Biblical tools: Considering the context of a dream

One of the biggest challenges of interpreting dreams is finding the right life application (or context).

If we understand the illustrations in our dreams, but they don’t seem to relate to our life, then we are none the wiser – and probably feeling frustrated too!

If that’s you, don’t worry – read on to discover a simple key for identifying the context of your dreams.

Context in the bible

In this series we have been discovering that the bible can provide helpful tools for interpreting dreams. This is certainly true when we are thinking about context.

We are often reminded by scholars that understanding the context of a bible passage is vital. Otherwise we can read things into it that were never there. For example, God can seem angry or distant in the Old Testament until we see the big picture and realise that the opposite is in fact true. 

Some parts of the bible are very confusing unless we understand what was happening at the time (the Old Testament prophets come to mind!). We can dive in deep and let God speak through individual verses and words. But we still need to keep the big picture in sight.

This is also true for dream interpretation.

What do you notice in these photos?

While I was out walking last winter I took these two photos to illustrate this point. Have a look at them and consider the following question: What is the focus of each picture?

In the first photo, the catkins are in focus. This is like focusing in on an individual bible verse or passage – or similarly focusing in on a particular element in a dream.

In the second photo, the path is in focus. Without the path, the catkins have no reference point. The background of the picture, or setting, tells me where they were in relation to my journey.

This gives us a clue to the key that I mentioned at the start! If we remember that dreams are symbolic, then the setting of the activity in the dream could metaphorically represent the real life context of the dream! It gives the dream a grounding in a specific aspect of our life journey.

So let’s now apply this to dream interpretation!

What is the setting of a dream?

So far we have learnt that in order to identify the real life situation that a dream applies to, we need to consider the setting – so what is the setting?

According to Google dictionary, a setting is the place or type of surroundings where something is positioned, or where an event takes place.

Setting = The place or type of surroundings where something is positioned or where an event takes place.

In other words, the setting is like the background scene of our dream. In the picture below, for example, the mountains are the backdrop: so the setting is the mountains.

So how do we identify the setting?

I thoroughly recommend writing dreams down. Firstly because we tend to forget them otherwise, but also because we can start to understand the meaning even as we write! But even if it’s just stored in our memory, we can try explaining the dream story and listen carefully to our words.

In particular, take notice of the opening sentence, which usually describes the setting!

To illustrate this point, here are some examples of how a dream story might start. Notice how these statements introduce the story and provide the setting of the dream:

  • I was in my childhood home doing…
  • I was on a train journey to…
  • I was with some friends from church doing…
  • I was in (place) doing…

To explain it a different way, try picturing the dream and consider the following questions:

  • In what place or environment was the dream set?
  • What was the main activity?
  • Who were the main people involved?
  • What was the main plot?

How can we relate this setting to our life?

This is the harder part! We need to build up some experience of the meaning of dream symbols that usually relate to the context. Obviously there are far too many to mention here! But to give you a taster, here are a few examples of some of the common ones:

A place or building we are in could represent the area of our life that it is about. So look for clues about the type of building, the place name meaning, whether it is a past or present building, etc.

Travelling in a dream could represent an aspect of our life journey, with the vehicle or mode of transport being the thing we are doing to get us there. Take note of the type of vehicle, the size, the colour, whether it is one you actually own, what is happening along the way, etc.

Tip: Travelling home, or trying to get home, in a dream usually represents trying to find your true path or destiny in that situation.

Occasionally we are just observing, rather than taking part in the activity. That may mean that we are not the focus of the dream – In other words it could be about someone or something else. Obviously that is a fundamental point to establish as part of the context!

I have written in more depth about the meaning of some of these common dream settings (e.g. buildings, vehicles) in my Facebook Group. Follow the link to join the group, where you can learn more about dreams and take part in the discussion!  

For now – just remember that it is worth spending time thinking about that first sentence, or the overall setting, and what area of life it represents.

A few other pointers…

Just to whet your appetite, here are a few other ideas for relating a dream to your life:

1. Can you relate the emotions to an area of your life?

Sometimes there are strong emotions in dreams. In those instances, stop and think about your life. You may be able to identify a situation where you feel the same emotions – so then you can revisit your dream with that situation in mind.

2. Can you relate the basic story to an area of your life?

Remember that dreams are like parables – helpful illustrations about life. So you could try to summarise your dream in just two or three sentences, taking out all the peripheral details. Then consider whether you can relate the simplified illustration to any part of your life.

3. What is on your mind at the time of dreaming? 

Increasingly I am realising that God is often addressing the things that are on my mind, or issues I am facing at the time of dreaming. I recommend making a note of these sorts of things when you write your dreams down. Then assume that your dream could hold the answer, and revisit it to see if anything becomes clear.

A real dream example

This was a dream that I had a few months ago.

Dream: Looking at the tomatoes in our garden

I dreamed I was walking with my husband in our current garden to look at the tomato plants we were growing. It had been raining hard and the ground was muddy and hard to walk on.

As it was so wet and horrible, he told me to leave the tomatoes and not pick any for a few days, to give them time to ripen a bit more.

A picture of some green tomatoes growing in my garden.

The setting: This dream was set in our current garden, with tomato plants that we did really have at the time, so I knew that the context of the dream was something happening in my life at that time.

The simplified story: It was raining and muddy in the garden. My husband told me I should not pick any tomatoes for a few days to let them ripen.

As I have previously explained, Jesus often appears to me in the form of my husband in dreams. (See ‘Meeting God in our dreams’). So this dream contained advice from Jesus!

In my life that time: I was trying to learn how to use Pinterest to share my blog articles, while still trying to write one website article every week. I felt swamped by it all. So I could equate the mud and rain in my dream to that area of my life.

The context: The above considerations gave me the context of the dream: my blog and learning to share on Pinterest.

The rest of the dream then fell into place. I could see that the tomatoes represented blog posts which each took time to write (ripen). I felt that consistency in writing was key, so I felt under pressure.

Therefore, with that context in mind, I could understand the interpretation and life application.

The interpretation

Jesus was reassuring me that it was fine to have a break from writing blog posts until I had got up and running with Pinterest. That was a great relief at the time, and allowed me to focus on Pinterest without feeling under pressure any more.

Can you see how rewarding and life-giving it is when you understand the practical application of a dream?

Concluding thoughts

My experience is that dreams are real communications from our Creator, designed to help us navigate life – so it’s worth putting in the effort to understand them!

We certainly do need to examine the individual dream elements, but we need to consider the big picture too. When we realise which area of life a dream applies to, then the application usually falls into place.

  • Don’t get discouraged if you can’t relate a dream to anything at first glance – just come back to it again after a little while.
  • And remember that some dreams are about things we don’t yet understand. So if you’re still stuck – be at peace, and store it up for future reference.

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