This morning, we’re continuing our message series, “Hearing God.” So far, we were challenged on the foundational issue of hearing God’s voice; identity. Hearing God’s voice has far more to do with who we are than what we do. We learned that we first must be His sheep and the importance of transitioning in our relationship with Him from master/servant to friends.
We also learned a practical way to test, “Is that you, God?” If it is God’s voice, it will agree with the Bible, agree with God’s character, and produce the fruits of the Spirit.
Each week, we’ll start with this reminder that Jesus gave us found in John chapter 10. Please repeat after me:
Jesus is the Good Shepherd
I am His sheep
I hear His voice
I won’t recognize a stranger’s voice
Although God can speak to us in an infinite amount of ways, there are some which are more common than others. This week, we’re learning how to better perceive God’s voice as He speaks to us through dreams and visions.
Merriam-Webster defines a dream as a series of thoughts, images, or emotions occurring during sleep. A vision is the same, but the series of thoughts, images, or emotions occurs while awake as they are formed by the imagination. Dreams and visions can be in the form of a still image or a series of events as in a movie.
Other than verbal communications, dreams and visions are probably the most common way in which we find God speaking to mankind throughout the scriptures. Perhaps that old adage rings true that a picture is worth a thousand words. Dreams and visions were prophesied in Joel chapter two accompanying the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on all people and was confirmed on the day of Pentecost. It was one of the most common ways that God spoke to the prophets of the Old Testament and the way in which Daniel, Ezekiel, and John were shown the same scenes in the Kingdom of Heaven despite the centuries that separated their visions.
We first find God speaking in this way when God made His covenant with Abram:
1 After this, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision:
“Do not be afraid, Abram.
I am your shield,
your very great reward.”
2 But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3 And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.”
4 Then the word of the Lord came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir.” 5 He took him outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”
6 Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.
12 As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him. 13 Then the Lord said to him, “Know for certain that for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there. 14 But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions. 15 You, however, will go to your ancestors in peace and be buried at a good old age. 16 In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.”
In the same day, God first spoke to Abram in a vision, then later in a dream. What’s recorded for us is the message that God was communicating. What’s not recorded is exactly what Abram saw in this vision.
Did Abram see a scroll with those words written on it? Did he see the Father on His throne speaking it to him? Did he see Sarai doing cartwheels and then forming the letters with her body on each landing? Did he see his flocks gathering together to spell it out? Did He see God in the shape of a shield blinged out with gold and precious stones?
We honestly don’t know and obviously, that’s not important to us. What is important is not what Abram saw in this vision, but what God was saying. God was affirming to Abram that He was His shield and very great reward.
This is the first tip for perceiving God’s voice when He speaks through dreams and visions. It is so easy for us to major on the minors when He speaks in this way that we miss the point and what He was communicating to us.
Let’s say for example that God did show Abram a herd of sheep grazing in thick, green grass that spelled out the words that “I am your shield and very great reward.”
How many of us would obviously get the message, but instead, focus on what God wants us to do? We would be thinking things like, God wants me to buy more sheep. God wants me to give up my career and become a shepherd. God is calling me into the ministry as a pastor. God wants me to buy that new house, that one with thick, green grass growing in the front yard. God wants me to end this relationship and move on to where the grass is greener. God wants me to invest in wool to grow my retirement portfolio.
In all seriousness, though, we have a tendency to major on the minors when it comes to visions thinking that there was something more significant about the color and thickness of the grass or the choice of God to use sheep in the vision instead of the clear and obvious message. This is especially true if we haven’t transitioned our relationship with God to master/servant to friends. We’ll always be looking for what we’re supposed to do in His dreams and visions instead of what He is truly trying to communicate. This can obvious lead to some serious errors in perceiving and understanding God’s voice.
Be careful not to major on the minors.
As another general tip for interpreting dreams and visions, trust your initial understanding and impression of what God is speaking to you. The more that we sit around and think about it, the more that we’ll read into the vision our own thoughts and what we want to hear. We’ll also have more of a tendency to downplay or explain away what God is speaking by thinking that it was just our imagination.
True, it is just our own imagination, but it was given to us by God for a divine plan and purpose. Not only are we able to be creative and to think critically because of our imagination, but it is also a powerful tool that God uses to speak to us using dreams and visions. Let’s start assuming that we are God’s sheep who hear His voice and stop assuming that we simply have vivid imaginations that too often run wild!
When you have a dream or vision, take note of what things you first notice that catch your attention. Take note of how you felt when you saw certain aspects of the dream or vision. Take note of what you initially thought of when you saw certain things. These initial feelings and understandings are usually more applicable to what God is speaking than the thoughts that we add after the fact.
Of course, God can certainly add a better and deeper understanding at a later time or to clarify certain parts of a dream or vision. However, generally speaking, we have more of a tendency to add our own thoughts and opinions the more that we think about them.
Trust your initial understanding and impression of what God is speaking to you.
As another general tip for interpreting dreams and visions, feel free to ask God what He is communicating to you. Abram did exactly this and I love the dialog that takes place here with young Jeremiah.
11 The word of the Lord came to me: “What do you see, Jeremiah?”
“I see the branch of an almond tree,” I replied.
12 The Lord said to me, “You have seen correctly, for I am watching to see that my word is fulfilled.”
13 The word of the Lord came to me again: “What do you see?”
“I see a pot that is boiling,” I answered. “It is tilting toward us from the north.”
14 The Lord said to me, “From the north disaster will be poured out on all who live in the land. 15 I am about to summon all the peoples of the northern kingdoms,” declares the Lord.
“Their kings will come and set up their thrones
in the entrance of the gates of Jerusalem;
they will come against all her surrounding walls
and against all the towns of Judah.
I have to admit that I wouldn’t think that seeing an almond tree branch means that God is watching to see that His word is fulfilled.
God not only showed these visions to Jeremiah, but then also explained what it meant. Believe that God will do the same for you. If He shows you something, He will explain to you what it means if you ask Him to.
Many dreams and visions are symbolic and require a degree of interpretation. There are plenty of examples such as with Joseph and Daniel where God would give a dream to one person and send someone else with the interpretation of that dream. God may give you the interpretation of your dream or may lead you to someone else for the interpretation.
Another great example of this is found here with Zechariah:
4 Then the angel who talked with me returned and woke me up, like someone awakened from sleep. 2 He asked me, “What do you see?”
I answered, “I see a solid gold lampstand with a bowl at the top and seven lamps on it, with seven channels to the lamps. 3 Also there are two olive trees by it, one on the right of the bowl and the other on its left.”
4 I asked the angel who talked with me, “What are these, my lord?”
5 He answered, “Do you not know what these are?”
“No, my lord,” I replied.
6 So he said to me, “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty.
There are plenty of resources available out there to give advice and input on how to interpret symbolism and other aspects of dreams and visions from experts far more knowledgeable than I am, so I’ll defer you to them for these types of details. With this in mind, there is still no better source than God, Himself, to inform you what He meant by what He shows you in dreams and visions.
Ask God what He is communicating to you.
As another general tip for interpreting dreams and visions, record them. Be sure to include the date/time that they took place, what circumstances or prayers or thoughts lead to them, what you see, what happens in them, what thoughts came to mind, what things you felt, anything that you heard God say throughout it, and any other details. Often, dreams and visions speak of the future and you won’t want to rely in your memory alone when the time comes that the events begin to unfold!
If you desire God to speak to you more often, show Him that you value what He says and ask Him to speak to you in that way. By keeping a pen and tablet next to your bed, or a voice recorder, or your cell phone, or some other way of recording, you are telling God that you are ready for Him to speak to you through your dreams. Ask God to speak to you through dreams before you begin to sleep.
Record your dreams and visions, then update them as God confirms and unveils them in your life.
As another general tip for dreams and visions, ask God to speak to you in that way. Before you start the day, ask God to give you a vision of people that you will encounter through the day and what their needs might be. Maybe do the same before you walk into a store. You’ll be amazed to find that God’s word is true that you are His sheep and you do hear His voice as He does exactly this.
It’s almost addictive when you actively seek after God’s voice through visions and then test them out. Maybe when you say, “Hello” to the sales agent ringing up your order, you see a college loan. Ask them about their college debt and they confirm that God spoke to you about that as they explain that the very reason why they are working there is to try and pay down the debt while they are in school.
Maybe you see a blue hat before you go to work with the number seven on it. Lo and behold, while you are at work, a guy with a blue hat approaches you. Ask him if the number seven means anything to him. Maybe he breaks down into tears explaining that he lost his only son when he was only seven years old and that his life fell apart. God brings healing and restoration as you pray for him and years of regret and shame are broken off of his life.
Ask God to speak to you through dreams and visions. Desiring to hear God’s voice is the beginning of better perceiving and understanding it.