Dreams and Visions: How to Interpret Them

Have you ever received a dream, possibly from God, while you were sleeping or a vision before your eyes or mind’s eyes? How would you know it came from God? How do we evaluate them?

I have received about between 100 and 150 dreams over the past twenty-five years, and three or four visions that lasted only a second or two. Here’s how I handle them.

I number my points for clarity and conciseness.

1.. God is glad to speak to his sons and daughters, his male and female servants, in all age groups. He wants to reveal things to us by his open channels of prophecies, dreams and visions. He promises this to us in Joel 2:28-32 and Acts 2:17-18. His sheep hear his voice (John 10:3-5). The gifts of the Spirit in 1 Cor. 12:7-11 are another means by which God communicates. One person can even get a revelation in a public assembly (1 Cor. 14:26).

2.. All dreams or visions must conform to Scripture, which is inspired of God (2 Tim. 3:16-17). Your dream or vision may not be inspired by God, but Scripture always is. The Word first. You should never believe that God told you to start up a relationship with a married woman, for example (Exod. 20:14). The dream or vision must lead to godly and righteous living. If it produces the opposite, then it did not come from God.

3.. Your dream or vision must give you peace in your soul and never increase your anxiety (Matt. 6:25-34; Phil. 4:5-7; Col. 3:15). Dreams can be a warning and can produce holy fear and wonder, but not anxiety that swamps your soul.

4.. Place your personal dream or vision (or personal prophecy) on the “shelf,” so to speak (Hab. 2:2-3). Let God fulfill it. Don’t rush out to force it to come to pass. On the other hand, he may tell you to act, like visiting someone in the hospital and praying for or encouraging someone. Do it. But in the vast, vast, vast majority of cases, put personal dreams on the shelf, pray, and let God fulfill them.

5.. Be discerning, because most dreams come from your own mind, as it cleanses your thoughts from the activities throughout the previous day. Test all prophecies, also dreams and visions, which function like prophecies (1 Cor. 14:29; 1 Thess. 5:20-21).

6.. Dark and destructive dreams that produce despair and confusion come from Satan or your own mind (Eph. 6:16). Don’t listen to them.

7.. You can ask God, “Is this dream or vision for me or from me?” He will tell you, if you listen without an over-active mind and over-active desires, if you surrender your life and be mature in living in the Spirit and getting your mind renewed through Scripture (Rom. 12:2; Col. 3:10).

8.. Be careful about dreams that are loaded with too many symbols so that you have to overthink. Some symbols are okay (Gen. 41:1-36; Dan. 2), but they must be clear, so they should often be easily interpreted. For example, an earthquake in your dream indicates instability or a shake up. Pray for spiritual and emotional stability when you wake up. But if there are too many symbols, you may obsess over them and get distracted from your clearer calling—to get closer to Jesus through the Word and regular church attendance.

However, I have to concede, after reading Num. 12:6-8, some people get long dreams with lots of symbols. I can’t categorically and always deny that the dream is valid; if they are valid (that is, from God), then don’t obsesses over them, but remember the essential message and how you felt. In contrast, my own experience tells me that too many symbols can confuse people. Be careful.

9.. Take God-dreams and God-visions seriously, but not too seriously. Just live your life in joy and peace. Keep the main things the main thing, and keep the plain things the main things, which is Jesus and your growth in him through the Spirit and Scripture and fellowship. If you find yourself obsessing or spending too much mental energy interpreting your dreams, back away. You have become imbalanced.

10.. It is important to stay close to believers, if you often get dreams and visions. Agabus was a prophet who functioned in a team (Acts 11:27-30). His predictions came true (see Acts 21:10-11).

Still in the tenth point, here’s a simple equation to help you. The arrow means “leads to.”

Dream or vision + surrendered life + teamwork + fellowship + Scripture → accuracy → stability and consistency.

I hope those keys help you. I learned them through Scripture, sound teaching, and experience.

Now let’s leave behind those ten points and ask:

What do dreams and visions accomplish? What are their purposes?

James W. Ryle in the Spirit-Filled Life Bible, 3rd ed. (Thomas Nelson, 2018), lists six things that dreams accomplish (I add one) (p. 328):

1.. Answer questions (Judg. 7:10-15)

2.. Instruct about ways of God (Matt. 1:19-21)

3.. Warn of unseen dangers (Gen. 41:1-32; Matt. 2:12, 13, 22);

4.. Guide away from wrongdoing (Gen. 20:3-8)

5.. Keep us from pride (Dan. 4:19-37)

6.. Save our lives (Matt. 2:13)

I add:

7.. Guide us towards blessings (Gen. 37:5-9 and 41:33-57 and 42:6, and those three passages go together; 1 Kings 3:5-15; Acts 16:9-10, a vision in the night).

How does this post help me grow in Jesus Christ and his gifts?

Here is what I wrote in another post. It is important enough to repeat it here.

You must submit your dreams and visions to Scripture. It is flawless (Pss. 12:6; 18:30; Prov. 30:5); your mind is not. It has stood the test of time; you have not. It is inspired with certainty; you are not. It guides you; you do not guide it. It is the boss; you are not; you are merely the servant.

It would be arrogant of you to wander off on your own with your prophetic ministry. It would quickly go from “prophetic” to pathetic. Don’t ruin your own life by crashing and burning with your private ministry, as you wander from church to church. Don’t ruin the lives of your victims with your independence and your words. The people don’t know you.

Here are some sobering words in Jeremiah’s days. Let’s hope they will never apply to God’s New Covenant people who believe they are prophetic.

They speak visions from their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord (Jer. 23:18, NIV).

More from the same chapter:

I have heard what the prophets say who prophesy lies in my name. They say, ‘I had a dream! I had a dream!’ How long will this continue in the hearts of these lying prophets, who prophesy delusions of their own minds […] Let the prophet who has a dream recount the dream, but let the one who has my word speak it [the word] faithfully. […] Therefore, declares the Lord, I am against the prophets who steal from one another words supposedly from me. Yes, declares the Lord, I am against the prophets who wag their tongues and yet declare, ‘The Lord declares.’ Indeed, I am against those who prophesy false dreams, declares the Lord. They tell them and lead them [my people] with reckless lies, yet I did not send or appoint them. They do not benefit these people in the least, declares the Lord. (Jer. 23:25-26, 28, 30-32, NIV).

Prophetic ministry must be exercised with the greatest of care.

As noted, God wants to give people dreams and visions; he is not stingy about them (Joel 2:28-32 and Acts 2:17-18). Don’t treat them with contempt.

Always, always honor Jesus, even if you never get a dream or vision. He will still guide you through fellowship and Scripture and the still small voice of the Spirit and your Bible-trained conscience and Bible-trained convictions.


Gifts of the Spirit in 1 Corinthians 12:7-11 and 12:28

Gifts of the Spirit in Romans 12:6-8

False Prophets in Sinai Covenant and Imperfect Prophets in New Covenant: Life and Death Differences

The Purpose and Importance of Spiritual Languages

Questions and Answers about Spirit-Inspired Languages

Should We Call It ‘Tongues’?

Did 12 or 120 Speak in ‘Spirit-Inspired Languages’ (‘Tongues’) at Pentecost?

8. Gifts of the Spirit: Spirit-Inspired Languages (‘Tongues’)

9. Gifts of the Spirit: Interpretation of Spirit-Inspired Languages


Works Cited

At that link, look for the Spirit-Filled Life Bible

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