Five simple clues for finding the real-life context of a dream message.
How do we know what situation our dream is about?
One of the biggest challenges of interpreting dreams is finding the right context – so we can apply the message to our life.
This article unpacks five simple clues to help overcome this challenge and identify the real-life area the dream applies to.
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.
- How do I know what my dream is about?
- Ways to find the real-life context of a dream
- Real dream example
How do I know what my dream is about?
As a follower of Jesus for over 40 years, I have also spent more than 15 of those years interpreting dreams in the light of my relationship with God. During that process I have learnt that dreams are symbolic; they are heavenly messages in the form of illustrations, or dream parables.
If we are familiar with the parables Jesus told – and how they relate to life, it is relatively easy to appreciate the symbolism in our dreams. And it gets easier with practice.
But even if we understand the dream parable, if it doesn’t seem to relate to our life then it cannot help us – and will probably leave us feeling frustrated.
So the most challenging part of the interpretation process is identifying what area of life the dream is about! I call this ‘finding the context of a dream’ – and is like trying to overlay a map with the right landscape.
In this article, finding the CONTEXT means finding the area of real life which the dream applies to.
The importance of context in the bible
I have found that the way we study the bible provides helpful insights 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. We can dive in deep and let God speak through individual bible verses – but we still need to keep the big picture in sight.
Understanding the context of a bible passage is vital.
In addition, some parts of the bible are very confusing unless we understand the context of what was happening at the time.
For example, the Old Testament prophetic books contain specific messages for specific situations. Once we know the context to which they apply, the messages suddenly make sense.
The importance of context in dreams
In the same way, dreams contain specific messages from heaven, which apply to specific situations in our life. Those situations are the real-life context.
Just like the bible, dreams contains specific messages for specific situation.
Without knowing the context of a dream, the messages contained in it cannot be applied to our life. Taking elements of the dream out of context can lead to confusion and misunderstanding.
Ways to find the real-life context of a dream
The rest of this article contains five clues I have discovered, which can help us identify the context of dreams.
But before we dive into that, I have found it helpful to have realistic expectations of what the process might look like, and to keep the following points in mind:
- It is not always possible to know what the dream is about (find the context) at the time of dreaming.
- The dream could be about something that hasn’t happened yet, in which case we need to store it up for future reference (See timing of dreams).
- Dreams can have multiple levels of meaning – so can have more than one life application/context.
But many dreams are about situations we are currently facing – and we can find the context of them. So, with those provisors, let’s explore how to find the context of a dream!
1. Consider the setting of the dream
A very good way of finding the context is to identify the setting of the dream.
By setting, I am referring to the background scene or backdrop to our dream. It gives the dream a frame of reference. For example, it could be the:
- The place where it happens.
- The main activity
- The main people you were with
The dream setting is like the backdrop to the dream.
The dream setting can metaphorically represent the real-life context of the dream – and indicates the kind of area of life the dream could be about.
Take note of your opening sentence
In particular, if you have written the dream down, take notice of the opening sentence – because this often describes the setting!
The opening sentence of your dream description often contains the setting.
Here are some examples of how a dream narrative might start. Notice how these opening 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?
The point of doing this is that the setting often links closely to the real-life context.
Example of setting indicating the real-life context
To illustrate this principle, I took some photos while on a walk in the snow: The focus in the left-hand photo is on the catkins, and it would be tempting to focus in on that. But if it was a dream, I might start by saying, “I was walking down a path in the snow, and I saw some catkins…’
Therefore, we can see that walking down a path in the snow is the opening sentence and would also be the setting of the dream. The photo on the right focuses on the path to highlight this.
In a dream, walking in the snow could represent something we are finding hard to do (struggling through snow), or where the environment is unfriendly (cold or frosty) or religious (white).
Hopefully we would then be able to identify an area in our life journey (path) that corresponded to one of those possibilities; and if we can, we have identified the context!
Important dream elements for the setting
There are certain dream elements which are often part of the setting, and are vital to understand for identifying real-life context:
- 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.
Read more: Dream symbols: Houses and buildings and what they mean
- Vehicles, journeys, and 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.
Travelling home, or trying to get home, in a dream usually represents trying to find your true path or destiny in that situation.
Read more: Dream symbols: Cars and other vehicles – and what they mean
2. Consider the action in the dream
I have found that God places action/events in dreams strategically to help us relate the dream to life. Some of the things that happen are there for that purpose alone!
It could be the overall action that does this. 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 action/illustration to any part of your life.
Try summarising the dream in two or three sentences.
Sometimes, the main action is part of the setting. For example, if we dreamed of walking along a path in the snow, like in the photo above, that might be the main action. We might immediately identify that journey with some struggles we were going through, or a difficult environment we were having to work in.
If that were the case, we would expect the rest of the dream details to make sense in the light of that context. We might suddenly realise that the catkins (being beige/brown) represented some human/natural thinking that was prevalent in that situation, or some other meaning.
Alternatively, there might be other actions in the dream which immediately jump out as relating to a life situation. This could be any part of the dream – even a smaller detail.
In that case, start with the parts we can relate to a real-life context, and work backwards from that to match up the rest of the dream to the situation. If it works, then we have found the context!
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.
Here is a real dream example:
Dream: Finding a black bear
I once had a long dream, in which I found a black bear. In the dream, against all odds, a couple of friends of mine ended up in the same place and found the same black bear.
I could relate this to a time in real life when God revealed something to me (finding a black bear symbolised a mystery being revealed). In real life, the friends in my dream had both independently heard the same thing as me.
So, that part of the action gave me the context: The dream was about the revelation I had recieved – which my friends had also receieved. Therefore, the rest of the dream made sense in the light of that.
3. Consider emotions in the dream
Sometimes there are strong emotions in dreams. We might be feeling sad, curious, or exasperated… and so on.
In those instances, we can stop and think about our life. We may be able to identify a situation where we feel the same emotions – so then we can revisit our dream with that situation in mind. We may find that the rest of the dream then starts to make sense. If so, we have identified the context!
Some emotions appear in our dreams simply for the purpose of linking the dream to a real-life situation.
4. Consider the people in the dream
There are many reasons people could appear in our dream. I have written more about that in another article (link below).
One possibility is that they are there to help us identify the context! We have already alluded to this earlier when talking about the setting.
For example, if we dream about doing something with people from our church, the dream could be symbolising something relating to church life. If work colleagues are around, it could relate to our work life.
This is not always the case though – it is just another potential option to consider.
5. What was 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 dreams could hold the answer.
I have even started asking God specific questions – and it’s amazing how often the answer comes in a dream! You could do the same.
Real dream example
This was a dream that I had a few months ago. I have unpacked it to show how I found the setting and related that to the real-life context:
Dream: Looking at 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.
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 that consistency in writing was key, so I felt under pressure. I felt swamped by it all. So, I could equate the mud and rain in my dream to feeling swamped.
The context: The above considerations gave me the context of the dream: This dream related to my blog and feeling swamped.
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). Therefore, with that context in mind, I could understand the interpretation and life application.
The interpretation: God 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.
Can you see how rewarding and life-giving it is when you understand the practical application of a dream?
Here is another great example from Charity Virkler Kayembi in her Glory Waves blog. It illustrates how we, as the dreamer, are the best person to interpret our dreams because we know what’s going on in our life:
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 have seen how we do need to examine the individual elements in our dreams, but we also need to determine what area of life the dream relates to. Once we find that context, then the application usually falls into place.
We have discussed the following clues for identifying the context:
- Consider the setting of the dream
- Consider the action in the dream
- Consider strong emotions in the dream
- Consider the people in the dream
- What was on your mind at the time of dreaming?
The reality is that more than one of these clues will probably tie up to confirm what the dream is about.
And finally… 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 or haven’t happened yet. So, if you’re still stuck – be at peace, and store it up for future reference.
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 with God. 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.
- Dream interpretation and the bible: Knowing God’s heart and ways
- Dream symbols: Teeth and what they mean
- Why January is a good time to review your dreams
- New year reflection: Do you see what I see?
- Why biblical dream interpretation is like solving a wordle puzzle