How do you know if a dream is from God?
At Urbana 2000, I heard a message from God. With crystal clarity, God told me that after graduating from college, I was to go on staff with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship as a full-time campus minister.
I was a sophomore in college, so the message came a bit early, as graduation was still more than two years away. But as I entered my senior year, I could not shake the sense that I had definitively heard from God. I seriously considered law school, pursuing a Ph.D. in philosophy, and other options. Again and again, I returned to the conviction that God had called me into campus ministry.
So as my friends secured jobs in various organizations, I started to pray and raise funds to engage in full-time campus ministry. It was a leap of faith to trust God for my finances as I sought to encourage students to follow Jesus wholeheartedly.
Throughout the Bible, dreams and visions are an essential way God speaks to his people. Joseph is given two dreams that he will one day rule over his brothers. It looks as if these dreams misled him as he is sold into slavery and imprisoned, but they eventually find fulfillment. Later, Joseph also interprets Pharaoh’s dreams, which also come true. Even a ruler of a foreign nation, who does not know YHWH, can be guided by God through dreams. We see the same pattern when Daniel interprets a dream for King Nebuchadnezzar.
Other prophets in the Old Testament are guided to their revelation by dreams. For instance, Daniel is given several visions, and Ezekiel experiences the revelation of the valley of dry bones.
In the New Testament, both Peter and Paul are guided by supernatural visions. In Acts 9, Paul has the famous “road to Damascus” encounter with God that transforms his life. Then in Acts 10, Peter falls into a trance, in which God reveals to him that the Gentiles, as well as the Jews, are included in God’s plan of redemption. In Revelation 1:10, John tells us that he was “in the Spirit on the Lord’s day” when this vision was disclosed to him.
For many Christians, dreams and visions are ordinary, everyday experiences by which God confirms his love, provides guidance, and encourages his people to keep going.
Yet these supernatural experiences, like any good thing, are an opportunity for grifters, counterfeits, and foolishness. As one person commented on Twitter,
The countless wasted years I spent trying to “discern what the Lord was trying to tell me” about a love interest. OMG. Live your life.
Make good choices.
He’s not that into you.
Plan your future.
Start a career.
My time in the church literally complicated everything.
My church had a strict no dating teaching. We were to wait until God told us to marry someone, marry them, then date them. (That is not a typo)
I’m thankful my mom thought that was hogwash. So many teens were harmed as a result.
Many people have been misled by bad teaching and aberrant practices related to dreams and visions. It is quite dangerous to take an immature, selfish, or foolish desire and use spiritual language to say, “this is from God”!
How do you discern if a dream or vision is from God? Or if it is just another experience in life but not a supernatural revelation?