Discernment with guidance and power of the Holy Spirit is the key, for dreams and visions are pathways from God and the devil to lead us to success and edification or doom.
“How great are His signs, how mighty His wonders” was written by King Nebuchadnezzar to all nations and people in his kingdom after he had been brought back from the wilderness where he was banished for seven years to live and behave like an animal. All this was revealed to him beforehand through a dream. King Solomon on the other hand classifies this as “A dream comes when there are many cares” (Ecclesiastes 5:3). The magicians were unable to interpret Pharaoh’s dream (Genesis 41:8) while on the other hand Joseph’s were getting fulfilled (Genesis 42:8-9). What are dreams and visions and what is their relevance to believers today- are these from God; worries of life getting reflected during sleep or an act of evil spirits? Does the Holy Spirit still reveals God’s plans for us through these?
Prophet Joel’s declaration was repeated by Simon Peter on the day of Pentecost “Your young men shall see vision, and your old men shall dream dreams” (Acts 2:17). Joel had prophesied about the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on all, irrespective of color, creed or sex or every nationality since ‘God is not a respecter of persons’ (Romans 2:11). God loves whole of His creation and desires all to know Him and follow Him but the Holy Spirit manifestation is only for believers. Peter’s declaration creates two distinctions- one is of age/ maturity levels and second about dreams and visions; both being two different things. In simple terms a dream is what is seen during deep sleep while a vision is seen while being physically and spiritually awake. In both cases God’s desire is to reveal His plans to bless His people. The old men are supposed to be wise, mature and experienced while the young men are not ordinary but ‘select and chosen of God’. In both cases it is about the future and not what has gone by.
What is a dream or a vision? – It is a supernatural revelation consisting of thoughts, graphic images, sensations and sequence of events connected to the past acquaintances, life events/experiences or about future events yet to take place. A dream could represent an attack by an evil or demonic spirit to cause harm or a revelation from God. The Holy Spirit dwelling in us is the power to help us in interpretation of the dreams and visions and in handling the consequences of the same. Satan also uses dreams to terrorize and create fear in the mind of his target.
Why is a dream/ vision given- Ordinary dreams or visions of no consequence are not recorded in the Bible and the mention of a ‘hungry man dreaming of food and getting up still hungry’ (Isaiah 29:8) is a rare case. The Scriptures refer to these as futuristic events disclosed by God to His elect to bless them. Thus Joseph’s dream of greatness or Solomon’s dream of being blessed with exceptional wisdom, are examples. Dreams and visions are also from God to reveal acts of Divine punishment to the haughty and proud- Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar (Daniel 4 &5). Daniel’s prayers are answered and he not only gets a revelation about those in captivity then but also about the coming Messiah. Isaiah’s vision of God’s throne and his sanctification with the coal taken from the altar is a preparatory event about future revelations about God’s Son, His sufferings and salvation of mankind.
Some of the dreams as recorded in the Bible provide absolutely clear directions as; to Jacob to encourage him about his future (Genesis 28:10-13); Joseph- that only God is the real source and mode of fulfillment of dreams (Genesis 37:5); to Pharaoh a warning for preserving life through good planning and fulfillment of Joseph’s dream (Genesis 41:1-13) and to Joseph to reveal the truth (Matthew 1:20. God uses dreams to save man from his deeds and resultant pride thus saving him from sin and death (Job 33:15-18) and to reveal/confirm identity of prophets and reveal Divine instructions (Numbers 12:6). Dreams are also a way to instruct us in things of God/ provide answers (Ezekiel 1:1 & Daniel 2:24-45); warn of hidden dangers (Matthew 2:12, 13,22); glorify God (Daniel 2:47); to encourage and lead into victory (Numbers 7:13-15); to reveal His will, restrain us from doing evil and keep us humble. God also provided all details about the future temple in Jerusalem to king David and the greatest revelation about our Lord and His future judgments was provided by God through direct visions.
Depending on the nature of the dreams, one must pray to either seek Divine help to cancel the effects of the evil launched on us or seek the Lord’s blessings for fulfillment of the dreams. The Scriptures warn us about evil forces leading us astray and away from God. If a prophet or one who foretells by dreams, appears among you and announces to you a sign and wonder, and if the sign or wonder spoken of takes place, and the prophet says, “Let us follow other gods (gods you have not known) and let us worship them, you must not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer. The Lord your God is testing to find out whether you love Him with all your heart and with all your soul” (Deuteronomy 13:1-3). God may also use a dream to test our loyalty to Him in like manner that Job was tested during his life.
Our Lord did warn about such signs and wonders being performed by ‘false christs and false prophets to deceive, even the elect’ (Matthew 24:24). Thus believers are also vulnerable to such signs when Satan would use every possible means to lead us astray.
How to differentiate good/evil in dreams- The fight that we are involved in is not against “flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). These spirit beings use all possible ways to bring us into disobedience to the Lord and His Word, and dreams and visions could be one such method employed. The scale to test what is from evil is defined by our Lord in the intent of the devil who comes “to steal, and to kill and to destroy” (John 10:10). Anything that disturbs peace, causes fear, anxiety and points away from God cannot be from God for the Lord came to give us “life and that they may have it more abundantly”. All visions from God are revelatory for building us up in faith and abundant life and to bring glory to the Father and the Son.
The Hebrew word translated as vision is ‘chazon’, and is even used as a synonym for dream, originates from chazah meaning to foresee or perceive before an even occurs. Thus dreams and visions from God are to give a message to the individual for himself or the public and Daniel and Ezekiel had such visions to declare to others. Since the message is from God, the interpretation also has to come from God Himself through the Holy Spirit or a Spirit anointed person. It was not Joseph’s or Daniel’s humility only to say, “Do not interpretations belong to God?” (Genesis 40:8) but a statement of fact by persons blessed by God. Isaiah uses the same Hebrew word ‘chazon’ in Isaiah 1:1 to describe the visions described in the book as revelations from God.
Interpreting dreams- Visions are always clear and need no interpretation but dreams require clarifications regarding the intended message. A dream without interpretation is like an unopened letter. An evil dream is clearly discernible but how do we discern if a dream is from God? “It is the glory of God to conceal matter, but the glory of kings is to search out a matter” (Proverbs 25:2). It is imperative for us to get proper interpretation and any vision or dream has to fulfill some basic essential conditions to be from God:
- A vision to be from God must be beyond our capabilities to fulfill it, for God would provide the means also for that.
- It does not leave you nor can you let it go for it keeps on urging you to pray to God for seeking His help.
- It will bring glory to God, meet an unmet need of the community and will last longer than you.
- It must be in line with the Word of God.
- It generally will match your training and capabilities acquired in the past.
To interpret a dream the best and the safest way is to seek God for an explanation about it for His promise is clear “Then you will call upon me and go and pray to Me and I will listen to you” (Jeremiah 29:12). Daniel and his three friends prayed to God for giving understanding about the Kings dream and “the secret was revealed to Daniel in a night vision” (Daniel 2:18-19). After a dream it is better to write down the details and compare this with the revelation given to you by God through His Word. Another option is to seek help from an anointed person but this is a two edged sword and may lead to frustration and sin.
Does God speak to us through dreams today? – God is unchangeable and so are His ways of talking to us. “Where there is no revelation, people cast off restraint; but happy is he who keeps the law” (Proverbs 29:18). God does not want us to perish and the indwelling Holy Spirit provides us revelations today also for we are not only washed by His blood but made children of God. And our Father will ever leave His children directionless but the instructions are as per His Word. We have to guard against evil spirits who mislead and deceive (1 John 4:1); against deceptive dreams (Jeremiah 23:25) and fleeting and marred nature of dreams (Isaiah 29:8). Satan’s aim is always to lead us astray from our God intended place of rest and dreams, diviners, interpreters of dreams and many other such false propagandists are used by him. Any dream that is likely to have long term impact on your family must be brought back before the ‘throne of grace’ of our Lord for Divine guidance.
Ensuring fulfillment of dreams- The dream is from God and is beyond our capabilities, will affect others positively and has long term implications naturally requires supernatural support. Moses pleaded with God not to send the Israelites into the Promised Land without the ‘presence of God’ with them (Exodus 33:15) for he knew the difficulties of the mission. Likewise it is imperative to seek His power and guidance for our dreams and then at every stage submit to Him the plans, resources and oneself. “Be still and know that I am God, I will be exalted among the nations; I will be exalted in the earth” (Psalm 46:10) and being still before Him is to seek and wait for His guidance and help and then step out in faith to ‘exalt His name’. God gives us all gifts and talents provided through various training events in the form of trials all along our lives and our dreams are in conformity with these. Review your gifts for the oncoming task and seek further enabling from God to successfully complete the same. Surrender before God and help others when possible so that they can help us in our need for God helps us always (2 Corinthians 1:4).
What are the common mistakes that cause failure- The biggest mistake is always to try to be self dependant. We often do not try to start work on the false plea that we must first become better in knowledge and skills and the opportunity is lost. Often the ‘inner voice’ from God implores us to bring in as behavior change before starting a dream project, like controlling anger, alcohol abuse or any such evil but we tend to postpone in a belief that when pressure comes in we will automatically change. The change will never come and not only is failure the result but with major losses with lost chances. Many remain focused on their lack of skills and do not start at all under the plea that in any case failure is imminent, so why even make an attempt. These and many other personal blocks are indicative of our self dependence than being God dependant who ‘gives the skills to succeed’. Gideon, following the instructions of God, went into the enemy camp at night and heard two Midianites discussing a dream that one had about their defeat at the hand of Israelites. Gideon immediately worshipped God and led his 300 soldiers to defeat the thousands of the enemy. In all battles seek God and He will move ahead of us to give victory.
What to do in case of a bad dream- On waking up, do not let the evil spirit put fear into your heart and seek the Holy Spirit to lead you to launch a counter attack on the devil and his forces. The counter must include cancelling the dream and its effects, binding the evil forces, recovery of what has been stolen, even symbolic losses and declare victory in Jesus mighty name. Claim the blessings and victory of the cross and the blood of Lord Jesus and pronounce this on all family members individually and collectively by declaring bthe protection through the Divine hedge around you. Be prepared to repeat this and seek the Lord’s guidance through fasting and prayers, even seeking prayer support from friends. In any case, do not fear nor concede an inch to the evil forces.
“When there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint” (Proverbs 29:18) and throw caution to the wind, even ignoring the subtle warnings from the Holy Spirit to go into sin. Seek God and His visions for your life, for He loves us immensely and “gave up His only begotten Son” for us. Continue in faith with full confidence, for “HE who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6).