Gainesville, FL: Bridge-Logos Publishers, 2001.
- Williamson, Tracy, Voice of the Father (Hodder Christian Paperbacks). Lond: Hodder & Stoughton,1996.