Understanding dreams as night parables

A few years ago I had the privilege of taking a year out to study the entire bible using the inductive study method. I was taught some excellent tools which I still use today. After learning and applying these principles for a number of years, I found that some of these tools also helped me interpret my dreams.

This article covers how we can approach dreams as night parables.

Picture of bible open at some parables

What bible genre are dreams?

One of the first things I learnt was that it is important to know what genre of literature you are reading. The bible contains many different genres, from historical books to wisdom literature, prophecy, gospels and letters for example. We know that the type of literature you are reading makes a big difference to how you understand it.

So this raises the question, what ‘genre’ are dreams?

This is rather a fun question, as dreams aren’t really a ‘genre’ as such, but it is still worth thinking about. You don’t need to study dreams for long to realise that most dreams are just like parables. I have even heard them called ‘night parables’ by some people. This is not always the case, as occasionally dreams can be more literal, more like night visions, but generally speaking, to understand the language of dreams you need to understand parables.

What is a parable?

The Cambridge English Dictionary describes a parable as, “a short, simple story that teaches or explains an idea”.

Jesus told plenty of parables, many of which are very familiar. I enjoy reading parables, because they give us a picture that captures our imagination and goes far behind just the words themselves. I love the way that the picture stays in our mind long after we have finished reading. God can keep speaking to us through it throughout the days and weeks to come, and bring back the image at opportune moments when it applies to a life situation.

This is very similar to what happens with dreams. Often when I am in prayer or in a time of worship, a scene from a dream will come to mind, along with sudden clarity of understanding about what God has been trying to say to me. So I have found that it is very helpful to know that dreams, like parables, can be seen as helpful illustrations that God can use to speak to us about our lives.

“I have found that dreams, like parables, can be seen as helpful illustrations that God can use to speak to us about our lives.”

We are going to consider a couple of these parables and alongside that discover how they can help us interpret a couple of dreams.

Parable example 1

The Parable of the Lost Sheep

Luke 15:4-7 NASB

“What man among you, if he has a hundred sheep and has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open pasture and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’ I tell you that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”

Picture of sheep

This parable is one of my favourites, and it is also very helpful because Jesus explains the meaning of the story afterwards and we are not left in any doubt in that respect. It is a lovely heartwarming little story in itself, but of course we know that it is actually about something far deeper than sheep and shepherds. The sheep is representative of a person; a ‘sinner’ as Jesus says. In other words, the sheep is someone who has wandered away from God, and that could be any one of us! The shepherd is representing God Himself, who the story tells us will never give up pursuing us until we are reconciled to Him. The friends and neighbours celebrating at the end represent the rejoicing in heaven that takes place when that person allows themselves to be found by God.

The amazing thing about a parable is that the more you reflect on the story, the more God will speak to you through it. As we ponder on the love of the shepherd, and how His love never gives up on us, whatever we have done, it speaks deep into our hearts and draws us nearer to Him.

Real dream example 1

A dream of being pursued

“I was being chased by Clint Eastwood who was pursuing me with a bunch of flowers. It was like one of those films where he would just never give up. He kept popping up everywhere with flowers.”

Picture of flowers

This dream from a female friend of mine has some similarities to the lost sheep parable in that the pursuer, Clint Eastwood, like the shepherd, doesn’t give up.

If we understand the meaning of the lost sheep story, then through it we also understand God’s heart towards His people. This helps us see that in this dream Clint Eastwood is representing God (or Jesus as we might say). Clint Eastwood was a bit of a heart-throb in his heyday, and in most cultures to bring someone a bunch of flowers is a way of showing love. So in this dream God is saying to the dreamer, “I love you, and I am never going to give up on you however much you keep running from Me.” This dream is encouraging the dreamer to stop running and to receive God’s love for them.

Parable example 2

The Story of the Wide and Narrow Gates

Matthew 7:13-14 NASB

“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.”

Picture of gate

This is a short and straightforward parable which is fairly easy to understand. The pathway represents our life journey, or the direction we choose to take, and the gate similarly represents making a decision to follow that route. Two choices are compared: The first option is to take the easy way, or the broad way, which doesn’t take much effort and is probably the default position. The alternative is to take the narrow way, which is presumably a harder choice to make. However Jesus’ story makes it clear that it is the harder path that will lead to life; to the best outcome.

To consider this story in context, we know from history that in the lives of Jesus’ listeners this parable would turn out to have serious implications. Following the narrow path represented those who were able to leave behind all their familiar thinking about the Law of Moses and the temple system to follow Jesus. Unfortunately many of those listeners followed the broad path and ignored what Jesus said. As well as rejecting the offer of life that Jesus came to bring, many of them ended up being killed in Jerusalem when the temple was destroyed.

We can see from this parable that Jesus’ heart was to warn the people so that they would make a good choice. He desperately wanted them to take what he said seriously and avoid disaster. He wanted the best for them. This helps us understand God’s heart for us when he gives us direction and guidance through our dreams.

Real dream example 2

Here is a dream with some similar elements:

A dream of Two Escalators

“There was a double escalator going up. I could choose to go on the narrow part with small treads or the wider part with larger treads. They were both joined but going up at different rates. I chose the smaller narrow one as I thought it might be going faster but too many people were on it and I got the impression I was too heavy for it and so I stepped onto the other one.”

Picture of escalator

The similarity of this dream to the parable of the wide and narrow paths is fairly obvious, but in this case, instead of gates or paths, there is a choice between a wide or narrow escalator. In this dream the narrow escalator was going faster than the wide escalator and is obviously the better route, but it was hard for the dreamer to to stick with that choice.

The main difference between this dream and Jesus’ parable is that in the dream both routes do actually get to the same place eventually. The consequences are not quite so disastrous, although choosing the wide path results in slower progress. This dream carries an encouragement that the dreamer could make some adjustments in order to take the narrow escalator. However they are struggling to do this, and this dream shows that God understands and they will get there in the end with His help.

A dream like this always carries an invitation to seek God as to what area of our life it is about, and to ask for His help. He longs to empower us and help us fulfill our destiny. He wants us to make good life decisions, and He constantly provides insight to enable us to to this. With God there is no condemnation, just loving guidance to help us live life to the full.

“I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”

John 10:10

Conclusion

As I hope you have seen from the examples, considering dreams as being like night parables is very useful, and often enables us to interpret them in the way God intended. One of the main reasons I adapted fairly easily to the idea of interpreting dreams is that I have spent many hours meditating and thinking about Jesus’ parables over the years.

Studying the parables in the bible helps us for several reasons:

  1. It helps us learn to think in a metaphorical way.
  2. We glean some helpful hints about what some common dream symbols might represent.
  3. We learn to hear God’s voice as we pray through the parables, which sets us up to hear His voice as we pray through the dreams He gives us.
  4. It gives us insight into God’s heart and ways, which helps us more accurately understand the heart of God behind our own dreams.

If you would like to help your mind become aligned with God’s way of thinking so that you understand dreams better, I thoroughly recommend reading some of Jesus’ parables and reflecting on the symbolism used in them.

“I thoroughly recommend reading the parables of Jesus as a way of better understanding dreams”

If you’d like to know more about the biblical model of dream interpretation, please do get in touch! You can also check out my Facebook group where you can meet other Christians who are learning about dreams.

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