Dreams and how God Speaks through Them

 

1.      Facts on Dreams

Everyone dreams every night, whether we remember it or not. Also blind people dream though these dreams are more based on other senses, such as sounds, touch and smell. We dream on average one or two hours every night. And we often even have 4-7 dreams in one night. So in our lifetime, we would've spent about 6 years of it dreaming. Usually we forget our dreams as soon as we wake up. Five minutes after the end of the dream, half the content is forgotten. After ten minutes, 90% is lost.

 

2.     Cause and Function of Dreams

There are many different theories on why we dream and what significance dreams have, but whether we look at dreams from a scientific, psychological or religious perspective, it is generally agreed that dreams are a vital part of every person’s life and that they are significant to us and our health. Studies have shown that when we are continuously prevented from dreaming, it will affect our health and we will display emotional problems, such as stress and anxiety.

Some think that dreams result from electrical activity in the brain as it housecleans itself during the night un-cluttering and refreshing the mind, much like clean-up operations in a computer.

Sigmund Freud was convinced that dreams reveal our unconscious thoughts and desires. He called dreams “the royal road to the unconscious.”[1]

Another theory (activation-synthesis) is that our brain stores emotions, thoughts, ideas, memories and during sleep the brain creates loose connections between emotions, thoughts and ideas, memories and attempts to find meaning. The person (Hobson) who proposed this idea suggests that dreaming is "…our most creative conscious state, one in which the chaotic, spontaneous recombination of cognitive elements produces novel configuration of information: new ideas.…[2]

There is probably some truth in all these theories, and there is certainly something true about the creative nature of dreams. Studies have shown that our brain waves are more active when we are dreaming than when we are awake. There are numerous examples in history when dreams have been credited for discoveries and problem solving.

Books: Mary Shelley who wrote the book ‘Frankenstein’ says she was inspired by a dream.[3] Stephanie Meyer who wrote the Twilight books says she was inspired by a dream.[4]

Inventions: Elias Howe who invented the sewing machine in 1845 credited the idea of machine with a needle which would go through a piece of cloth to a dream.

Science: Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity was inspired by a dream.

The scientist Friedrich August Kekulé had a dream that helped him discover the chemical structure of benzene (C6H6).

Songs: Paul Mcartney claims that he heard the tune to Yesterday in a dream, a song which apparently has the most cover versions of any song ever written and was performed over seven million times in the 20th century. Many composers, including Mozart, Beethoven, Wagner and Tartini have relied on dreams as a source of inspiration.[5]

There is something creative about dreams and so far we may be quite comfortable to agree that dreams as are the result of our minds being uncluttered, or that images, memories and emotions that are stored throughout the day are creatively reconnected. That seems a rational explanation and makes sense. Well, it makes sense at least for the majority of dreams, nightmares, lucid dreams, recurring dreams, …

But how do we then explain dreams that offer new insights that cannot be explained by existing images in our minds that are simply being reconnected, dreams that give new revelation?    

Discoveries: Niels Bohr, a Nobel Prize winner, claimed he has seen the structure of an atom in a dream. Madame Walker, the first female self-made millionaire discovered the remedy for a scalp infection that caused her to lose most of her hair in the 1890’s. She said: “He answered my prayer, for one night I had a dream, and in that dream a big, black man appeared to me and told me what to mix up in my hair. Some of the remedy was grown in Africa, but I sent for it, mixed it, put it on my scalp, and in a few weeks my hair was coming in faster than it had ever fallen out. I tried it on my friends; it helped them. I made up my mind to begin to sell it.” [6]

Predictions: Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo was foretold in a prophetic dream. Abraham Lincoln dreamt of his assassination a couple of days before he was shot. Joan of Arc predicted her death after she had a prophetic dream. The Roman Emperor Marcian dreamed about the death of Attila the Hun break on the same night that Attila died. Then there is the Déjà Vu phenomenon, the feeling that the situation we are experiencing has previously been dreamt.

There are many more examples like that and maybe you have experienced something similar or know someone who has. We may be skeptical of some of these examples but considering the number of these types of accounts it is problematic to dismiss it all. We may have to admit that there are dreams that bring revelation from a source that is outside of us.  

 

3.     Dreams in Christianity

Taking dreams so seriously may be a strange idea to us as rational modern people, but the ancient Greeks and Romans considered dreams an important means of gaining insight, and a valid form of communication from God. Dream interpretation was treated as a science by philosophers and physicians, and ancient historians reported that some dreams of famous leaders affected the course of historical events.[7]

For many of us, if we even pay any attention to our dreams, we may find it encouraging to have a positive dream, or pick up on an emotional issue, if we have recurring nightmares. But anything beyond that seems a little extreme, except maybe, if we were friends with someone who had received a major inspiration from a dream and won the Nobel Prize. Then we might be more open to receiving a revelation through a dream and hope that it would make us a somewhat famous as well.

What standards should shape our views on dreams? As Christians I hope you agree with me, the Bible may not be a bad place to start.

The Bible knows about dreams.

The Philistine king Abimelech thought that Sarah was Abraham’s sister, because that is what Abraham had told him. So Abilmelech took Sarah for his wife. God came to Abimelech in a dream and said, “You are as good as dead because of the woman you have taken; she is a married woman.” (Gen 20:3). Abimelech took that dream seriously even though he didn’t share Abraham’s religion. He called for Abraham and returned Sarah to Abraham.

In the Old Testament Joseph had two prophetic dreams that his parents and brothers would bow down to him, and in reaction to these dreams his brothers set events in motion that eventually led to the fulfilment of these dreams. Later Joseph’s ability to interpret dreams saved him from prison and moved him to a position of great authority.

Similarly, Daniel’s ability to interpret the king’s dream saved him and his friends from death.

In the New Testament God gave Joseph a dream that told him to about the child Mary was carrying and not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife. And so he did. Later God spoke to Joseph in a dream telling him to take Mary and Jesus to Egypt, which Joseph did and as a result saved them from Herod’s persecution and death.

All of the dreams that are recorded in the Bible had an impact on the person’s life who had the dream and initiated actions or events that changed the course of their lives. We may find it difficult to relate to how seriously these people took their dreams and changed their lives significantly according to the message of the dreams. When have you dreamt about moving to a different country like Joseph did and said to your wife or husband, “Honey, let’s pack, dreamt about moving to Brazil last night…”. But according to these examples, wouldn’t you say God uses dreams to speak to his people in the Bible? And if he does, does he still use them to speak to us? And how do we know, when he does?

 

4.     God Speaks through Dreams

Jack Deere, a former Old Testament professor and pastor writes this, ”At one time in my life I knew there were dreams and visions in the Bible, but I thought that God only used them to communicate when he didn’t have a clear text of Scripture at hand. If what God wanted to say to a person had already been written in the Scripture then, according to my theology, he would never have given them a dream or a vision. He would have simply brought the Scripture to their mind…Apparently God didn’t share my view of dreams and visions. Actually according to the Bible, dreams and visions are the normal language of the Holy Spirit when God speaks to his prophets. Numbers 12:6 says, ‘when a prophet is among you, I reveal myself to him in visions, I speak to him in dreams.’…According to the Bible, the problem is not with God. God does speak, but we are often not ‘tuned in’. He gives us dreams to warn us but we ignore them. If we are ever going to hear all that God wants to say to us, we must adjust to his ways of speaking. And one of his favorite ways of speaking is through dreams.”

Jack Deere makes two points that are important to us: First, God still uses dreams today to reveal himself to us. If we are still skeptical about that claim, like Jack Deere, we may need to reform our perception on how God speaks, for God has different views on how he chooses to speak to us. The Bible is quite clear that God has and still does use dreams to speak to his people:

Num 12:6: “And he said, "Hear my words: If there is a prophet among you, I the LORD make myself known to him in a vision; I speak with him in a dream”.  Gen 31:1: And the Angel of God spoke to me in a dream, Jacob!” Gen 31:24: “And God came to Laban the Syrian in a dream of the night.” 1Kings 3:5: “Jehovah appeared to Solomon in Gibeon in a dream of the night.” Daniel 1:17: “As for these four boys, God gave them knowledge and skill in all writing and wisdom. And Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams.”” Matt 1:20: “And as he was thinking about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord was seen by him in a dream, saying, Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife.” Matt 2:12: “And having been warned by a dream not to return to Herod, they went back into their own country by another way.” Joel 2:28: “And it shall be afterward, I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh. And your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions.

If you want to hear from God, understand that God speaks to us through dreams.

Secondly, Jack Deere states that “According to the Bible, the problem is not with God. God does speak, but we are often not ‘tuned in’. He gives us dreams to warn us but we ignore them. If we are ever going to hear all that God wants to say to us, we must adjust to his ways of speaking. And one of his favorite ways of speaking is through dreams.”[8] We need to tune in, but how?

            When God spoke to Joseph in a dream to take Mary for his wife, Joseph may not have expected it or looked for it, but he didn’t have an issue with God generally using dreams to speak to people and so he recognized that this was God speaking to him and took the message seriously. We need to be open to God speaking to us in that way. The biggest hurdle not to hear from God through dreams is to dismiss them and believe that God doesn’t use dreams to speak to us.

            For many years I didn’t really give a second thought to dreams. To me they were a coping mechanism for all our thoughts and experiences that happen to us during the day, very scientific, very logical, I thought…and of course a very limited explanation that ignores not only the Bible but also all those dreams that are prophetic or reveal something new to us. And so I can’t say that I ever experienced God speaking to me in a dream then, because I didn’t believe he would. I don’t think Edgar paid much attention to his dreams until he had a dream that impacted him. This dream about two six ago was confronting and spoke into his ministry, predicting suffering and opposition, but also fruit. It didn’t seem a terribly positive dream at the time but it prepared us for the next years that followed and encouraged us because it promised fruit and showed us that God was with us during that time. Since I have tried to tune into my dreams, that is pay attention to them and expect God to use them to speak to me, I have had some that revealed situations to me and some instances when God corrected me.

            About a year ago I had made an assessment about a situation and a person, which on the surface seemed quite reasonable. Then I dreamt about that person and that situation, and in that dream I was wearing white pants that had a stain on them. I was trying to get rid of the stain. It bothered me immensely. In that dream I was a bystander of that situation that I wanted to change but couldn’t get access to it. White pants can stand for the righteous believer and that particular type of stain can indicate an offense.  

When I woke up I was realised that I had made my assessment of that person because I had taken offence against them and lost trust. I hadn’t been aware of that, but it was true. So I needed to retract that opinion, let go of being offended, and start praying again that person and that situation which I had stopped to do. As it turned out, there was an improvement without me getting involved and making a mess of things.

            Another dream I had, and I’ll give you some background information: I have studied for a while, all up 8 years full time, completed a couple of degrees, and yet I always think I don’t know enough yet to do a job as well as it should be done so that I am reluctant to take up any challenges especially where ministry is concerned. So, maybe about 8 months ago I had a dream where I was at a school or institute to learn. In my break I was addressed by a stranger, a blond man, and I knew he was different somehow. I said, “You are different, aren’t you?” And he said, “Yes, I am.” And then I realised that this was an angel I was talking to. The bell rang and I didn’t want to miss my lesson so I said I had to go even though I felt the conversation had not finished. But I left, and then when I entered the classroom no one took any notice of me, as if I was invisible. I stressed over missing the teaching which flowed on while I was not really part of the class, but eventually I managed to sit beside another person and copy the content. And then I realized that I either knew it or that it had nothing to do with my profession or work and that I didn’t need to know it.

            What do you think that dream communicated to me? I believe two things. First, the dream indicated to me that I had already learnt enough that I needed and that now it was time to put it into practice - in the dream I either knew the subject matter or didn’t need it. My place was no longer learning in the class room -I was invisible and ignored by to those in the classroom.

Secondly, the angel tried to involve me in a conversation but I rushed off. This was telling me that I was missing out on an important part of preparation for ministry, and that is to hear from God. I needed to take time and listen to God and receive revelation from him about how to do ministry rather than rush off and try to find revelation by myself. And since then that is what I have been trying to do.

 

5.     Purpose of God Given Dreams

            Now what was the point of my or Edgar’s dreams or the ones recorded in the Bible? Dreams may have different purposes, and as we look at these, be aware that most dreams do not neatly fall into just one category but may have two or three purposes at a time.

 

Dreams that give encouragement and build faith

            The first dream Edgar had pre-shadowed that we should expect a hard time and gave encouragement. There are dreams that prepare and encourage.

When Paul was at Corinth, church leaders were stirring against him, and there was a possibility that he might face prison or be stoned again. In that context God spoke to Paul one night, "Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people." (Acts 18:9-10) So Paul is told that he would be safe and to go on speaking the gospel in that city. And in response to that encouragement, Paul “stayed a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them.” (Acts 18:11). Some dreams give encouragement and build our faith so that we can continue to do what God calls us to do.

 

Dreams that provide correction

            Then there are dreams that provide correction, when we hold on to flawed beliefs or when our actions could be hurtful to others or destructive to us. In my dream when I was wearing white pants with a stain I was made aware that my judgement was clouded and that I needed to reassess and continue to deal with the situation in a positive fashion, pray for it rather than judge it.

            Or do you remember the dream Abimelech had after he had taken Abraham’s wife? “But God came to Abimelech in a dream by night and said to him, ‘Behold, you are a dead man because of the woman whom you have taken, for she is a man's wife” (Gen 20:3). “Now then, return the man's wife, for he is a prophet, so that he will pray for you, and you shall live. But if you do not return her, know that you shall surely die, you, and all who are yours” (Gen 20:7). God explained to Abilmelech why his actions were wrong and that they needed to be corrected. As a result of this dream Abimelech was able to rectify his actions and avert disaster for his entire household.

 

Dreams that provide guidance and give commands

            Some dreams provide guidance or disclose a specific command. We don’t need to be corrected but we need insight in order to deal with a situation correctly. God gave Joseph a command when an “angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, "Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him." (Matt 2:13) Joseph obeyed and so saved his family from Herod’s persecution and death.

            Jacob had been treated unjustly by Laban, his father-in-law, on a number of occasions, so then God appeared to Jacob in a dream and said, …I have seen all that Laban is doing to you. I am the God of Bethel, where you anointed a pillar and made a vow to me. Now arise, go out from this land and return to the land of your kindred". (Gen 31:11-13) Jacob obeyed that command and left Laban. God then also came to Laban in a dream and instructed him how to treat Jacob, and eventually Jacob and Laban ended up making a covenant and the relationship between the two men is restored.

 

Dreams that give warnings

            Dreams can warns us of events that God has decided on and that help us prepare for them. In Gen 41 Pharaoh had the same dream in two different forms. In one he saw seven fat cattle that were eaten by seven skinny cattle, and in the other he saw seven fat heads of grain being eaten by seven skinny heads of grain. Joseph interpreted the dream for Pharaoh and told him that the dream signified that after seven prosperous years there would be seven years of famine. He said to Pharaoh: “God has given you two dreams to let you know that he has definitely decided to do this and that he will do it soon.” (Gen 41:25)

            The point of these kinds of dreams is not to pray to God to avert the event, because God has already decided upon event, but to give an opportunity to prepare for it. And so in response to these dreams the king appointed Josephs who devised a plan to collect food during the prosperous years and store supplies for the years of famine.

            Other dreams can warn us of the potential events, events that can be averted by our prayers. In Daniel 4 we are told that Nebuchadnezzar had a dream that warned him of a disaster that would befall him unless he repented of his sinful living. He had twelve months to repent but failed to do so and so God’s judgement came upon him.

            Jack Deere relates that in 1988 many prophetic people were having dreams about the death of well known pastor (John Wimber) seeing him in a coffin with a date on it. But rather than predicting that person’s death like some erroneously thought, it encouraged people to pray for him, and it influenced the pastor to seek medical assistance and turn around his heart condition by regular exercise and attention to his diet. [9]

 

Dreams that disclose the future

            God can use dreams to reveal future events that are going to happen.

In Gen 37:5 Joseph was given two dreams that revealed to him that he would be elevated to a position of leadership. God may speak to us to show us something about our personal history, like he did with Edgar’s dream preparing and encouraging us for the time ahead of us.

            Sometimes God reveals events that concern the course of the world and go beyond our personal history. Daniel, in particular in ch 11 and 12 receives dreams and visions that foretell the political development in Persia and the persecution of the church in the Roman Empire.

            I am sure we all have come across or read predictions about the end of the world, or prediction of disasters or world events. These types of prophecies have been around for hundreds of years, and we obviously have to be cautious and discerning about what we accept and we have to consider who gives the prophecy, if it is really from God and if it can be confirmed.  

 

Dreams for salvation

            You may already have picked up as we were looking at these various dreams that God not only speaks to his people or to us as Christians, but also to unbelievers. He spoke to Abimelech in Gen 20:3-7 telling him that Sarah was Abraham’s wife, and not his sister, he spoke to Pharaoh in Gen 41:1-7 warning him about the seven years of famine, and to Nebuchadnezzar in Dan 4 warning him to repent. In the New Testament he spoke in a dream to the Magi who were probably pagan astrologers and warned them not to return to Herod (Matt 2:12).

            When God speaks to unbelievers in the Bible he usually does so to warn them or provide correction and so save them from judgement or disaster. Abimelech corrected his actions and averted judgement on him and his entire household. The Magi’s dream saved Jesus from being killed by Herod.

            When God speaks to unbelievers in dreams he also does so to provide eternal salvation. Job 33:14-18: “For God speaks in one way, and in two, though man does not perceive it, in a dream, in a vision of the night, when deep sleep falls on men, while they slumber on their beds, then he opens the ears of men and terrifies them with warnings, that he may turn man aside from his deed and conceal pride from a man; he keeps back his soul from the pit, his life from perishing by the sword.”  

            In recent years there have been increasing reports that Christ is appearing to Muslims in dreams and visions. The National & International Religion Report states that “…more and more Muslims are having dreams and visions of Christ, Christian ministries say. There is increasing evidence that the supernatural is playing a role in drawing Muslims to Christ. Campus Crusade for Christ has received thousands of letters from Muslims, many of whom claim to have had a similar dream of Christ, according to the ministry’s radio broadcast office in northern Africa. In the dream, Jesus appears and tells people, “I am the way,” Campus Crusade founder and president Bill Bright said. Moved by the dreams, they contact the radio ministry and “freely respond” to the gospel message, he said. In Algeria, an imprisoned Muslim political radical said Jesus appeared to her in her cell. The woman now is a Christian and works with Campus Crusade ministering to Muslims.”[10]

            God uses dreams to speak to us, Christian or non-Christian. He speaks to us to correct us, encourage us, warn us, reveal new insights but to understand our dreams we need to be prepared to hear from God and tune in.

            Some years ago, Edgar and I were ministering to a lady, who had been raised a Christian but wasn’t sure about God. She had some problems to conquer in her life and was struggling to give control for her life over to God. She wasn’t sure, if God was really there for her, and so we prayed that God would speak to her in some way. Shortly after she dreamt that she was falling to her death from a tall building. As she fell, Jesus appeared, caught her and put her safely on her feet. The lady was quite excited about the dream, especially as she said it had been very realistic. She knew without a doubt that God had spoken to her to put her trust in Jesus but unfortunately even after that she still shied away from committing to God. 

            If you’re here this morning and you are not a Christian, then know that God loves you, that he sent Christ to die for you and that he wants to speak to you. He can do that in a number of ways (Bible, …) but he can also speak through your dreams.    

 

6.     Practical Conclusion for Us

            What can we do practically to tune in effectively? Since we generally forget our dreams as soon as we wake up, write them down as soon as you wake up. We may be certain that we’ll remember, but the fact is that five minutes after the end of the dream, half the content is forgotten, ten minutes, 90% is lost. Write it down, put it aside and see if something in it strikes you as important. That does generally not mean that you can expect to end up with at least 30 divinely inspired dreams every month. Chances are you are not going to remember your dreams every night and not every one of those are inspired by God. Some are most likely just the result of your mind working through your daily experiences and thoughts.

            As far as it is recorded Joseph only had a few significant dreams in his life. They were highly important to him and to Christian history but he did not necessarily have these types of dreams every night. Over the last years Edgar only remembered a handful of dreams, and only some impacted him and carried spiritual meaning, although they tend to increase in frequency as you pay attention to your dreams. When a dream has spiritual meaning for you, you will have a sense that it does. You will know that is significant. Of all the examples in the Bible none of the dreamers doubted that their dream was from God and that it was important.

            God spoke to his people in Bible times and he still uses the same means of speaking to us. Therefore, know that God speaks to you in dreams. Tune in, and be ready to hear from him.   

 

 

 



[1]Freud, S. (1900). The interpretation of dreams.

[2] Hobson, J. A. (1999). Consciousness. New York: Scientific American Library.

[3] "I saw the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together. I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life, and stir with an uneasy, half-vital motion. Frightful must it be; for supremely frightful would be the effect of any human endeavor to mock the stupendous Creator of the world." Quoted in Spark, 157, from Mary Shelley's introduction to the 1831 edition of Frankenstein

[4]Website:  http://cynthialeitichsmith.blogspot.com/2006/03/author-interview-stephenie-meyer-on.html, accessed 06.07.2010

[5] Examples from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dream_interpretation

[6] http://www.brilliantdreams.com/product/famous-dreams.htm#

[7] Website: http://www.springerlink.com/content/x6131582q56u735k/, accessed 28.06.10

[8] Deere, J. (1996). Surprised by the Voice of God. Eastbourne: Kingsway Publications, pp218, 219.

[9] Deere, J. (1996). Surprised by the Voice of God. . Eastbourne: Kingsway Publications, p220.

 

[10] From the website: http://www.epm.org/resources/2010/Jan/12/dreams-visions-move-muslims-christ/, accessed 04.07.2010