5 Tips For Discerning God’s Voice in Dreams
I have found that in the Western world, even amongst Christians, dreams are not taking very seriously, and the assumption is that a weird dream is just a result of a bit of funny cheese. Here in Peru I find that people dream a lot, and the assumption is that God is trying to say something, even if they have no idea what (or even if it is a result of a bit of funny cheese!). So where is the balance? God definitely uses dreams to speak to us today, so here are some things I have found helpful when trying to discern God’s voice in dreams:
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1. Pray for dreams from God
Maybe you already dream lots. Or perhaps, like my husband, you rarely remember one. When I first started writing down my dreams, Mark and I would pray for God to speak to us in dreams, and that we would remember any ones He wanted to speak to us through. Suddenly, Mark began remembering a dream or two! Actually we found, on the nights we intentionally prayed about remembering a dream, or asking God to speak in dreams, more often or not they happened, whereas when we didn’t it was much less common.
2. Write them down
Ever woken up remembering a dream and five minutes later totally forgotten it? Not only does writing down a dream help you remember it, I have also found that it has helped me remember more of the dream or other dreams I had that night, and it has helped me see more clearly the interpretation of the dream. If you don’t have time to write the whole dream down, or it is the middle of the night and you want to remember a dream but not write it all out them, then just jot down a few key words to help remember it later.
I think we assume that the dreams that are mentioned in the bible were all incredibly vivid, accompanied by angels, a fanfare and lots of fuss to mark them as special dreams, but we don’t know that that was actually the case. Some of them may have just been ‘normal’ dreams that the receiver took seriously, even though they were rather weird.
3. Discern the source of the dream:
Just as the thoughts in our head can come from one of three sources - ourselves, God and the enemy, so can dreams.
Dreams from the enemy bring fear, are often dark, hopeless, and may be full of temptation:
Nightmares are obvious examples, but I have also found the enemy send dreams about things going wrong or dreams to unsettle me about upcoming events which could easily be mistaken as ‘prophetic dreams’ until I look at the spirit of fear and hopelessness in them.
In contrast to the enemy’s dreams full of fear, I have had dreams where God has shown or told me about negative things that are going to happen, but there has always been a message of hope within the dream. In one dream, God spoke to me and said ‘a time of persecution is coming, but I am going to use it to unite the team in prayer.’ I don’t remember all the details of the dream, but the number seven was also in the dream. I shared with the team the dream and we prayed together, and during that week seven significant attacks occurred, including two of our team members being robbed at gunpoint. That week was obviously not pleasant, but it did unite us as a team in prayer for one another, and our team daily prayers are now central to our daily life. We also had a real sense that God was protecting us through all the little details of each of the attacks and it reduced the fear associated with the attacks, because we knew God was in control.
On a separate occasion, Rosa who lives with us woke up one morning after a dream where one of our teenagers had been involved in a car accident and in the dream she went to pray for him and take him medicine (she is training to be a nurse). Within an hour we had had a phone call from his family telling us that the very person was in hospital after an accident the night before and Rosa was able to take the family some of the medicine they needed and pray with him.
Dreams from ourselves can be processing of events and trauma, as well as reactions to the environment. They can highlight our own desires and fears.
Dreams can be our minds and spirits way of processing events and trauma, and can equally be stimulated by our environment. One night, for example, I dreamed about going to buy a thick winter coat, only to wake up and discover that Mark had taken all the bedcovers! Another dream that I regular have in times of stress is one where I am trying to pack up a whole hour in a limited amount of time (brought on by having to move so many times) or running to catch a train. It did turn into a super stressed dream when the two got combined and I had to try and load a house worth of stuff onto a train before it left! Although these dreams could be defined as soul dreams rather than dreams from God, they do highlight areas of stress and trauma that I need to bring to God and process with Him, so they can also be helpful to look at.
Dreams from God may be bright, full of colour, bring hope, accompanied by a sense of peace and maybe wonder.
They may reveal bad attitudes or perspectives. They may highlight an aspect of God’s character.
I have had dreams where I have seen amazing scenery or flowers in vivid colours I have never seen before - and those dreams have left me with a sense of wonder and longing for heaven, but they have been rare. Most of the dreams I have had from God have been opportunities for God to speak into situations I am currently facing, to bring fresh strategy to our team or to highlight bad attitudes in me. God has also used dreams to move me to pray.
Recently I had a dream where Mark and I were driving through a park on the way to the airport and saw many girls lined up by trees. Mark tried offering a ride to a couple of them, but as he did, some fierce men came and snatched them back. They were sex trade workers. I awoke from the dream at about 3am and suddenly felt very moved to pray for the women trapped in sex trafficking against their will. For about an hour I prayed for Jesus to bring hope into the lives of those women, to break the chains of darkness, and to prepare our hearts here as a ministry for any work God wants us to have with them in the future.
4. Ask the Giver of Dreams to help you interpret and apply your dreams.
Our teammates Lili and Rosa both dream ‘literally’ - God often shows them things that later take place. I am struggling to think of even one occasion where I have had a dream like that. Even the dreams where God has talked to me about things that are going to happen, an element of interpretation has been necessary. So as is often the case with God’s voice, we need to be aware of the elements of Revelation, Interpretation and Application. Firstly, God gives a revelation (a dream, picture, Bible verse, thought, feeling, etc.) and then comes the process of interpreting the revelation and the application. This is the most difficult part of the prophetic, and where most of the mistakes happen (and where those who object to the prophetic find most problem with it). For example, God may use the verse ‘I will give you the nations as an inheritance’ to speak to one person about a calling to be a missionary in Africa, and another person about praying for their Muslim neighbours. Interpretation and application are very important!
Interpreting dreams is a process which requires relationship with God. There is not a formula or a set dream dictionary that will tell you what your dream means. But I have found that God does seem to use a personal dream vocabulary that I understand more over time. My earthly father in my dreams, for example, sometime represents my Heavenly Father. Who is driving a car in my dream is often important and connected with my family or ministry, (whereas trains generally show up in times of stress after all the times I had to run to get a train as a teenager!) The people in my dreams are often symbolic for their name and I often find the interpretation of the dream for me personally becomes obvious when I find out what their name means. Numbers and colours have been important at times too - a spring green having represented a new thing, and numbers having represented days. But things can change, and asking God to show you the interpretation and what your are meant to do with the interpretation (the application) is a process that requires a dialogue with God which may take some time, accountability and help from others. But when you next have a dream, why don’t you ask God first what it means before sharing it with a friend over lunch?
5. If in doubt, hold them, wait, go back, leave.
Once you have written your dream down and prayed about the interpretation and application, you still may have doubts about whether the dream is from God or not or what it means. That is fine! As I have gone back and read over some of the dreams that I did not know the interpretation for at the time, some have been irrelevant and others have suddenly become very clear with hindsight and interesting to see how God was speaking to me then, even though I didn’t understand it at the time! I would encourage you to revise your dreams from time to time to see if God highlights anything new to you, but if He doesn’t, that it great too.
Learning to discern God’s voice in dreams is a fun process, so I hope you have been encouraged to listen out for this unique way that God may be speaking to you!
And afterwards, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. - Joel 2:28
Download a free colourful resource: 5 Tips for Discerning God's Voice in Dreams by clicking on the image below:
Dream Language by James Goll
The Ultimate Guide to Understanding the Dreams you Dream by Ira Milligan