For God speaks in one way,
and in two, though people do not perceive it.
In a dream, in a vision of the night,
when deep sleep falls on mortals,
while they slumber on their beds.
I think it ironic that it took a dream to awaken me from my theological slumber. Previously I had dismissed dreams as but junk mail thrown up by my unconscious and best sent to the big Round File. But then one night I had a dream! I had a dream that bore all the marks of a Special Delivery from God. It seemed so plain that I could not miss it. If God could use a donkey to speak to Balaam (Numbers 22:21-39), then God could use a dream to speak to me. I think that it must have been emotional and spiritual blocks that kept me from hearing “God’s still small voice” (1 Kings 19:11-13), so He sent me a message I could not miss. I awakened thinking I had to pay attention to the dream in which I had seen my life exposed and laid out before me!
Having that dream meant I had to go back and rethink my rationalistic world-view that lead me to relegate dreams to the realm of superstition. That dream drove me back to my Biblical , so that I could no longer dismiss dreams as a way that God has communicated with us.
You probably know some of many instances in Scripture where God employs dreams, but check out just some of them. You see God communicating through dreams to His chosen people, such as Abraham (Genesis 15:12-16), Jacob (Genesis 28:10-16; 31:10-13), Joseph (Genesis 37:5-11; 42:9), and Solomon (1 Kings 3:5-15), as well as communicating with unbelievers such as Pharaoh (Genesis 41:1-36), Abimelech (Genesis 20:3-11), Laban (Genesis 31: 24, 29), and King Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 2:1-45).
If you miss the significance of dreams in the Old Testament, you cannot not miss them in the New. The Christmas story is surrounded by a series of dreams. It was in a dream that an angel appeared to Joseph telling him to take Mary as his wife (Matthew 1:20); it was in a dream that the Magi were instructed not to return to King Herod (Matthew 2:12); it was in a dream that an angel told Joseph to flee with Mary and Jesus to Egypt (Matthew 2:13); and later, it was in a dream that Joseph was instructed to return to Nazareth (Matthew 2:19, 22). In the Book of Acts we see the Gospel spread as Peter and Cornelius (Acts 10:3-22), as well as Paul (Acts 16:9), accepted and acted on messages sent to them by God in their dreams
As I began taking a second and closer look at dreams in Scripture, I remembered that John Newton, author of “Amazing Grace”, was commanded through a dream to leave the slave trade and later become a minister. (John Newton, The Life of John Newton: An Authentic Narrative) What Newton was unable to recognize while he was awake, he heard God say to him as he slept.
One of the ways the Holy Spirit, the “Spirit of truth”, helps us to become more aware of our lives is through our dreams. For me, dreams have not been prophetic of the future, but revealing of the present. Dreams have offered me an opportunity for greater self-awareness and discernment. I like how Eugene Peterson in The Message paraphrases today’s Scripture from Job 33:
God always answers, one way or another,
even when people don’t recognize his presence.
In a dream, for instance, a vision at night,
when men and women are deep in sleep,
fast asleep in their beds—
God opens their ears…”
I wonder about you: has God wanted to open your ears, as you were fast asleep in your bed? Are you missing something at night that God has been wanting you to hear during your waking hours?
I want to share with you a few things I like to do in order to better listen to my dreams. First, as I prepare for sleep, I like to pray the words the little boy Samuel prayed at night: “Speak LORD, for your servant is listening” (1 Samuel 3:9). Then, I ask God to help me remember a dream in which He might be speaking, and then to understand it’s meaning when I waken. Perhaps, like you, I have those recurring dreams wanting to say something to me. And there are the powerful dreams that stir something deep within me and evoke intense emotion. I want to pay close attention to those dreams.
I find it helpful when I awaken to record a dream on paper. I write down images, people, colors in the dream, and my reactions to them. Some people keep a Dream Journal handy on their bedside table, not wanting to miss out on anything God might be saying to them.
Some dreams are more literal and straightforward in their message (e.g. Matthew 1:20; 1 Kings 3:5-15), while some dreams are intriguing with metaphor and symbolic meaning (Genesis 37:5-11; Daniel 2:1-4). I listen to my dream as if a close friend were asking me questions about the dream’s meaning, questions such as:
- What themes are raised in my dream?
- How might those themes be playing currently in my life?
- What feelings does the dream stir up?
- What do I sense the dream saying to me? (Ask God for help!)
Don’t miss what God might be saying to you! Remember what Job said: “fast asleep in their beds— God opens their ears…”
Grace and peace,