Dream interpretation and the bible: General wisdom vs specific wisdom

Growing up in church, I got the impression that if I just knew the bible well enough I would always know what to do.

But many years of following Jesus have taught me that the specific answers I need require the day-by-day guidance of God’s Spirit as well as the general wisdom of the bible.

But what has this got to do with dreams? Read on to find out!

Why do we need specific guidance?

As someone who has read the bible regularly for over 40 years, and has a certificate in biblical studies, I absolutely love reading the bible. I know it very well.

It is a great guide for life; a place where I can learn from the successes and failures of those who have gone before me and gain better understanding of God’s heart and interactions with mankind.

But sometimes, for various reasons, I have discovered that the specific answers that I need are not found in the bible alone. In those times, I need to hear directly from God’s Spirit.

Picture of tree with text: general wisdom: good advice that is usually helpful if we follow it

What are general wisdom and specific wisdom?

There are different types of wisdom for life, which I call general wisdom and specific wisdom.

  • General wisdom is good advice, that is usually helpful if you follow it.  Good examples of this can be found in the biblical wisdom literature, such as Proverbs, and in the many historical examples – both good and bad – that we find throughout the entire bible.
  • Specific wisdom is what God says we personally need to do, in any given situation, to succeed (in accordance with our God-given purpose).  Often this aligns with general wisdom, but sometimes it does not.

Examples of general and specific guidance in the bible

  • General wisdom tells us to work diligently, be good stewards and save up money (e.g. Proverbs 10:4-5; Proverbs 13:11).  But Jesus specifically told the rich young ruler (who even used his money to help the poor) to sell everything, and follow Him (in Matthew 19:21).  That made no sense according to general wisdom, but for him it could have led to an amazing radically different life: literally following Jesus while Jesus was living on the earth!
  • General wisdom tells us to stay away from prostitutes (e.g. Proverbs 6:25). But in the book of Hosea, God specifically told Hosea to go and marry a prostitute whom he loved.  He did so, and their life together became a moving allegory of God’s unconditional love for Israel, which has since helped many people understand God’s heart for them.  But if you were going by Proverbs alone, you might have insisted that it was the wrong thing for Hosea to do.

In both of those cases, if that happened to you, you would be wise to seek further confirmation that it really was God speaking, because for most people it would not have been a good idea to do those things.

The biblical example of Joshua

God told Joshua to lead the people of Israel to take possession of Canaan, their promised land (Joshua 1:2).  So, Joshua knew what he was meant to do, and we might think that he should just get on with the prescribed task in obedience after that.

Yet the Israelites were both defeated (Joshua 7:5) and deceived (Joshua 9:15) along the way.  Why?  Because they tried to just get on with the job without listening to God.  Joshua 9:14 explains that they ‘did not ask for the counsel of the Lord.’

General wisdom told them that they should get on and take the land.  Specific wisdom would have informed them the exact approach to take at each stage, and when there were problems that needed sorting out before they could have victory.

The point is that we need a personal relationship with God and we need to walk with Him, hearing His voice and specific wisdom, every day. 

When there are different biblical options

I know the bible pretty well. When faced with a decision, I can often think of bible examples that advocate one course of action – but other ones which advocate another!

For example, many years ago when my husband and I were in church leadership, some good friends of ours decided to give up following God. It was a very sad time for us. I prayed about what I should do next, and two different bible passages came to mind:

  • On one hand, I thought about the parable of the lost sheep (Luke 15:3-7).  Jesus said that God would leave the whole flock unattended to bring back one sheep (or person) who has left the flock.  So, out of love for our friends, Jesus’ teaching seemed to be saying that I should put all my energy into pursuing them.
  • On the other hand, Jesus told His disciples that when they went into a town, if they were not welcome, they should shake the dust off their feet and move on (Matthew 10:14).  This seemed to be saying that we should leave them to their decision.

So one thing Jesus said in the bible was indicating I should keep on following them up, yet the other was saying that it was time to move on. I agonised over it.  In the end I decided it was time to move on – but that was a specific decision for that situation. Another time God may have prompted us to keep trying.

How dreams can help with specific wisdom

I have spent a significant amount of time explaining this point.  But that’s because it is important to grasp: Somehow, we need to gain that specific wisdom from God.

For me, and increasingly for many others, dreams are a fantastic source of personally-tailored specific wisdom.  It was so in bible times (see the list of examples of dreams in the bible that I have compiled) and it is true today.

The detail with which Father God speaks through dreams continually astounds me:

  • He addresses my deepest fears and reassures me.
  • He takes time to correct unhelpful thinking and habits
  • He speaks daily about the small things that I need to know each day.
  • He also addresses the big picture and speaks about the great plans He has for me personally, and for my family, my work, my church, my nation, and the world!!

In my blog posts I regularly share examples of how God has done these things through my dreams.

A real dream example 

Here is an example from my own dream life where God gave me guidance about my personal situation:

Background

I had been helping out running a church toddler group for a number of years, which naturally stopped during the Covid-19 lockdown. Before I went to bed one night I specifically asked God whether I should start helping again as the restrictions eased.

I was feeling worried because I had started doing some new things during lockdown and could see myself getting too busy. This is what I dreamt:

Dream: I handed in my work badge

I dreamed I agreed to go back to work at my old job (in real life I used to work as a hospital pharmacist). I remembered that I had agreed to work Wednesdays.

I commented on how tired I was getting, because I was cutting short my sleep to fit everything in.

The next day (in the dream) I suddenly remembered that I was not on the professional register any more! I told my boss who was appalled in case I had checked some prescriptions while unregistered.

I saw my signature on a prescription – but it was ok. It was an old one from when I was on the register in 2016.

I took off my work badge to hand in.

Picture of a pharmacist

The dream explained

At first glance, this dream didn’t seem to be about the toddlers group at all, but there were some personal clues that I eventually spotted:

  1. I had specifically asked God the evening before about helping at toddlers, so it was fair to assume this dream could be the answer.
  2. The worry about fitting everything in was exactly how I felt about doing the toddler group.
  3. The group used to run on Wednesdays, linking to me ‘working on Wednesdays’ in the dream.
  4. I first started helping in 2016 when God specifically led me to do it, linking to me seeing an old signature from 2016 in the dream.

Interpretation

The dream was basically saying that it was time to ‘hand in my badge’ at the toddlers group. I.e., it was no longer my job.

  • Not being registered symbolised not being called to do it any more.
  • The key to understanding the illustration was knowing what area of my life my ‘work’ represented.

The dream contained specific wisdom

The above dream shows how God used a dream to help me discern what was the right course of action for me personally at that time. It contained specific wisdom.

I received specific guidance from God revealing His heart for me, freeing me from the feeling that I probably ought to do the toddlers group again! What a relief!

In 2016 I was called to do it, but now I am not! It’s a different season.

I must confess that I didn’t understand this dream till months later, when I was reviewing my dreams again. Thankfully, due to further lockdowns, my understanding came at the moment when I needed to make the decision.

Conclusion

We have learnt that we need both general wisdom (good principles to guide us) and specific wisdom (personal Holy Spirit-tailored insight for our specific situation).

We have also learnt that the bible is not enough on its own, because:

  • Much of scripture is general wisdom rather than specific guidance.
  • The right course of action varies in different situations and seasons.
  • We can find opposing advice in the bible because each situation is unique.
  • We still need to walk closely with God to avoid unexpected pitfalls.

In reality, I have found that dreams and the bible together are a great combination.  I have found that the God who inspired the bible is the same God I meet in my dreams. I have written more about that in the biblical tools series.

The bible provides great foundations, and God regularly speaks to us through it. But dreams give us specific words to help us achieve our personal purpose and destiny.

But don’t just take my word for it. Why not try listening to your dreams and see for yourself?

If you want to know more do get in touch, or check out more of my blog posts.

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