The truth about what dreams are and what they are not – but why you should learn to understand them anyway.
Lately I have been doing some soul searching about night dreams.
I have been writing for the past year as though dreams are ‘the answer to all our problems’ when it comes to hearing God. They are great – but they are not everything.
In this article I will unpack what I think dreams are and what they are not – and why I am still convinced that it is well worth learning to understand them!
I approach dream interpretation from a biblical perspective. My belief is that our dreams can come from God, and understanding them is best understood within the context of an ongoing relationship with Him.
- The challenges of understanding dreams
- WHAT DREAMS ARE NOT
- WHAT DREAMS ARE
- A real dream example
The challenges of understanding dreams
The truth is that dreams are a huge blessing when it comes to hearing God’s voice – but there are some challenges too.
I love dreams, and they truly have transformed my life (you can read about this in my story); I have a level of relationship with God that I wouldn’t have thought possible before I liistened to my dreams. But I am not fully content. In the words of the U2 song of the same title, ‘I still haven’t found what I’m looking for’. I have some frustrations with dreams.
But even so, I still believe that is essential that we learn to understand our dreams, and I am convinced that we can’t afford to ignore them.
In the rest of this article we will examine what I believe dreams are not, and then be encouraged by what I believe they are.
WHAT DREAMS ARE NOT
Dreams are not face-to-face intimacy with God
Many of us in the church have been told that we cannot see God. But it is clear from the bible that God continually appears to people in a form that allows us to relate to Him. Consider these examples:
- God walking with Adam and Eve in the garden (Genesis 3)
- God talking to Moses from a burning bush (Exodus 3)
- Moses talking to God like a man talks to a friend – in the tent of meeting (Exodus 33)
- God talking to Solomon in a dream (1 Kings 3)
- Jesus talking to lots of people – throughout the gospels.
Looking at these examples, I am seeing a conversation where we can both express ourselves and listen to God; an interactive experience as clear as talking to person would be; and one where we are fully and conscious of what is happening.
I have never experienced this in my walk with God. It has all been very vague so far – with pictures and impressions – and trying to discover what God is like though reading the bible.
My experience of dreams does not fulfil these criteria!
My experience of dreams does not fulfil these criteria either. They are mostly one-sided; I receive a message, but can’t respond until I have woken up and interpreted the dream.
This type of conversation can happen in dreams, for example the time when King Solomon had a face-to-face conversation with God – in a dream (see reference above). Something similar has happened to me a few times (see Meeting God in your dreams). But not every day; not even close!
So dreams are not the same as face-to-face intimacy with God. At least not every night.
I recently wrote my own short poem about my desire for more of God, which you can read here:
Dreams are not easy
It would be giving false hope to tell you that understanding dreams is easy. It’s not. It is fun and rewarding when it’s going well, and it is a wonderful journey to go on with God. But it gets frustrating too.
Dreams use symbolic language and parables, and they need interpreting. They are personal, and every dream presents a new challenge to be grappled with. This is a process that takes time as we build up experience and learn from our mistakes.
Sometimes I get tired from wrestling with dreams every morning, and say, ‘God, can’t you make this easier. Can’t you just give me a direct answer rather than something that needs interpreting?’
Sometimes I get tired of wrestling with dreams every morning.
But the truth is, most of humanity, including Christians, do not have that type of closeness with God to make that possible. I certainly don’t. The ones that do are the rare few and the trailblazers.
So, I usually pick myself up and continue the journey again – and it’s always worth it when things click into place. I love it when I suddenly understand the revelation my dreams are carrying, so I am prepared to keep putting in the effort.
Dreams are not the final goal
We can see from the bible that we were designed for full intimacy with our Creator God. We can read about it in the creation story in Genesis, and we can also read about how we lost that position of intimacy.
Because of our original design, anything less than a close relationship with God is ultimately going to be a disappointment.
The bible tells us that it is good to hunger for more of God. In the psalms King David expresses his unfulfilled longing for more of God:
I long to drink of you, O God,Psalm 42:1-2, The Passion Translation (TPT)
to drink deeply from the streams of pleasure
flowing from your presence.
My longings overwhelm me for more of you!
2 My soul thirsts, pants, and longs for the living God.
I want to come and see the face of God.
Therefore, I think it is alright to be discontented with dreams. It is natural – because we were made for so much more. But we can still accept them as a blessing for our current situation.
A real dream example
I dreamed this last year, at a time when I was seeking God to know Him better. I was getting frustrated with dreams and asking God for a different way to connect with Him.
Dream of my friend and the RAF officer
I dreamed a friend was telling me about her husband. She told me how he would never kiss her except on the side of the mouth. She said that one time her husband was away, and she met a RAF officer / soldier. He kissed her. But when he found out her husband was away, he offered to spend the night with her. But she realised she didn’t want one night so she declined.
The dream symbols explained
In the context of what I was going through, we can see that this dream was God answering my question. My friend was representing that part of me that wanted closer (or ‘face-to-face) intimacy with God.
Her husband was God, or Jesus.
Kissing represented intimacy and my relationship with God.
The side of the mouth represented my frustration at not having ‘face-to-face’ intimacy with God. It was not a proper face-to-face kiss.
RAF officer: I decided that this represented dreams, because the air and sky often represent the heavenly realms. Dreams are the provision that God has made for me to connect with Him while He seems ‘far away’. (He is not really far away, but it can feel like it).
The scene reflects my frustration, and how I was rejecting the very provision that God had made for me in dreams. The encouragement I took is that it is ‘just for one night’. In other words, it won’t last for ever. It will be for a time, and then things will change.
As the Psalmist so eloquently explains it:
- Psalm 30:5, NASB Weeping may last for the night, But a shout of joy comes in the morning.
WHAT DREAMS ARE
Dreams are something concrete we can relate to
Although they can seem strange, dreams are tangible. When we remember them, we can write them down. And once written down, we can hold them in our hands. We can look at them. We can think about them with our understanding and recount them to other people.
Like the bible, they are something we can grasp in the natural world. They bring heavenly things to the physical realm.
Having a dream is like receiving a personal morning email in our inbox from heaven – that we can read with our natural eyes. Dreams contain illustrations and parables that we can pray through, think about, and wrestle with.
The invisible God and the spiritual world can be hard to relate to – so having something concrete is very useful!
Dreams are provision for our current situation
I believe that dreams are a temporary solution to bridge the gap – until we get closer to face-to-face intimacy. Given that many people struggle to connect with God, anything that can help is surely a blessing!
My experience is that while awake I struggle to hear Him, but when I go to sleep my mind switches off and lets my spirit take over. The bible hints that this is the case, for example in Song of Solomon we read:
- Song of Solomon 5:2, NASB I was asleep but my heart was awake.
Therefore, dreams are a way to by-pass our natural mind and connect to spiritual realities.
If you think about it, dreams are accessible to every human being – however spiritual you are (or not)! You don’t need to be a prophet or particularly gifted. Potentially, God is speaking to all of us every night – if only we were listening. Surely that is better than not being aware of God at all!
Dreams are a stepping-stone to greater intimacy
Not only do dreams meet us where they are, they also propel us closer to our goal of knowing God. Like a stepping-stone, they can help us on our way. Here are a few ways this could happen:
- Dreams help us learn God’s symbolic language
Many have found that after learning God’s dream language of symbols and illustrations, they can hear Him in similar ways through the rest of their daily life. He speaks through things we see, life events, films, nature, thoughts, impressions, etc. Understanding dreams can open up that whole area.
- We get to know God by the way He relates to us
By listening to my dreams over numerous years, I have experienced how God relates to me – and the sorts of things He does. I have discovered that He is funny and kind, yet firm when I need to change. In fact, He is the same God I see relating to people in the bible – but now I have experienced it first-hand. This has given me a solid foundation of love and trust, which enables me to press on in other ways to know Him better.
- We encounter the spiritual realm in dreams
We can meet God, and other spiritual beings in our dreams. I have had angels speak to me, met Jesus, cast out evil spirits, seen visions, and received prophecies – all in my dreams. I suspect you have too, without remembering. This is all good practice! It is getting us used to these things, so we’re not so overwhelmed should they happen when we’re awake!
- Dreams are a way to confirm what God is saying
I try to listen to God: I pay attention to the bible; I listen to impressions and spontaneous thoughts; sometimes I have a growing feeling about what God is saying. But it’s never totally clear. That’s where dreams come in! A dream can pick up one of those things and confirm it – and once I make the connection, I know for sure that my vague impression was right! This is a great asset while learning to hear God.
A real dream example
I dreamed this while I was in the middle of writing this article.
Dream of a message about dew
I dreamed I was attending a Christian conference. At the end of the first session I heard the speaker clearly say, ‘Dew is a once daily filling, but we need to be filled with the Holy Spirit continuously’.
The dream symbols explained
Dew: This represented my dreams. I had just written a blog post where I compared dreams to dew – because it also appears in the morning.
Raising my expectations: In true God style, this dream was giving me a bigger perspective. If dreams are a once-a-day message from God, how about aiming for receiving from God’s Spirit throughout the day? This idea came as both a promise and a challenge for me!
God used this dream to affirm what I was writing about; that the Holy Spirit fills me each morning as I spend time with Him and my dreams. But it also illustrates how dream are a stepping-stone to a deeper relationship with Him – where I can have that kind of intimacy with the Holy Spirit throughout the day.
For the past fifteen years I have loved dreams – as my relationship with God has improved beyond anything I could have imagined through them. But lately I have battled with frustration and wanting more. This is natural as I am on a journey, and there is more to come!
We have learned that dreams are not:
- Face-to-face intimacy with God (not often anyway)
- The final goal
We have learned that dreams are:
- Something concrete we can relate to
- Provision for our current situation
- A stepping-stone to greater intimacy
Dreams can never replace the intimacy of walking and talking with God – in the way that Adam and Eve did in the garden of Eden. But they can help us connect with God in our current condition. And they can spur us on towards a deeper relationship with Him!
Dreams are still the best tool I currently know that anybody can use to encounter God; and I am convinced that we can’t afford to ignore what God is communicating to us through them!
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The purpose of this blog is to provide solid biblical foundations for interpreting dreams, change mindsets in the church, and encourage others to make their own dream journey. I am primarily a writer and bible teacher – who loves dreams, and I hope you will be inspired to learn to interpret your own dreams.
It is not currently my aim to routinely engage in dream interpretations or provide training, except through writing blog posts. You can read my most up to date position on interpreting dreams here: Requests for dream interpretations.
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A simple introduction to the dream interpretation process in 3 easy-to-remember steps.
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- Why biblical dream interpretation is like solving a wordle puzzle