Updated: May 16, 2020
HOW TO PUT AN END TO NIGHT TERRORS
I do not know of anyone that has not had a dream which puzzled or disturbed them at one time. I have had my fair share of them and it seems to me there are plenty of people that not only have ‘bad dreams’, but ugly ones. Night visions that are dark and frightening and leave them not only sleep-deprived, but disillusioned.
It can seem we have no control over these nightmares and the effect they have on our thoughts and emotions, but Jesus gives us hope that we can put a stop to them once and for all.
“The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So, let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armour of light.” (Romans 13:10-12)
I was ministering at a conference a few years ago and God was giving me words of knowledge for people and one of those was for someone who was experiencing ‘night terrors’. A woman came forward for prayer with tears streaming down her face. Not only had God revealed a private struggle, but also His love for her and desire to set her free.
“Salvation is nearer now than when we first believed…”
From my experience, and those who have shared their dreams with me, these nightmares can arise from three distinct sources. They may be an expression of our internal fears, impressed upon us through external influences, or the result of external interference by supernatural forces.
This could be a depressing post if we focus on the fear, so let's tackle this with the attitude of a fed-up Sir George who put on some armour and decided to dispatch with a dragon that terrorised the countryside.
But first, let us consider if there are any sleeping giants we need to roll out of the way.
Driving Out Sleeping Giants
Sometimes ‘a dream will come when there are many cares.’ (Ecclesiastes 5:3). A recent article in the Guardian looked into the apparent rise of ‘lockdown’ dreams as a reaction to our loss of control and the stress of social distancing. Many cares have sparked many dreams.
Zoran Paunovich, author of several books on dreams, calls these ‘Soul Dreams.’ These are the result of feelings and desires that we may not have acknowledged or understood we actually had. Like ‘lockdown’ dreams based on a shared experience, these types of dreams may also be very common to others (ever had a dream about public speaking and forgetting your notes?).
Some nightmares are triggered by external influences, for example exposure to evil themes through through music and movies. We need to be mindful of what expose ourselves to in the guise of 'entertainment'. Proverbs 4:23 warns, "Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it", and that includes what pours out in our dreams. (One of my daughters couldn't watch any movie with an antagonist (um, they exist in every story ever!) for a long time because she was so sensitive to imagery that was overtly exaggerated in her dreams It made choosing a family movie a nightmare!).
Other nightmarish dreams may be unique to you based on your childhood or personal experiences. Sometimes our deeper fears and insecurities are like sleeping giants, hidden in darkness and emerging unexpectedly to throw their weight around.
I once had a dream that I was sitting at a table with three other leaders. One of them turned and rebuked me for talking. I was mortified, because I had been asked to share my thoughts and it had taken years to feel the confidence to do so honesty without crawling under the table. One of the other leaders eventually spoke and affirmed my role and what I was saying. What had surfaced was a fear of failure and rejection.
Learning what to do with these sleeping giants requires some emotional intelligence. When we recognise they are our own subconscious thoughts or feelings surfacing, we can begin to process them in a healthy way. In some cases, it may be helpful to seek help from others to work through more difficult issues. (Dreams that re-live past abuse or trauma are outside of the scope of this study, and I strongly recommend seeking help from medical and mental health professionals.)
For example, when a dream reveals a fear or insecurity, we have an opportunity for emotional and spiritual growth in that area.1 Peter 5:7 says you can, ‘cast all your anxiety on Jesus because he cares for you.’ We can find reassurance and answers to each of those concerns when we take it to the Lord, because not only does He care for us but He will counsel us (Psalm 16:7).
After processing my reaction in the dream, the Lord showed me I had to decide if I was going to resort to self-pity or self-improvement. Having no success with self-pity in the past (how’s that working out for you?) I decided I better put on a new pair of big-girl pants and reassess how I can make sure I am delivering my ideas positively. I am learning to communicate clearly without feeling anxious that my words are foolish and trusting God has given me wisdom to share.
It can be difficult to face the unresolved issues and unspoken shame we have buried deep. We might have to wrestle with them until we understand how they came to be there in order to ‘put aside the deeds of darkness’. And we might have to acknowledge our weakness and find strength with others in order to ‘put on the armour of light’.
So when these sleeping giants start to wake and manifest themselves in our dreams, we can take them by the scruff of the neck and escort them out of our life.
Dealing with Dragons
Here we come to addressing the dragon in the room.
Not all dreams are sweet, in fact, some are very very disturbing and come not from an internal source, but an external enemy, the devil. In the book of Revelation he is described as a dragon, and he seeks to ‘rob, kill and destroy’ (John 10:10).
What better way to do it while we are drooling on our pillow as we sleep?
The devil can have access to our thought life if we give room for him to invade our space. Some open windows he can climb into our bedroom through are these:
unforgiveness & resentment towards someone
exposure to evil themes, e.g. through music and movies
involvement in occult activity (e.g. tarot, seances) or demonic attack (read to the end for Jack’s story)
a trauma inflicted by someone else or triggered by a crisis event
All but the last you can take responsibility for and repent of anything the Lord highlights is an issue for you. Rejecting the works of the enemy means living in the light, and not dwelling in darkness.
The last point may not be have been in your control and you are actually dealing with the effects of what happened. This will require the help of a counselor as well as pastoral care person to pray with you.
Remember: Salvation is nearer now than when we first believed, so if you are experiencing night terrors here is how you can begin to resolve them.
3 STEPS TO DEALING WITH DRAGONS
“Submit yourselves to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you!”
1. Relinquish Control to God
This means not just allowing God access to every activity and conscious thought during the day, but full surrender that includes when we switch off the lights. You may be familiar with this children’s prayer:
"Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep"
Traditional Jewish prayers are regularly recited ‘when they lie down and when they rise up’ (Deut 6:7) and there is one special bedtime prayer initiated by the rabbis. Sleep was considered to be a gift from God and reciting the prayer was a way of surrendering themselves to God at night. It specifically requests to be undisturbed by anxiety or toubling thoughts and for peace instead.
Not only that, but they were expectant that their dreams would show them some of God’s glory while they slept. Amen to that!
Just like King David, we can lie down to sleep, knowing there are dark forces pressing in around us, but confident in God’s ability to protect us.
2. Resist the devil’s Advances
The truth is the devil is going to try it on. But here’s the thing, demons do not possess the power of God. Jesus has full-authority over the devil and has passed that on to us.
Jesus said, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you.” Luke 10:18-19
Infamous evangelist Smith Wigglesworth reportedly once woke to find the devil leering over him in the middle of the night. When he recognised who it was he responded, "Oh, it's only you,” rolled over, and went back to sleep, (Smith Wigglesworth: The Secret of His Power, Albert Hibbert, Harrison House, 1982, 1993).
Jesus shows us how he dealt with dragons. He rebuked them, silenced them, and sent them packing. He has given us the same power without entering a conversation with the devil. God may give you specific strategies, like removing items dedicated to idols or praying with the Holy Spirit but there is a simple way to start, and you don't even have to be a Christian to do it.
We can respond with the simple command, “Leave me, in Jesus' name.”
If the devil puts up a fight and makes a fuss (usually by increasing the fear and intimidation), stand your ground and resist again.
“In Jesus’ name, leave me and do not come back.”
3. Rest in God’s Goodness
When my daughter was younger she would often come into our room at night frightened at a dream she had just had. Before she would agree to return to her own bed, she always asked that we would pray for her. Half-asleep I would mumble something like, ‘Thank you Jesus that you love her and that you promised never to leave her. Please remove these scary thoughts and replace them with your peace.” (I can’t promise I was that articulate!). As she lay curled up in my arms for comfort, I would feel her physically relax after that prayer. Not long after she would be courageous enough to go back to bed.
One thing we never told her was, ‘Go back to bed, it’s just a dream.’ (Zoran Paunovich has an excellent article on why children often experience nightmares.)
Even after waking we can feel a little spooked, but that is the time to rest in God and allow him to comfort and reassure you.
He’s not afraid of dragons.
ILLUMINATING THE NIGHT
Both sleeping giants and dragons may have got used to taking up room in our dreams, and it can be intimidating to face them, but once they have been given an eviction notice and booted off the premises, you can be free of the terrors of the night.
My prayer is that you find new hope for freedom from your nightmares, and the confidence to lie down and wake up in peace, having seen the glory of God in your dreams.
P.S. Continue reading to hear Jack’s* story of how God rescued him from years of night terrors. (*His name has been changed for this testimony)
P.S.S. Check out the rest of the series for more about God-dreams.
NAILNG NIGHT TERRORS TO THE CROSS
A night terror, to me and for a few others, is when you have a horror movie like dream, with you waking up feeling paralysed with fear, and in my case, feeling something physically.
To understand my position I think some context is required. I had a demonic attack when I was 3 years old which is what triggered my night terrors. I was woken by a dark presence that you could almost physically see. I frantically tried to escape my cot and in the process got bitten by the demon, which manifested as a dog. The bite was on the back of my t-shirt. I then escaped to the hallway and sought shelter with my mum in the bathroom. I then heard it scratching at the door and asked mum to pray. I then received a vision of an angel or heavenly figure taking the dog away.
From an early age I learned that prayer was the way to experience God's peace and comfort in times of terror. I remember after all of my night terrors I would pray to God for peace, comfort and to take away the dreams.
And He would.
Sometimes I would fall asleep before I prayed and I found myself back in the same dream and another nightmare. I never sought out help from others for prayer and release from the night terrors. I bore the burden of having them and thinking they were normal for years (almost 2 decades!).
The night terrors became less frequent as I aged and grew in my relationship with Jesus but I didn't get the revelation that I needed supernatural release from this demonic burden until a couple of years ago.
I was at a church meeting, when I felt this nail form in the small of my back. The nail felt like the imprint of the demonic bite I had as a child and I felt that I needed prayer for release from it and the night terrors. I sought out someone I trusted to pray for me and they did. And Jesus moved, I felt the nail dissolve and a weight lift. I felt release.
That night was the best night sleep I had for a very long time!
When it comes to night terrors I believe that it is demonic. People don't think up or imagine themselves in dreams or situations that wake you up and feel physically unable to move from the fear in the dream, and/or that something is biting you or gripping you.
But God is good!
The beautiful thing about my experience is that I have had amazing, adventurous, and wondrous dreams from God. I have seen the pearly gates of heaven and been in heavenly worship. I have seen small visions of my future. I believe that God makes dreams and visions more amazing, exciting and wondrous even though these bad dreams happen.
I hope that this has helped you understand a bit more about night terrors and dreams in general. I hope that this encourages you, that if you have night terrors, there is release from it and that you can be released from it. It is not normal and it is something that you can have healed.
May God bless you and speak to you. I pray that if you are having night terrors that you would be released from them in Jesus name.
* Jack's name has been changed for this testimony
COMING UP NEXT
Daring to Dream: You Must Be Dreaming
A Special Guest Post with Ps. Helen Gwyn
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