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The Bible is about God. Because of this, many Christians fall into the trap of thinking that any impression they get while reading the Bible must be coming from God. So when they read a passage that makes them feel condemned and rejected, they assume that’s God talking, because only God speaks through those sacred pages, right? Wrong. There is no object or human in this world who you can count on to give you some secure pipeline to God. Instead of dropping your guard whenever spiritual matters are being discussed, you need to be all the more cautious and aware of how easy we humans are to deceive.
This same principle applies to your dream life. The fact that you dreamt about a God related topic does not mean that the dream was some Divine message from God to you. Maybe you had a beautiful dream about Heaven. Maybe you had a frightening dream about Hell. Maybe God Himself was a character in your dream. Maybe your dream included prophetic images and messages. None of these things indicate that the dream was a message from God. So before you go leaping to the wrong conclusions, you need to be asking the Holy Spirit for wisdom.
THE ORIGIN OF DREAMS
As a general rule, you should think of dreaming as your brain’s daily health regime. Your earthsuit is an incredibly complex machine and your brain is the engine that runs it. Just as you need to eat every day to maintain physical health, your brain needs to dream. Dreaming isn’t an optional thing to your brain—it’s essential. Everyone dreams every night. Some of us don’t think we dream because we don’t remember our dreams when we wake up. Others of us remember our dreams quite often, and this leads to the erroneous assumption that some people dream and others don’t. But the truth is that everyone dreams. It’s critical for brain health.
Suppose a friend brings over a memory stick, shoves it into your laptop, and transfers one folder stuffed with random electronic files onto your hard drive. Some of the files are photographs, some are financial records, some are articles about God, some are communications from your friends and family, and some are reminders of things you need to do. Before the arrival of this large folder, the thousands of files already on your hard drive were very neatly organized. Now you’ve got this folder of randomness cluttering up the place. This is your brain at the end of every day: it’s been bombarded with a whole day’s worth of experiences and it now has a large collection of random files cluttering up its inbox. There are new discoveries, new concerns, emotional feelings, physical feelings, and spiritual communications. Just to get you through the day, your brain has also had to pull countless files out from its neatly organized subconscious archives. Now it’s got a huge mess on its hands—rather like a librarian who has just been bombarded with a huge pile of returns. Your brain can’t function well in this clutter. It needs to stop and reorganize, which means it needs to put your earthsuit in sleep mode and do some dreaming. Do you know what happens to people who are prevented from dreaming in their sleep? They start dreaming in the day. Your brain must dream and it must have a chance to reboot the earthsuit by having the whole thing sleep. What this means is that most of the things you dream about are nothing more than feedback from your brain’s reorganization process. Your dreams will often reflect current stresses in your life.
Let’s go back to that big folder that your friend dumped on your hard drive. When you open that folder up and start trying to sort through the various files, some are very easy to file away into your system of organized folders, but others have you rapping your fingers for a few minutes trying to decide where to put them. Those hard-to-place files are the ones that most often result in dream material. Other common candidates are files which involve you having to access some very stressful folder from your archives. For example, you were traumatized by your brother dying when you were just a kid. Now your friend has just lost her sibling. Your brain associates these events and when it goes to file the new memory into the old folder, a flood of painful memories temporarily surfaces from your subconscious archives. That’s stressful, and you’re probably going to have some intense dreams that night as your brain digs through files which it prefers to leave undisturbed.
Understanding that dreaming is essential to your brain’s health helps to put your dreams in perspective. You shouldn’t be looking for Divine communications in every dream. If you even remember your dreams, most of them will simply be symbolic musings about your current concerns and recent experiences. The better you understand yourself, the more obvious and less significant your dreams will seem. For the most part, they are just telling you stuff that you already know. You dreamt about some rogue military general kicking down your front door and blasting away with his machine gun. Of course you did, because you’re stressing about your domineering father-in-law coming for a visit next week. What’s most remarkable about dreams is the wild symbolism your brain comes up with. But once you get past that, the underlying themes are usually nothing new.
So then, most of your dreams are just basic mental housekeeping. They are mostly reflections of your current stresses. If you’ve got a lot of unprocessed stress that you’re trying not to deal with, or if you’ve got some very upsetting things weighing on your mind, that’s often when normal, forgettable dreams ramp up in intensity. Upsetting nightmares can be a symptom of your brain feeling overwhelmed by stress, or they can be a result of demons messing with you, or they can be some warning from God. So how do you know which is which?
THIRD PARTY DREAMS
Not every thought that comes into your head originates with you (see Voices in Your Mind). It’s the same with your dreams. If God gives them permission, demons can easily mess with your dreams and add their own elements which your brain wouldn’t have come up with on its own. In such cases, it’s like your brain goes from being the director of a movie to being a member of the audience. Demons can feed an entire dream into your brain, or they can take over the plot of one that’s already playing and spin it in a different direction. What’s important to realize here is that demons aren’t just in the nightmare manufacturing business. Most of those wonderful dreams about Heaven which people describe themselves having in their bestselling books were totally demonic in origin. Demons are all about pouring on sweet assurances about the afterlife if that will help keep some spiritual rebel far away from repentance and submission. Don’t put too much import on timing—the fact that a fellow was considered clinically dead at the time he had his dream is no guarantee that his vision was from God.
Demons see us from an entirely different perspective. When they see that God isn’t really taking a rebellious soul out of this dimension yet, they rush to give that soul sweet visions of golden light and being reunited with loved ones in order to persuade them that they’ve actually been to the other side and now have nothing to fear. Consider how much louder the “I’ve been to Heaven” group is than the “I’ve been to Hell” group. The book and movie Heaven is for Real was a best seller, but where’s the film entitled Hell is Real? How come we save discussions of our supposed visits to Hell for mostly Christian audiences who we’re trying to scare into giving us more money? How come we never see movies on the big screen that are filled with dramatic testimonials of people who are desperate to convince the world that reverential submission to Jesus as God is the only way any of us are going to get saved? How come the importance of reverential submission to Jesus never seems to come up in the Heaven visions?
When demons give us happy dreams, it’s for the purpose of leading us spiritually astray. When they give us upsetting dreams, it’s also for the purpose of leading us spiritually astray. Demons have one agenda: make trouble between you and God. If you’re a Christian, they can’t un-save you, but they can try to undermine your spiritual development. So if you’re anxious about doing enough for God, you’re a great candidate for a dream in which an angry Jesus is snapping at you for being some kind of slacker. Demons analyze the weaknesses in your theology, then they use those weaknesses to their advantage. So whenever God shows up in a dream, you can’t just assume it’s some Divine message. It could just be your brain sorting through some of your soul’s current musings. It could be demons trying to stress you with the idea that all is not well between you and God. Or it could be God telling you something. How do you know which it is? You need to ask God. And while you’re asking Him for wisdom, there are some basic discernment principles that you can apply.
Because the imagery of dreams is often metaphorical, the key to interpreting them lies in focusing on the emotional elements. A pink elephant was chasing you through a lollipop forest—obviously your brain is in metaphor mode and the metaphors have you stumped. So forget about the imagery for a moment and focus on emotions. What were you feeling as you ran through that forest? Were you happy or scared? Once you identify the general emotion, try to flesh it out. “I was so happy because I knew the elephant was my friend.” Or, “I was terrified of being captured and harmed.” When you focus on the feelings, it’s much easier to spot associations with real life. Ask yourself, “When is the last time these same feelings have come up in my regular life?”
This same approach is very useful in discerning spiritual themes in dreams. You have a dream about Jesus. How do you feel in His Presence? Are you confident or scared? Do you feel accepted or unwanted? What kinds of conclusions do you draw from how Jesus interacts with you? Does it raise up concerns about your relationship with Him? Does it bring to mind specific convictions?
Does God give people terrifying nightmares about Hell? Absolutely, but when such dreams are from Him, they are paired with a clear conviction that the dreamer needs to repent and submit to His Authority. God doesn’t scare us just to do it, and He doesn’t confuse us just for a lark. If God is communicating to you through a dream, the message will be clear, and it will be one which reflects God’s priorities. God’s priorities include things like Himself being exalted and you growing confident in His love through the development of God honoring attitudes. So when you have that amazing dream of God standing up from His throne in Heaven and inviting you to take His place, that’s not God talking. That’s your ego and/or demons encouraging you to believe God has excused you from having to submit to His Authority.
Or suppose you dream about yourself performing some amazing miracle in public and having a huge audience erupt in cheers and applause. What are the emotions? If you’re basking in the glory without any qualms, that’s not God talking. If you’re feeling deeply disturbed and repulsed by the idolatry in the air, that could be you processing your recent new insights about how jealous God is, or it could be God prepping you for some future ministry in which He’s going to put you in the spotlight. If it’s God talking, He’ll make the spiritual takeaway clear to you. If it’s just you musing to yourself, there will probably be a lot of confusion. If it’s demons talking, there will some clear messages that directly oppose God’s truth. The imagery of the dream is really a side detail: what’s the spiritual takeaway? Are there clear conclusions in your mind or is it some confusing mystery? If there are conclusions, do they line up with what the Holy Spirit’s been teaching you, or are they leading you in the opposite direction? Notice we’re talking about the Holy Spirit here, not the Bible. Don’t be using the Bible as some stand-in for God in your life—that’s a guaranteed way to go astray. God is not a book, so forget the book and talk to God directly. Any time a dream makes a strong impact on you, ask God to help you learn whatever it is He wants to teach you, then trust that He will.
You don’t need to feel threatened by your dream life. Your dreams don’t define you, nor can they change your standing with God. Now and then they can serve as useful teaching tools, no matter where they come from. Demonic dreams give you good practice in identifying deceptions and embracing countering truths. Your own dreams can sometimes help you recognize when there are stresses that you’ve been trying to avoid dealing with, and you can then ask God to help you respond to those things in a way that pleases Him. Dreams from God will always have some useful spiritual lesson attached to them, but you might never have a dream from God. God speaks to us all in different ways. There’s nothing super holy about God talking to you through dreams. In fact, many Christians have really led themselves astray by trying to read spiritual significance into their brain’s normal musings because such people have decided that God must speak to them through their dream life. Well no, He really doesn’t have to submit to our preferences in any area. So be open to God speaking to you through dreams, and but don’t try to figure anything out on your own. Always look to God to guide you in life because He is the only One you can trust.
Rating the Voices of God: A Foolish & Harmful Game
Identifying False Conviction: Three Easy Tests
Dreams: An Overview
Dealing with Trauma: Protecting Yourself from Bad Counselors