Patterns and cycles in dreams and their interpretation

How God speaks in patterns and cycles – and what this means when interpreting dreams.

Have you ever felt frustrated because you can’t interpret your dreams – even though you have invested time and effort in them?

Don’t panic – there may be a good reason, and it might not be you!

This article explores, from a biblical basis, some patterns in the ways God speaks – and how we can learn from 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.

If you have just come across this post and are new to dream interpretation, it is worth mentioning that dreams are symbolic in nature. You might find it helpful to read Understand your dreams: A bible-based introduction to dream language and my 3 step dream interpretation method to give you a foundation.

Dream interpretation is for the long haul

One of the great things about learning to interpret dreams is that we start to see how God relates to us over time. Understanding dreams is a marathon, not a sprint!

I have walked out my dream journey in relationship with God for the past 15 years, and I have consistently revisited and prayed through my old dreams. There have been highs and lows, but through that time, I have identified various patterns in the way He speaks.

I have identified patterns in the way God speaks over time.

As someone who had followed Jesus for over 40 years and studied the bible in depth, I have observed that the patterns of how God speaks in my dreams are essentially the same as the patterns displayed in the bible – so I have included some biblical examples in this article.

I have previously written about the importance of recording, organising and reviewing dreams. The tips I share build on this understanding – and assume you are also committed to the long-term dream interpretation process!

The Holy Spirit is our mentor

Some dreams address the issues we are facing at the time; God answers our questions, calms our fears, and helps us with our current situation.

But many dreams address longer-term issues: God speaks about our destiny, about the things that He wants to do in our lives; things that we haven’t even thought of yet!

Many things that God wants to lead us into involve shifts in our thinking and entering unknown territory. That is why the process is difficult – but it is also what make it worthwhile! I know of no other universally available vehicle by which God can speak to us – with incredible detail – about things we haven’t thought of yet.

  • 1 Corinthians 2:9, NIV “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.”

It is dreams with a longer-term perspective – and how God may use them to speak to us over time – that we will address in the rest of this article. This will include:

  • Series of dreams
  • The key that unlocks a series of dreams
  • Cycles of dreams
  • Different levels of dream meanings

Dreams come in series

The first pattern I have noticed is that dreams don’t just say the same thing once, and then move on. I have found that God says the same thing repeatedly (in different ways) over time.

There are various reasons for this:

  • It takes a while for us to get the message!
  • The dreams give different angles and insights on a topic.
  • They keep the message alive in our mind as time goes by.

It is common for different scenes, or dreams on the same night, to be about the same topic. But this is also true for seasons of our life. Sometimes God talks about the same subject for many years – particularly if is it a major part of our calling / destiny.

This was certainly true in the bible. God frequently gave the same message through many prophets, over many years – particularly on important topics like Israel’s exile, the return from exile, the coming of Jesus Christ (their Messiah), and the fall of Jerusalem.

God does the same thing with us, through our dream messages.

Dreams containing a similar element

Sometimes God gives a series of dreams based around a particular element.

Once we understand what the element symbolises – and realise we have had several dreams containing that element – we can search for all the dreams containing it. Then we can review them all together, and identify the message contained in the series.

Here are some examples:

Over several months I had a series of dreams about the pros and cons of various HOUSE DESIGNS. Once I realised what was happening, I reviewed all those dreams together. I saw that it was a series of dreams about our church structure – and they were giving a pathway to help us move to a new way of doing things.

I had a series of dreams about a ZEBRA. Eventually I realised that the zebra represented the gift of discernment (seeing things in black or white). I reviewed all those dreams and could see how God was gradually increasing my confidence in embracing that gift. Seeing all those dreams together confirmed what I had been experiencing in real life.

A series getting nearer the event

For significant life events and those relating to a major part of our calling/destiny, I have found that God repeats the message, often getting closer and closer together until the event comes to pass.

This can help prepare us over time for what God is doing and give a sense of when it is going to happen (or at least when it is closer to happening!).

Many years ago, I had a dream where I could hear NIAGARA FALLS in the distance. A waterfall is a Holy Spirit-led shift that you can’t go back from (e.g., a shift in thinking). As the years went by, Niagara got closer. Then, one year, I had dreams where I actually went over the falls. The last dream was of me hovering at the brink of going over.

That year God did a major work in me and shifted some of my thinking. I knew from my Niagara dreams that something like that was coming – and they helped me have an open mind to what God wanted to show me.

The key that unlocks a series

Sometimes we must wait for a something to happen before we can understand the message in a series of dreams. This could be:

  • New revelation or understanding
  • A shift in mindset
  • An event that happens

This new thing is the key that unlocks the whole series of dreams.

The key:  An event or revelation that unlocks the meaning of a series of dreams or prophecies.

The example of Jesus as the key

This happened to the people of Israel in the bible. The Old Testament is full of clear prophecies about Jesus, that were hidden until Jesus Himself revealed them. After His resurrection, Jesus met with His disciples and opened their eyes – to all the prophecies that had been hidden in plain sight all along!

  • Luke 24:27, NASB Then beginning with Moses and with all the Prophets, He explained to them the things written about Himself in all the Scriptures.

The prophecies had always been there, they just hadn’t been unlocked. Jesus was the ‘key of David’ that they needed – to make sense of all the messages.

  • Isaiah 22:22, NASB Then I will put the key of the house of David on his shoulder; When he opens, no one will shut, When he shuts, no one will open.

It’s hard to imagine not understanding, because we now know about Jesus – so all those prophecies make sense. That’s what it’s like when you have the right key!

What needing the key means in practice

As Isaiah 22:22 suggests, once you have ‘the key’ which unlocks some dreams, you cannot go back: Once that ‘door’ is open, you cannot ‘unsee’ what you have seen. You will probably have to review a whole series of dreams – and rethink the meaning of all of them!

On the other hand, until God opens the door and reveals the key, no amount of puzzling or praying is going to unlock that series of dreams!

This is tough, but also a relief!

  • It means we can relax and not worry when we don’t understand our dreams. It’s not an excuse for giving up – because we need to have wrestled with those dreams and be familiar with them for God to unlock them later. But we can trust God that He is able to unlock them when we need them – and will do so if we remain open to Him.
  • Even when we must rethink all our dream interpretations – it feels good! There is a sense of rightness and completeness in finally understanding their true message. Early followers of Jesus like the Apostle Paul had to do the same thing when they understood about Jesus – so we are in good company.

The upshot of all this, is that we must develop a system to enable us to find the relevant dreams when God reveals the key. I have explained how to to that in the following articles:

This concept of the key leads us on nicely to the subject of dream cycles!

Dreams come in cycles

The second pattern I have seen with dreams over the years, is that God speaks in cycles.

What this means that we go through seasons of understanding – and not understanding, as God leads us on though different stages of life.

Oftentimes, He speaks to us about a subject until we understand, and then He moves us on to the next subject.

Example from Mark’s gospel

A biblical example can be found in the gospel of Mark. This gospel can broadly be divided into two halves (or stages).

The first half is about Jesus’ identity. If you read through you will see that the focus is on His ministry: There are plentiful accounts of deliverances, miracles, healings – and people debating about who Jesus might be: Who was He, to be able to do all those amazing things?

The disciples, as well as the crowds, were all trying to understand who Jesus was.

  • Mark 8:27-28, NASB  He questioned His disciples, saying to them, “Who do people say that I am?” They told Him, saying, “John the Baptist; and others say Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.”

But the focus of the gospel shifts at the moment when Jesus asks His disciples who they think He is. Peter has a revelation – and makes this statement:

Immediately after this, Jesus shifts topic – and starts talking about his death and resurrection:

  • Mark 8:31, NASB And He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise from the dead.

Having established that Jesus was their Messiah, the second half of Mark’s gospel is focused on this new theme – and answers the question of why Jesus came. It wasn’t what they thought; He came to lay down his life for the world – and it would take his followers till after the resurrection before they would understand this part!

The dream cycle explained

In the same way, I find that my dreams also go through a cycle pattern in terms of my understanding. Just like Jesus and the disciples, God speaks to me on one subject until I understand the message – and as soon as I do, He moves into the next topic! It can be difficult.

I find that this is a typical pattern:

  • We have numerous dreams that we don’t understand.
  • We get frustrated – but continue to pray about them.
  • After a while we feel like giving up.
  • Time goes by.
  • Then suddenly we realise what they mean! Sometimes this comes through a sudden thought. Other times an event happens which is THE KEY that unlocks understanding.
  • Then we go back through our dreams – and many of them suddenly make sense; they all confirm the new thing God is saying.
  • There will be a period of enjoying understanding our dreams, and God will continue to speak to us about that subject.
  • Then, suddenly, God will start on a new topic!
  • We no longer understand our dreams.
  • And the cycle starts again.
Picture of my dream cycle

This is a continuous cycle! The process inevitably starts again as God moves onto a new subject.

Being aware of this cycle can help us avoid frustration with the process: I hate the periods in between where I don’t understand. But I have learnt that they don’t last forever.

Some cycles are short, and only take a few weeks. However, as I write, I have just been through a three-year phase of not understanding many dreams – and they are only just starting to make sense now! You can read about that in this article: On recording and interpreting dreams – when it’s a struggle!

The cycle length can vary enormously.

Keeping positive during the dream cycle

Here are some practical pointers to help you keep positive during those stages:

  • Be mentally prepared for periods where you don’t understand your dreams.
  • Persevere with the dream recording/organising and review process during those difficult times.
  • Keep an open mind, periodically seeking God for His perspective.
  • Make sure to celebrate when you understand the point!

The hard truth is that we must persevere and be patient for God’s timing – if we want to succeed in the process.

  • Luke 11:9, AMP “So I say to you, ask and keep on asking, and it will be given to you; seek and keep on seeking, and you will find; knock and keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you.”

Dreams have different levels

The third pattern I see with dreams, is that there can be different levels of meaning. I have written about this in more depth, with some biblical examples, in this article: Dream intrepretation and the bible: One main meaning, many levels.

That article explains that dreams, like messages from God in the bible, can have the following levels of interpretation:

  1. Natural level at the time of dreaming: Initial insight that relates to elements of the dream around the time of receiving. This is usually helpful in some way at that time, but there is often a vague feeling that there is more we haven’t understood.
  2. Deeper symbolic level: The God-intended primary meaning of the dream – which usually needs some degree of interpretation. Sometimes there is a time delay involved before it can be understood, and a key may be required to unlock it.
  3. Further levels of revelation: Further levels of meaning applied by the Holy Spirit personally to any number of other situations. This is not the interpretation of the dream, but God using the illustrations they contain to help us in other situations.

I am very familiar with this pattern, as the following example illustrates:

For the past three years I have had many dreams, and I thought I had understood their meaning reasonably well. God had used then to guide me through writing this blog and other life events. However, I had a nagging feeling that something was wrong.

Last month, God revealed something that was the key to unlocking a whole new level of meaning. As I reviewed my journal, I discovered that nearly every dream had a second, deeper meaning – relating to my church situation, which was the principal reason for having them!


I would not have believed it if I hadn’t witnessed it myself. Almost every dream had two meanings – an initial one that helped me at the time – and a truer deeper one that is now providing me with guidance for my current situation.

It can be frustrating when you know you haven’t yet found that deeper level of interpretation; you might need to wait for an event to happen, or for God to reveal something: i.e., you may need to wait for the key! As previously, the important thing is to remain in an attitude of rest and trust.

  • Do put in the necessary time and effort required to interpret your dreams.
  • But do not lose your peace over it. If you feel there is more to a dream that you can’t see yet, store it up and trust God to open up that deeper level of meaning at the right time.

Conclusion

We have seen that dreams can come in different patterns:

  • Dreams can come in series: Some series are based around a particular symbol or element. Others cover a subject that repeats over time – often getting closer together as the event nears. Sometimes a key is needed, such as a revelation or an event – before the series can be unlocked.
  • Dreams can come in cycles: God often speaks about one subject for a time – until we shift our thinking and understand, but then He quickly moves us onto the next subject and the cycle starts again. This can be frustrating – but understanding the cycle can help us remain at peace in the periods when we don’t understand.
  • Some dreams have different levels: They have an initial meaning which is helpful at the time of dreaming – but with a nagging feeling that there’s more. Then there is a deeper interpretation which needs seeking out, and sometimes needs a key to unlock.

The most important thing to learn from these patterns is how to remain at peace during the different stages:

  • DO put time and effort into interpreting your dreams.
  • DO know when it’s time to move on and leave a dream with God.
  • DO put in place a system to help you remember and review your dreams.
  • DON’T lose your peace during the times when you don’t understand.
  • DO celebrate when you eventually understand the true meaning of your dreams!

If you have found this article helpful please leave a comment below!

I hope you have found this article helpful. If you want to know more, do subscribe to my emails below to receive regular dream interpretation tips.

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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