Why anyone can learn to understand their dreams, not just prophetic types or those with a special spiritual gift.
What are spiritual gifts?
Do we need a spiritual gift of prophecy or the gift of dream interpretation to be able to understand our dreams?
This article explores these questions from a biblical perspective, plus real dream examples.
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 the following articles: Understand your dreams: A bible-based introduction to dream language and Beginner’s guide to biblical dream interpretation .
- Prophetic ministries and dreams
- What is prophecy?
- Dreams and the prophetic
- Dreams are about relationship with God
Prophetic ministries and dreams
Dream interpretation has become more widely accepted by the church in recent years: There are numerous prophetic ministries teaching about them, and dreams often feature in prophetic words that are shared.
The prophetic movement has largely spearheaded the restoration of dreams to the church – and rightly so. The prophetic nature is pioneering at heart.
Plus, of course, much of the biblical prophetic literature contains dreams, visions, and symbolic language (e.g. Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Zechariah), so we can see that’s how God speaks to his prophets.
- Numbers 12:6, NASB If there is a prophet among you, I, the Lord, will make Myself known to him in a vision. I will speak with him in a dream.
A prophetic approach to dreams
But this has led many Christians to believe that you must have a prophetic gift or a spiritual gift of dream interpretation to be able to interpret dreams. I don’t believe this is true.
This belief largely stems from the way prophets tend to approach dreams. You may have experienced a prophet coming and giving a ‘Holy Spirit inspired’ dream interpretation, which is delivered with authority, much like they would deliver a prophetic word.
It is wonderful when that happens. But it is not necessary to be able to do that to interpret our own dreams. In fact, as I will explain later, it can sometimes get in the way.
I think the opposite is true: Dreams are for everyone, not just prophetic types.
Dreams are for everyone
I have been a follower of Jesus for more than 40 years, and I have always struggled to hear God’s voice in that supernatural, prophetic way. But, at the same time I have a huge desire to know God intimately and hear his voice.
I love prophecy, but I do not have a prophetic gift; I can be prophetic, but I have to work hard at hearing God. This ‘gap’ has caused my much frustration over the years. I wrote more about that in My Story.
When I discovered that God was speaking through dreams, it changed everything for me, Suddenly, the possibility of an ongoing, daily conversation with God about things in my life became a possibility. Rather than counting me out of supernatural experiences, I found that dreams counted me in!
A lack of prophetic gifting did not count me out of dreams. Rather, dreams counted me in!
Dreams have opened the whole realm of the prophetic and supernatural living up for me in a new way.
God also used dreams to communicate with people in the bible who weren’t primarily known as prophets. For example, Solomon, Jacob, Joseph (Old Testament), and Joseph (husband of Mary) all needed dreams to enable them to encounter God and receive messages from him.
Dreams bring the possibility of living a supernatural life and hearing God’s voice into the experience of everyday Christians – prophetic gift or not.
What is prophecy?
Paul talks about various spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12. Prophecy is one that he mentions:
- 1 Corinthians 12:10-11, NIV …to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy… All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.
Prophecy is essentially receiving messages from God, and then communicating that message to others.
The Greek word for the gift of prophecy is propheteia which is the ability to receive a divinely inspired message and deliver it to others in the church.Spiritualgifttests.com
The message can be received in many ways, such as pictures, visions, words, impressions, feelings, etc., and it can be communicated in many ways too (e.g. speaking it out, through art, writing, and prophetic acts).
Dreams contain messages from heaven, so they are inherently prophetic in nature. This means that, through dreams, we can all be prophetic and receive heavenly messages – even without having a special gift of prophecy.
Dreams themselves are prophetic, because they contain messages from heaven.
What is the gift of prophecy?
So what do I mean by having a spiritual gift of prophecy?
1 Corinthians 12 (quoted above) suggests that only some people have the gift of prophecy. But Paul goes on to say in chapter 14 that we should all desire to prophesy; in fact, he wishes that everyone would prophesy!
- 1 Corinthians 14:1, NIV Follow the way of love and eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit, especially prophecy.
- 1 Corinthians 14:5, NASBS Now I wish that you all spoke in tongues, but even more that you would prophesy.
Is there a disparity here? Is prophecy only for a few? Or is it for everyone?
I don’t believe there is a discrepancy. Think about the natural gifts as an illustration: There things we all need to do daily, but some people have an extra talent (or gift) in certain areas:
- We must all cook daily to eat, but some people have a special gift of cooking or baking.
- We can all learn an instrument to some degree – but some have to work hard at it, and others find it comes easily.
- We must all exercise, and we can all enjoy playing sports with our friends. But some people have a talent for sport.
I believe that spiritual gifts are the same. We are all meant to walk in all of them as part of our daily Christian life, but we each have areas that come more easily than others. To have a spiritual gift means we can do it without having to work too hard at it. In other words, it is a gift; it is something we haven’t worked for. And if we practice and develop our gift, we can get really good at it.
To have a spiritual gift means we can do that thing more easily than most, and if we practice, we can get really good.
I believe God gives spiritual gifts to display his possibilities to the world. People with the gift of prophecy will probably hear God and have more supernatural encounters than others. But the point is so they can hone their gift and help teach others to hear God too – not to count other people out!
So, what this means is that the rest of us must just work harder to hear God’s voice and be prophetic! And that’s where dreams can help.
Dreams and the prophetic
Having a prophetic gift can help with dream interpretation, but it can sometimes be a disadvantage too. Let me explain:
Advantages of having a prophetic gift
I think of prophetic revelation as being a shortcut in the dream interpretation process.
The following dream illustrates this, and came at a time when I was feeling frustrated with dreams and my slowness with them:
I dreamed I was walking up a driveway to a big house. It was quite a long drive. As I got near the house, I saw there was a short cut through the foliage that I hadn’t seen before. It would have been easier to use the shortcut, but I had to go the long way round.
I understood the house to represent the goal, i.e. understanding dreams. The driveway was the journey (or process) I had to go through each time I interpreted a dream. The shortcut represented the ability to jump straight to an interpretation prophetically.
This dream encouraged me:
- It confirmed that God saw and understood my frustration with dreams and my slowness to understand them.
- It confirmed what I had observed, i.e. that some people can quickly jump to an interpretation because they have a spiritual gift advantage (short cut) such as prophecy or the gift of dream interpretation.
- But it also revealed that the majority of people must work through the dream interpretation process with God. It takes longer than the shortcut, but the result is the same.
This dream also supports the idea that dream interpretation is for everyone, because anyone could choose to go up the official driveway.
The advantage of the prophetic ‘shortcut’ is that those gifted people get there quicker – and can tell everyone about how amazing dreams are. They can encourage others to make the journey, which is exactly what prophetic ministries have been doing in recent years.
Disadvantages of a prophetic approach
You might think that there could be no disadvantages to having a prophetic gift. But it can sometimes get in the way when interpreting a dream.
The trouble with shortcuts is that they are not such a well-marked path, and it can be easy to rush off into the undergrowth in completely the wrong direction.
I have noticed that someone who is used to prophesying will often latch onto an element of the dream and start prophesying. What they are saying may be from God, but it might not be. They may have hit upon the interpretation of the dream, but they may not have.
When this happens, we must check to see whether the elements and symbolism of the dream line up to support their prophetic insight. In other words, we still need to put in the effort of interpreting the dream as confirmation.
Dream interpretation vs prophetic word
There are two distinct things going on when a prophetic gift kicks into action with a dream:
- The God-intended interpretation of the dream.
- The prophetic word which was ‘sparked off’ by something in the dream.
Sometimes these are both the same, but sometimes they are not. It is important to know the difference.
This can be disconcerting. People in charismatic churches are used to giving prophetic words without much accountability. As long as it is positive and encouraging, no one can really tell whether it’s accurate of not – except for a feeling in their spirit and the test of time.
These prophetic words and dream interpretations can feel rather vague and not link up with anything tangible in real life. This can leave us with a sense of dissatisfaction
But with a dream, it IS possible to check out whether it is right – from within the dream itself, and by cross referencing it with other dreams. I love this aspect of dream interpretation!
Dreams are rather like cryptic crossword clues: When we have the right answer, all the parts of the dream tie up and confirm the meaning.
This is one of the great benefits of dreams. When the interpretation is right, we know for sure that it is right – particularly with longer dreams. This is the part where those of us with logical brains and understanding come into our own, and we can see whether the revelation fits the dream.
This is also the part where those of us who have walked the long route of learning about dreams over time are needed. We can quickly see, from our track record and experience, whether the prophetic word fits the dream or not.
I know prophetic people who really struggle with this. They haven’t walked the journey, and they don’t like finding out that their ‘revelation’ is not always the meaning of the dream.
Why we need both
In reality, both of these elements of dream interpretation are needed:
- We need gifted individuals who can receive revelation and quickly discern God’s heart in a dream. This speeds up the interpretation process.
- But we also need those who have walked their own dream journey and have a solid track record with God, to confirm the interpretation from the dream itself.
When both of these come together with the witness of the Holy Spirit, it is a powerful thing – but it takes humility on both parts.
In addition, whichever of these approaches we tend towards, we can work towards improving on the other area – and become more rounded dream interpreters as a result.
I had a dream which illustrates these two elements:
I dreamed I was showing people how to make traffic light models. They were fixed onto a heavy base like a rock/stone. I was explaining what the different coloured lights meant.
I also saw a different area where people had been making freestyle drawings with lots of colours mixed up. It was amazing, and I wondered whether I should have done that.
This dream spoke to me about my approach to dream interpretation and the things I teach in this blog:
- The ‘freestyle area’ represents the prophetic (and/or intuitive) approach to dreams. Many people think this is what they need to do with dreams; they try and get inspiration or a prophetic word and come up with an interpretation. This can be right, and it can be amazing when it works. But it is not always on solid foundations, and can lead to confusion. And not everyone can do it.
- The ‘traffic lights’ part represents the various stages of the dream interpretation process separated out and explained. It might be less of a ‘wow’ factor, but is based on the ‘solid rock’ of God’s word. This process allows us to be more confident in our interpretations, and anyone can do it. This is the interpretation process I teach in this blog.
We absolutely need the guidance of Holy Spirit for both these approaches.
Dreams are about relationship with God
It is often said that ‘the journey is the destination’. This is certainly true for dreams!
Dreams are not about prophetic ability or about simply getting to the right interpretation.
Dreams are an invitation to a conversation, and they are an invitation to a journey with God. They are a way to learn what his voice sounds like, to get to know his ways, and to have a personal connection with him daily.
Dreams are an invitation to a conversation.
As someone who struggles to connect with God in other ways, my dreams journey has been the most incredible tool for opening up that relationship.
Why dreams are for everyone
Keeping that end goal of relationship in mind, here are some reasons why dreams are for everyone, not just the prophetically gifted:
- All of us sleep, all of us dream, and we dream every night! Therefore, we can’t keep asking prophets every day what they mean. If God is speaking to us nightly though our dreams, it must be possible for each of us to learn to understand what he is saying.
- Dreams are tangible illustrations that we can think about with our mind. Once we have written them down, we can treat them like a puzzle to solve, and use our understanding and experience to solve it – within a normal level of relationship with God. We don’t need a super-hotline to heaven to understand the message!
- The point of a dream is to draw us into a conversation with God. If we have a prophetic word, it can be like a quick fix. But we get to know God better through the process of wrestling with our dreams very day. And anyone can have this experience.
- Dreams are a stepping stone. I had never seen Jesus or had a vision or picture before I started listening to my dreams. Then those things started happening in my dreams – and now, I can hear God better, even when I am awake, and I can be prophetic. Anyone can go on a similar journey to me.
We have seen how the prophetic movement has done a great job of spearheading the restoration of dreams – and interpreting dreams – to the church.
But now, I believe, we are about to see a shift from dreams being the remit of prophetic types, to dreams being for everyone. It’s time for everyone to learn to understand their own dreams and what God is saying through them.
- We have seen how we always need the inspiration of the Holy Spirit – and how prophetic revelation can be a great short cut in the interpretation process.
- But we also need to have solid foundations in place and experience of how God speaks in dreams. This comes from walking out a dream journey with God over time. We need to know how to check out our ‘interpretation’ from within the dream itself.
If you are prophetically gifted, I encourage you to put in the time and effort to learn the dream interpretation process with God. Then you won’t have to rely on always having ‘inspiration’. You will have solid foundations and know how to check out your revelations.
If you have been counting yourself out of dreams because you don’t feel prophetic, please stop! My testimony proves that anyone can learnt to interpret dreams – special gift or not. God will personally mentor you if you are willing to learn – and interpreting dreams will actually improve your prophetic ability. Check out my Beginner’s Guide article to get started.
So, is it time for dreams to become an everyday part of the normal Christian life?
I hope so!
If you have been inspired by this article, please leave a comment blow, I’d love to hear from you.
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The purpose of this blog is to provide biblical foundations for interpreting dreams 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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The information contained above is provided for information purposes only. The contents of this article are not intended to amount to advice and you should not rely on any of the contents of this article. Professional advice should be obtained before taking or refraining from taking any action as a result of the contents of this article. Jennifer Needham disclaims all liability and responsibility arising from any reliance placed on any of the contents of this article.
Beginner’s guide to biblical dream interpretation
How to get started interpreting your dreams – in the context of a relationship with God.
Is God restoring dreams to the church?
There is a growing acceptance of interpreting dreams in the church today: Could God be restoring them?
How did God speak to people in bible times?
An overview of ways God spoke to people in the Old Testament, how that changed with Jesus, and what it means for us today.
- Dream symbols: Sun, wind, rain, storms, and other types of weather
- Why you don’t need a prophetic gift to interpret dreams
- Dream symbols: Gardens, plants, and flowers – and what they mean
- How dreams can help with renewing the mind
- Meeting God in your dreams