A first century rabbi once said; “A dream uninterpreted is a letter unopened.” Imagine if the Creator God had sent you a letter – a message that answered your question, gave you vision for the future or provided some insight into your current situation. But it’s sitting there in the letterbox, unopened and unread, while you’re still praying in frustration, wondering why God hasn’t spoken…
It seems this is not a new scenario. The ancients, found themselves with the same problem: Why do you complain that God doesn’t speak? the writer of Job asks; He does speak, now one way, now another. He speaks in a dream or a vision of the night… but you don’t notice it (from Job 33:13-15).
Oh the irony! God may have spoken, but we haven’t noticed it. We’re sitting here disappointed and ignorant, when God has already sent his answer.
So why wouldn’t we notice it?
Part of the reason is that our Western culture has deceived us into thinking that God doesn’t speak in dreams today. It may well have been his most popular mode of communication in the past, but we’ve been taught it’s no longer valid. (Read: ISIS Fighter Meets Jesus in the Dream, But Why the Skepticism?, or listen to (011) Acts 2:17. Did We Get This Scripture Wrong?),
There’s another reason too. Part of it is that we haven’t learnt the language that dreams use. Typically, dreams speak in imagery, metaphors and symbols, a language that initially, seems unfamiliar and even bizarre.
But the truth is, we use symbols all the time. A coloured light signals the place to stop our cars. A red cross communicates the place for medical help. A hand sign relays peace. They do this effectively – all without words. Symbols are a universal language that transcend communication barriers. Once you understand how picture languages works, you’ll begin to realise that a picture really is worth a thousand words.
Here are five steps to take that will help you understand the language of your dreams. They are framed as questions to guide you through the process:
1. The Setting: What is going on in my life right now?
The first question we need to ask of any dream is; ‘What is the setting of my life?’ This is essential to understanding the message of the dream. Ask, What has just happened recently? What is on my mind? God speaks to answer our questions and needs, so we need to filter the dream through the context of our current situation.
This same question can be asked of natural dreams. Often the dream reflects a recent dilemma or trigger that highlights an important issue.
2. The Feelings: What is the emotion of my dream?
The beauty of dreams of a form of communication is the ability to impact your emotion. They can sidestep our intellects and reveal things we find difficult to see or understand with our conscious reasoning. The dream often takes you into a scene and your emotional response to it gives some indicator of the message.
So how you felt during the dream will be an important key. Ask, how did I feel in the dream? Was I happy, sad, hopeful, anxious. Did your feelings change in the dream? Did you see something sad yet feel happy. Were you full of hope or were you discouraged?
3. The Symbols: What do the symbols mean to me?
The third question to ask is; “What do these symbols mean to the dreamer?” Dreams and visions speak a symbolic language. They use pictures rather than words.
Your dream may include various objects, such as buildings, animals and people. Reflect on the different elements of the dream. Ask what they symbolize to you.
Symbols are often unique to the dreamer, so what a symbol means to one person will be different to another. This is why ‘dream dictionaries’ are limited in their ability to help. For example, a dog appearing in your dream may represent comfort and companionship if you have one as a family pet. But to someone who has no affection for dogs, they may represent a threat.
4. The Test: Is the dream from God?
Obviously not all dreams are from God in the same way all thoughts are not from God! Most dreams are natural – a product of our subconscious. This is why counsellors and psychologists are trained to understand how to use them in therapy. We test the source of our dreams in the same way we test our God-talking experiences in our waking hours. Not every ‘revelation’ is from God (1 John 4:1).
The most important question to ask is, Would God say this? Does it line up with his character and nature most perfectly seen in Jesus? Does it produce the ‘fruit of the Spirit’ – hope, joy, peace, love, freedom? Remember the voice we hear via the Spirit is the continuing voice of Jesus and so will be consistent with his teachings and actions in the Scriptures. We also need to test our experiences in community (Read: How Do I Know it’s God? Testing God’s Voice in Community, and 3 Tips to Recognise a God-Dream).
5. The Response: How is the dream asking me to respond?
Most dreams call for some sort of response. Recurring dreams come when we don’t respond to them. If the dream is from God, there will always be some wisdom to ponder, changes to make or a new direction to take.
Ask yourself, what is the dream telling me to do? Is there something I need to become aware of? Is there a mindset I need to change?
As you take time to learn the language of dreams, you’ll begin to appreciate why God loves to use them. He is a creative communicator and longs to be heard. Perhaps God is speaking to you, his message is waiting to be opened and it’s time you paid a visit to the letterbox!
This teaching is adapted from the Awaken Your Dreams Seminar which provides comprehensive teaching on how to hear God’s voice in dreams and visions. The 3 sessions cover; 1. The biblical basis for dreams as God’s normal mode of communication, 2. An easy-to-use framework for understanding dreams whether they’re from God or natural sources, and 3. How to interpret and understand symbols. (Available as a Seminar you can host with your group or organisation, and at the Store as a CD or MP3 series).