The first ever dream I recall ever having involved a wild black swan, and oddly, Gargamel, the agitated, tantrum-throwing character attempting to turn Smurfs into gold. I was only five years old, so a cartoon character popping up in my dreams wasn’t really that surprising. The black swan snapping at my fingers was, and was likely a subconscious fear replaying an incident that day when I had been visiting a pond full of large grumpy black swans that went after my food. I still don’t know what conjured up Gargamel but it has stuck with me ever since (perhaps because it was one of those dreams where you get stuck running on the spot going nowhere!)
Dreams are a powerful imaginative force in our lives. They can be fantastical, frightful or completely nonsensical, yet they have the ability to grip our emotions and mind so strongly that they stay with us long after we wake up.
Have you ever awoken from sleep with a thought lingering between conscious and unconsciousness? Or experienced a dream so vivid it felt like a real memory or experience?
Maybe you have had a dream where you were given knowledge or instructions that you didn’t have before and found yourself wondering if you should act on it. You may even have found yourself having the same dream reoccur over again, or a consistent regular theme.
Or perhaps your dreams are so haunting or disturbing you avoid sleep altogether, living in a bleary eyed world deprived of rest and peace even when you are awake?
These are all experiences I have had at one time or another, as have many of my friends. I also believe they are experiences people are having all the time but don’t realise the potential they have to be meaningful in our day-to-day lives.
Science research into dreaming is fascinating and gives some insight into the complexity of our subconscious world. It is both interesting and helpful - yet there is another intriguing dynamic to dreaming that this series sets out to explore.
Even in your wildest dreams, did you consider that God was speaking to you?
DARING TO DREAM
For many years I was reluctant to pay any attention to any dreams I had. They seemed to be muddled, frightening, confusing and sometimes just plain weird. I had no way of knowing where it was coming from or if it was significant. And as someone who had a history of poor sleep, that hazy semiconscious stream of random thoughts could not be trusted!
But as I studied the scriptures and heard stories from ordinary, perfectly sensible people, I realised how common dreams were to God’s people. Considering all the ways in which God orchestrated events of history by interrupting people's sleep, I found myself challenged not to dismiss them so quickly.
Then one night I had a dream that really got my attention.
I was at a café and standing at the counter was my friend James*. He was reading a list that had been given to him by a tall, lanky figure who was clothed in the fashion of a Charles Dickens character, black coat and top hat included. As my friend read the list, it seemed to go on and on rolling out in one long sheet of paper. James slumped down onto the floor discouraged and dejected by the criticisms he read. I felt a strong sense of indignation at the unfair comments and became defensive on his behalf. I woke, and somehow I knew the name of the man in black – Don*.
It was such a vivid and unusual scene that I knew it had some significance. I was mostly concerned that James might be feeling discouraged and felt to check in that he was doing ok. I didn’t really know how to go about it, or if it was even relevant, but the next day I shared the dream with him and attempted to offer some encouragement. Specifically, I told him the name of the figure in the dream (with lots of disclaimers on my part). To both our surprise, not only was this scenario a representation of a real situation he was dealing with, but the name of the man responsible for the problem was –– Don.
In the end James and I were both encouraged and I was a little bit stunned at this level specificity. I began to wonder if my inexperience with dreams wasn’t so much that God did not speak to me through them, but that I failed to pay attention when they occurred.
Given all my questions and caution, would I dare to dream?
God speaks through dreams
The idea that God will speak to human beings through dreams is taken for granted in the bible. It records how and when He spoke to many people and dreams were a perfectly acceptable vehicle for Him to do that.
“[In the ancient world] it was a fairly common occurrence that the gods could speak through dreams. It was one of the ways that you could experience an oracle. Also there are whole handbooks written on how to interpret dreams (implying from the divine). I think that’s why Old Testament figures like Joseph and Daniel were accepted quite readily for their interpretation of the pagan king’s dreams. It wasn’t that they were interpreting the dreams that made them different, it’s that their interpretations (from God) were correct and that’s what made them special.” -- Dr. Joel Gordon, PhD Classics
Visions of the Night
The stories of bible heroes Joseph and Daniel receiving and interpreting dreams are well known, but other curious incidences are recorded in the bible too. There are examples of dreams that include angels, vivid movie-like scenes, metaphoric imagery, and even God simply holding a conversation with someone in their sleep, as if they were awake..
In one story, a pagan king named Abimelech had plans to take Abraham’s wife Sarah and add her to his concubine. God speaks to him in a dream and warns him; “You are a dead man, for that woman you have taken is already married!”. As it if was a perfectly normal thing to do, Abimelech has a conversation with God in the dream and protested his innocence (to be fair, it wasn’t entirely Abimelech’s fault, Abraham had lied and said she was his sister). To his relief, God agreed with him and gave him instructions on how to extract himself from a potential disastrous flirtation. (Genesis 20:1-7).
It doesn’t seem to matter whether a person acknowledges God or worships an idol or image. God had a habit of interrupting their sleep whether they ask Him to or not. There was, after-all, the business of saving mankind from itself that could not always wait until the morning cup of coffee was brewed.
What do dreams from God tell us?
God uses dreams to speak to his people for all sorts of reasons. There are dreams that serve as a warning of future events and how to respond, such as when he covertly informed Joseph of Herod’s murderous plots and gave away his movements so Joseph could keep his family safely out of his way (Matthew 1:10-24 & 2:19-22).
Sometimes God uses dreams to give specific instructions to people. God sent an angel in a dream to a fellow named Jacob to give him strategies for a new genetic breeding programme (Genesis 28) and in another dream warned his meddling father-in law to mind his own business (literally) (Genesis 31:24).
Often a dream might announce something God is about to do and our part to play. A reluctant warrior named Gideon was arriving at camp when he overheard one of his soldiers sharing details of a dream with his friend. It turned out to be the signal for when and how they were to go into battle and reassurance God was going to deliver them from their enemies (Judges 7:13-25). They won.
Other times God simply wants to provide encouragement. I don’t think many of us would mind if God said this to us in a dream like he did to King Solomon one night: “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.” (1 Kings 3:5).
The Dreamers of Today
When the Holy Spirit arrived in town at Pentecost the people would never have considered what was about to happen in their wildest dreams. People were speaking and comprehending new languages, foreigners starting declaring praises to a God they didn’t know, and God dramatically changed the way of life for those who followed Jesus:
Instead of God using a spokesman like a prophet, king or judge, He would allow his Holy Spirit to speak to individual believers. The apostle Peter was super-excited:
"This is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:
‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions,
your old men will dream dreams.’ "
Regardless of whether you were young or old, male or female, rich or poor - prophetic dreams were to become a common and valid experience for God’s people who allowed the Holy Spirit access to their life.
Dreams or ‘night visions’ from God can be an important channel of communication that by-passes our logic and fears to provide a uniquely supernatural revelation of truth for us to take hold of.
When God speaks to us in dreams they have a relevance and importance in our real world. Unlike virtual reality games where the only action takes place inside the mental world, we can receive, process and act on what God has given us in those dreams.
Some people may dream frequently and have the gift of interpretation like Daniel and Joseph. Others may only ever have one or two vivid God-dreams in their life.
What matters is not how often or how clear those dreams are, but how responsive we are to God speaking to us through them when He does.
WILL YOU DARE TO DREAM?
You might be just learning who God is like Abimelech, or you may be a teenager like Joseph, or a mother like me, but it is no hindrance to God speaking to you through dreams. When you fully surrender yourself to God and invite Him to speak to you -- however and whenever He wants -- don’t be surprised if he begins to turn up in the middle of the night:
HOT TIP – it's usually in the early morning hours, but don’t wait up for him, it defeats the point of
You don’t need to analyse every dream, but if there is something that strikes you as significant or piques your curiosity when you wake, consider the possibility that there might be something there to explore.
You can start with writing down your dreams in a journal or recording it on your phone so you can process it later (Tell me it's not just me that can’t think rational thoughts for hours after I first wake up?).
When you begin to embark on this challenge of daring to dream all sorts of questions may come up like they did for me:
How can I tell which dreams where from God or last night’s movie and cheese platter?
What was symbolic and what was literal?
Was it for me? Was it for someone else?
Do I save it or share it?
DREAMS COME TRUE
This new series Daring to Dream will continue to explore how God speaks to us in dreams today and attempt to answer these questions.
Over the next few weeks I’ve invited several people who regularly experience prophetic dreams to share how they have learned to discern God’s voice through them.
You’ll hear of the impact a genuine dream from God can have on someone’s life, what is unique about how God speaks through dreams, and how they have learned to interpret these messages when they get them.
God can speak to you in ways you never thought of in your wildest dreams. Who knows if a few smurfs might pop up!
Dare to dream!
* names have been changed for public posts
JOIN THE CONVERSATION
Does God shake you awake with dreams?
What stories do you have of God speaking to you through a dream?
Maybe you still have a ton of questions. Me too!
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COMING UP NEXT
Daring to Dream: Love Drunk Dreamers
Guest Post about how God speaks to us prophetically through dreams.
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