“And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even on the male and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit.” —Joel 2:28-29
This is an account of one vision, one dream, and their interpretations. But before getting to them, I want to cover some warnings.
Warnings about interpreting dreams and visions
A pastor of mine once described the majority of dreams we experience as “dog dreams” because they don’t mean much of anything. But on occasion, a person will have a dream with significant spiritual components that may be from God. It is my sincere belief that every dream or vision that is truly from God has a Gospel-centered purpose. God’s heart is to increase our faith, to point us to the person of Jesus (his life, death, and resurrection), and help us to place our trust in Him. Jesus is at the center of everything God says to humanity and the Bible should be our starting place for understanding Him. When attempting to discern dreams and visions, we should be aware of our self-enterprising minds that can be eager to justify thoughts or behaviors that are contrary to what Scripture teaches.
Misinterpreting dreams and visions is breaking a commandment
Misinterpreting a dream or vision is breaking one of the ten commandments: it is to take God’s name in vain. A false interpretation is a grave vanity where we essentially declare “thus says the Lord,” and yet the Lord did not say it. Interpreting a dream or vision is essentially a prophetic act and the consequences of falsely prophesying were potentially severe in the Old Covenant, especially if the prophet was leading others to false worship (Deuteronomy 18:20, Deuteronomy 13:5). It is an evil act of pride for a person to confidently offer an interpretation and say or strongly imply “This is from God,” when it isn’t because they elevate themselves to God’s seat.
They are difficult riddles
Interpreting dreams and visions is also difficult because they are like riddles. Listen to what God says about prophets in comparison to the uniqueness of Moses’ prophetic career:
“And he said, ‘Hear my words: If there is a prophet among you, I the Lord make myself known to him in a vision; I speak with him in a dream. Not so with my servant Moses. He is faithful in all my house. With him I speak mouth to mouth, clearly, and not in riddles, and he beholds the form of the Lord. Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?'” —Numbers 12:6-8
I believe the riddle format is an act of grace because it is an immediate reminder that we as humans do not naturally have wisdom or understanding about how the world works. Therefore our first response should be to trust in God and ask for help (Proverbs 9:10).
People love false prophecies
A common temptation is to simply offer interpretations and prophecies that the majority of people want to hear. When people rebel against God, they need justification for it and so they look to false seers and prophets to make it up (Isaiah 30:9-11). Paul gives a similar warning to Timothy in 2 Timothy 4:
“For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths.” —2 Timothy 4:3-4
False prophets will be numerous, they will perform real miracles, they will teach heresy, and they will be convincing
Jesus offers clear warnings about false prophets in His Sermon on the Mount. False prophets are wolves in sheep’s clothing (Matthew 7:15), they will prophesy, cast out demons, and perform mighty works in Jesus’ name (Matthew 7:21-23), there will be many false prophets and they will deceive many (Matthew 24:11). John warns that some false prophets will be aided by spirits not from God (1 John 4:1), and Peter warns us that false prophecies will secretly introduce destructive heresies (2 Peter 2:1).
God still uses dreams and visions as acts of love towards his people (1 Corinthians 12:7-11). With care, prayer, and an allowance of other leaders to weigh the validity of what is being said (1 Corinthians 14:29), it’s possible to rightly interpret oracles from God. Nearly all of my experiences with interpreting dreams and visions and/or speaking prophetically have been intended for me personally or people I know. I don’t rule out broader corporate oracles, but they seem more difficult to confirm and are more likely to be vague. Below is a vision, a dream, and their interpretations.
A waking vision about a burning house
This is an account of a vision I personally experienced and the immediate interpretation I received. Every time I have received a clear interpretation, it is as if the entire knowledge of it is immediately accessible. The best metaphor I can think of to explain this sensation is from the movie The Matrix. The main character, Neo, has his brain plugged into a computer system and data can be nearly instantly uploaded into his brain. At one point he receives martial arts instructions and then says a famous line from the movie “I know Kung Fu.” God is more subtle and more instant than this metaphor, but the sensation that one now just knows is similar.
The back story
I went through a divorce in late 2007 to early 2008. I don’t want to get into all the specifics here, but it’s important to clarify that when my first wife asked for a divorce, I did everything I possibly could to prevent it, even to seek reconciliation when I no longer wanted to months later. God hates divorce and the path of obedience through one is narrow. There are two common doctrinal criteria that are used to justify divorce (a) an unbelieving spouse wishes to leave (1 Corinthians 7:15) and (b) sexual immorality/adultery (Matthew 5:31-33). In many traditions, only the latter is valid, but for what it’s worth my situation met both criteria. For the full back story, you can listen to this sermon I preached.
When the time came to finalize the divorce in court, I got to the courthouse early and sat in my car for 30 minutes praying in the Spirit. I was afraid of the stigma of being divorced as a Christian and I was also afraid of executing the act itself. And then in a single instant:
I saw the most quintessential two story house, like one that belonged in Connecticut where the door was in the middle and there were two windows on either side and windows above on the second story as well. God showed me a second story window on the side of the house and He said “Divorce is this window.”
“This window was not built with the intention of being able to pass through it, but it’s physically possible to pass through the window. If you pass through this window, but your house is not on fire, there will be no one to catch you at the bottom when you jump and you will be severely injured. But if your house is on fire, the fire department will be there to catch you.” I saw in that moment one of those trampoline things common in cartoon representations of fire departments.
I said “God, I think my house is on fire.” He replied “It’s burning to the ground.”
God did not command me to get a divorce
This was the only time in my life where I felt like God was giving me two obedient choices. Every interaction with him before and after has primarily been His command and my response as either obedience or disobedience.
In that moment I said, “Remember when you commanded me to seek reconciliation and I didn’t want to, but I obeyed [which ended up being one of the best decisions I ever made—see sermon above], if you do that again, I will obey. I will walk all the way downstairs, through the fire in this house, like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were in the furnace, if you tell me to do it.”
“Okay then, I’m going to go finalize this divorce.”
And that’s what I did. I don’t know what my life would look like had I made the other choice, but I can say with certainty that from the ashes God has raised me up and filled me with joy.
Watching yourself die is scarier than it looks
A man whom I had never met visited the church I belong to, but one of the pastors knew him. He spoke with this pastor about a dream he had and was seeking guidance. The pastor sent this man to speak to me and this is what he described:
“I was in a hospital room, and no one else was there. I was standing in the room, but I could also see myself on the hospital bed and I know that the version of me on the bed was about to die.”
I asked him a few questions, but there were no other details than what he described. He definitely felt like he was both himself standing there and laying on the bed. He reaffirmed there was no one else in the room. I had no idea what this dream meant. He had his own ideas about what it meant. He speculated that he might die soon and perhaps it was about the End Times. He was in good shape, maybe in his late 50s, but what he said did not resonate with me. We chatted for a bit and I said “Let me pray about this dream. Come back next week and I’ll let you know if God speaks to me.” He said okay, and that was that.
A little while later while I was leaving the parking lot, the entire meaning of the dream came to me all at once. Here is the interpretation:
The version of the man in bed is his faith and the man is looking at his faith. Because he is all alone in his faith, he is watching his faith as it’s about to die.
The man did not return the following week, but through God’s goodness, he was able to receive the interpretation relayed to him. It matched up with advice the pastor had been giving him to come back to fellowship. I’ve never seen him since.
In my experience, interpreting visions, dreams, or prophesying has become easier over time, despite the pitfalls around them because God is loving and faithful. He has taught me to listen to his voice and know his voice (John 10:4). I have also learned to be patient and not rushed, and if God wants to say something prophetically through me, He will, otherwise He’ll say nothing. It’s in that moment when there is nothing to say that I have learned to keep my mouth shut. I have, on more than one occasion, spoken presumptuously out of pride and God has humbled and disciplined me in response. God uses these gifts in love and if love is lost, His words are not there.
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