Dreams can be fascinating, can’t they? Many claim they don’t dream or can’t remember, while others seem to have multicolour adventures with various Hollywood heroes. Some have nightmares; while still others claim that God Himself is sending them messages.

Now, spare a thought for a man in the Bible who received amazing, God-given dreams that were sent first-class to urgently direct him. His name was Joseph. No, not the Andrew Lloyd Webber one (his real gift was to interpret the dreams of others). I refer to Mary’s husband: “Christmas Joseph.” He had four different dreams during the nativity story alone, guiding him strategically to know what to do at some pretty critical moments. Jesus’ stepfather was a listening prophet. An angel told him in a dream who to marry (Matthew 1:20); and told him where to go and live no less than three different times (Matthew 2:13, 19 and 22). In each case, if he had not taken heed to this nocturnal guidance, history would have shaped up very differently.

As Pentecostals we are very familiar with Joel’s great prophecy about the outpouring of the Spirit. “Your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams” (Joel 2:28; Acts 2:17). Of course, the old men were just about to have a vision but, being pretty old, they fell into a nap and had a dream instead… The Apostle Paul, perhaps frustrated that his mission was not going to plan, is thrilled to be guided by the “man from Macedonia:” a mysterious figure who appears to him in a vision at night (Acts 16:9). When God wants to speak directly to the Three Wise Men, He abandons star patterns in favour of a nifty dream (Matthew 2:12). Clearly, the concept of divine dreams is a biblical one.

Now, for pastors and leaders who try to help people through the oft clouded waters of God’s guidance, this is perhaps the worst minefield of all. The idea that Christians should take every dream that they can remember as a “word from the Lord” is enough to make anyone want to go to bed. Almost all dreaming is random, bizarre and not to be interpreted as God trying to speak! Eating late at night will produce the most amazing dreamland show. If George Clooney is chatting with you on the Titanic tonight, who then turns into your mother, while Jedward are singing, this is probably not God! This week, I dreamed that the Daleks were moving through Cambridge threatening to exterminate people. To be honest, the fulfilment of this is pretty unlikely.

But, if we make room for God to occasionally speak to some people through dreams, how can we separate the heavenly from the hairspray? First of all, we should probably apply the repetition test. Five times the Scripture says, “every matter must be established by two or three witnesses.” If God is going to speak to you in a dream, He will most likely show you the dream a number of times. Like all prophetic ministry, the dream should be confirming something that God was speaking to you about in a number of other ways too. Years ago, I remember sharing with my fellow leader a dream that had troubled me in the night: in the dream I “knew” of some immorality committed by two of the young people in the fellowship. His eyes widened as he told me that he had also dreamed the very same thing that night. We can assume that each of the Magi shared the same dream about the threat of Herod (Matthew 2:12). Like any good preacher, God repeats Himself.

Secondly, if the Spirit is speaking to you through dreams, your Pastor will believe you. If not, he will clear his throat, take a deep breath and tell you to forget it. Don’t be afraid to share your experience. It is part of a leader’s job to weigh up and make judgment on things like this. The Book of Proverbs encourages believers in their pursuit of wisdom to be people who seek advice (Proverbs 13:20; 15:22; 24:6). Joel was particular: it will be your old men; your young men. Prophetic ministry must be received and evaluated in community.

Finally, please check that the dream is actually a blessing. Jeremiah promised that God’s revealed plans for us would make us hopeful not terrified (Jeremiah 29:11). Many dream their darkest fears, again and again. This is not God’s guidance but the torment of the mind. Prophecies build up (1 Corinthians 14:3) and if the Spirit is speaking, it will be clear (1 Corinthians 14:7-8). All of God’s late night phone calls will be in line with the Scripture, or they are nothing more than bad cheese.

A bit more about spiritual gifts next month. Happy dreaming friends!

Originally published in JOY Magazine, 2010

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s