You wake up drowsy eyed, wander into the kitchen and sit down with a cup of coffee. Slowly the images return, flashing through your mind in fleeting sequence. It’s like you were there. You can still feel the emotion, stirring and lingering like the taste of last evening’s meal. Strangely coherent, they seem to shed light on your thoughts from the day before.
But was it God?
We know that everybody dreams – usually for 1-2 hours every night. Psychologists tell us we dream to process the events of the day – it’s our brain’s natural healing mechanisms doing some ‘house-cleaning’ – in the same way that sleep allows for restoration of our physical body.
But we also know that God speaks in dreams and that he’s been doing so throughout history. The Scriptures tell us that dreams are one of the most common ways he speaks (Numbers 12:6), that they are made accessible to us through the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:16-17) and that many of the great biblical events began while someone was sleeping (eg. Gen.15:8-21, Gen. 28:10-22, Gen. 37:5-11, Matt. 2:7-23, Acts 10:9-17, etc.)
So how do we know if a dream is from God?
It’s important first of all to understand that not every dream comes from God – in the same way that not every waking thought is from him! Most of the dreams we have are natural dreams – they are the activity of our unconscious minds while we are asleep. They may be interesting to take note of, and occasionally helpful in understanding ourselves, but they are not the voice of the Holy Spirit.
Here’s three tips that will help you recognise a God-dream:
1. It Comes with a Supernatural Sign
This first one is perhaps the easiest. You can tell if it’s a God-dream if it contains some element of the supernatural. There is information in the dream that obviously comes from heaven – something you wouldn’t ordinarily know or that points to a future time. Jesus said that the Holy Spirit would help us by ‘speaking of things to come’ (John 6:13-14) and that when we call to God, he will tell us ‘unsearchable things we do not know’ (Jeremiah 33:3).
Remember God’s heart is to help us discern his voice if we are listening for it. So he builds in supernatural signs for us – little indicators to show us it is him. We see this happening in Jesus’ ministry. Jesus spoke and signs ‘followed him’ to confirm the message (John 6:26). God wanted the people who were listening to understand that this was a word from God.
The confirming sign may be something simple – like the pastor at church preaches the same message you’ve just received in a dream. Or events happen that day that echo what you’ve seen in the night. Perhaps a friend calls and repeats the same message, or the scene plays out before your eyes that very day.
A note of caution however; signs are helpful, but we need to be careful not to manipulate them. All we need to do is to watch and listen (Habakkuk 2:1). If the dream is from God, he is able to make his message clear.
2. It is Part of an Ongoing Conversation
Secondly, we recognise God’s voice in a dream because it is part of an ongoing conversation. Dreams are one of the ways God speaks to us but it’s not the only way. It’s just one mode of communication he uses in the context of an ongoing relationship. So if you have a dream you think may be from God, ask yourself, what has God been speaking to me about lately? What prayers have I been praying?
God knows us intimately. He knows what we are experiencing, he knows our prayers and what has already been said. So we learn to recognise his voice as we continue the conversation with him. It is about recognizing the voice you know and love. Obviously this gets easier with time – just like any relationship.
3. It Contains Divine Wisdom
A third way of identifying if a dream is from God, is by looking at the nature of it’s message. In amongst all the jumbled imagery of your dreams, sometimes there’s one that stands out. It tells a story that rings in your spirit; it answers a question you’ve been asking, or provides wisdom for a situation you’re facing. It resonates with what God has already been saying to you – and it sounds like something God would say.
Of course, sometimes we can have a natural dream that sheds light on our situations as well. Our brains are constantly working to solve problems and find answers whether we are sleeping or awake.
Ultimately we need to learn to discern the voice of God in the night in the same way that we discern his voice in the day. We recognise his voice speaking to us in ongoing conversation whether it’s through the Scriptures, a sermon, a still small voice, an impression and through a dream. Does it produce the fruit of the Spirit? Does it lead us to worship him? Is it something Jesus would say?
The message of a God-dream will always reflect God’s nature and heart as revealed in Jesus. God’s words will bring peace and understanding. They produce the fruit of the Spirit and keep you in line. They help you to live a godly life and always point you back to a trusting relationship with the Father.
As those who have received the Holy Spirit, we can expect to hear from God in dreams and visions (Acts 2:17). Remember that Jesus promised we would be able to recognise his voice and then follow it. It was never meant to be a one-way conversation!
Learn More! This is an excerpt from the new God Conversations teaching message: How Do I Know it’s a God-Dream? In this message we look at the sources of dreams in more depth with plenty of examples. Available in CD or MP3!
Or get the full 3-part series: Awaken Your Dreams which includes teaching on how to recognise a God-dream, a framework for interpreting your dreams as well as a guide to understanding the language of symbolism. As Job 33:13-15 reminds us, God does speak – in a dream or vision of the night – the problem is we always perceive it. This series will equip you to recognise his messages while you are sleeping!