How do you know if a dream is from God?

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.

Another wrote,

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?


Such a good question :grinning:. I believe that God can and does speak through dreams and visions today, but I also see two extremes happen. One extreme is that some people are so afraid that the word of God might be added to that they don’t make room for dreams/visions/prophecies ever. The other extreme is that people have dreams/visions/prophecies that they claim are from God which clearly aren’t. These might be used dangerously, for example to start up a cult, or add additional teachings to scripture. I believe that there is a biblical precedent for God to speak to us through dreams and visions, that these are not considered to add to scripture, and are there ultimately to glorify God. I think of many people from other religious backgrounds who have dreams of Jesus and eventually give their lives to Christ. The example of Nebedchudnezzar in the Bible is a good model of God speaking to non believers for the purpose of conviction.

Can I ask what you mean by “heard a message”? Was this a dream, a vision, an audible voice or an ‘impression’ (a strong inner sense)? It would be helpful to understand your experience in this.
Looking back at your life, it is easy to see that this played out and that God blessed your work. I think this is a key determiner on whether a dream/vision/word is from God: there will be tangible results that take place, verifiable and attestable by more than one person.

I think that with any prophetic word or dream, there are some good rules to follow:

  • that it doesn’t ever contradict scripture or add extras to the meta narrative of the Bible
  • that it only glorifies God, not man
  • that it is good practice to take a dream or vision to a couple of other well-trusted brothers and sisters who can pray about it with you

In other words, test what you think you’ve received from God:

1 Thessalonians 5:19–21 (ESV): Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not despise prophecies, 21 but test everything; hold fast what is good.

I’ve always been told to be highly cautious for using prophecies/dreams when it comes to speaking about births and marriages! I’m sorry for those people you saw on Twitter who have witnessed ruined lives due to misplaced emphasis on these things. It shows that an abuse of these spiritual gifts can be devastating. This brings me back to the importance of testing everything, and bringing it to others in prayer.




‘In the last days,’ God says, ‘I will pour out my Spirit upon all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy. Your young men will see visions, and your old men will dream dreams.
Acts of the Apostles 2:17

As you can imagine this passage jumped off the pages to the new believers in my previous ministry. Some were super zealous for the Lord and all that was available to help them become stronger in faith and prayer.

Some well meaning Church people would see them and " share a word" which might create issues.

Dreams, visions, words from the Lord, have their place, but God will always confirm by various means and signs.

Callings to this or that should be taken with a grain of salt. Ministry, Preaching, etc. If not truly (called) to it, is a pitfall to a new Christian.

A prime character is Moses who tried to get away from doing Gods will when he was asked specifically to do Gods work. There was no escaping it.

How much more should we try to not follow through on a dream, or vision.

If we can leave it be, and not be spiritually miserable for not acting on it, then it probably wasnt from God.

Personal insight here, Gods will is paramount and discerning His will in all things is usually revealed to the individual first, if they are listening for His voice, then what follows, dreams, visions, etc. is a confirmation.

Acts Chapter 10 Cornelius and Peter, and their visions.

Bringing reasoning into the equation is a needed aspect as well.

Thank you for sharing,
Hope I was clear enough.


Hi Alison, it was an impression. But it was a very strong inner sense, almost to the point of being an audible voice. But it wasn’t audible. It was so compelling and clear.

One point I have rarely shared is that it was followed later that evening by what I would consider to be an experience of a very oppressive, spiritual evil. I won’t go into the details, but it was frightening.

The other point is that these experiences were not desired or sought out. I mean, I was open to hearing from God! But their specific nature did not feel like something I had created. It was more analogous to another Person speaking to me.

I also agree that this impression to go into campus ministry needed confirmation from others. It was confirmed by the leaders of the campus ministry I joined, as well as by my peers, and then also by the donor community that funded the work. If good and wise people had counseled against this decision, it would have been essential to weigh their input.


Thanks for starting this discussion @Carson. Since coming out of Hinduism, though I myself have had some supernatural experiences by the Holy Spirit, after being exposed to churches where spiritual gifts were not practiced in a way that is faithful to the Bible, I found myself getting very skeptical. I needed to make sure my experiences were from the Lord and that they were not influenced by by own imaginations or worse, by a false spirit. On studying scripture related to this topic, I have landed at the understanding that dreams and visions will continue until the coming of Jesus ( 1 Cor 13: 8-13, Eph 4: 11-13, Acts 2: 17-20).

But how do we discern? I appreciate the insight on the counterfeits, the general rules to consider as shared by @alison, prayer and reason that is needed as shared by @michael1 and the thoughts by @Carson from his own experience, that it wasnt something that was desired/imagined but something God initiated and confirmed later through others.

Here are a few other thoughts I have -

To beware of new doctrines
I have met people who seem to confess the core doctrines of the Christian faith, believe strongly in the Bible but have had visions that cause them to add new layers of doctrine by stretching their imagination to interpret the Bible according to their vision. If we need a vision/dream to arrive at a partcular interpretation of the Bible, then I believe its no different from the warnings to not pay heed to another gospel (Gal 1:8-9).

Pay attention to heart motivations
Though someone may verbally confess Jesus as Lord, when the focus of their teaching is such that it doesn’t leave us feeling more in love with Jesus, then I would doubt the dreams/visions shared by such individuals. They may be the ones whom the the world would go after, because it feeds the desires of this world more than the desires of the Spirit.( 1 John 4: 2-5). Submission to these revelations may bring about pride more than humility.

Dont discern based on emotions/bodily sensations
I once had a prophecy spoken over me and there was clearly something spiritual about it. I felt an intense heat from the hands laid upon me, a heavy spiritual weight come upon me as the person preached over me, and it even brought me to tears. It ended with me calling out the name of Jesus but I didn’t feel in control of myself. I couldn’t even find strength to walk back to my chair after being prayed upon. Initially I thought it was an experience from God, I still doubt it to this day. There was no confirmation by other spiritually mature Christians. It didnt leave me feeling humbled but fearful. I believe that prophecy wasnt from God and it is what Paul warned against in 2 Cor 11: 3-4. A messenger from God will always cause us to worship Jesus ( Rev 22:9). God has promised us peace not fear.

When I have had a genuine experience from God, the form in which God communicates is always unexpected, at a time and in a way that cant be conjured by me, sometimes involving more than one person. They are words that have prepared me with hope and prayer for an answer to a trial yet to come. They have taken the form of a dream, a vision, or an impression. I pay attention to the sense I am left with after a dream or vision and pray about it. I also pay attention to the spiritual convictions impressed upon my own heart before God. When the dream/vision/impression comes true and it leads to glorifying Jesus, its easy to know its from God.

Its great to be able to learn from each other’s experience and knowledge on discernment of dreams and visions.


I call this a ‘thought impression’ and have had several such. I would like to describe one such experience I had personally. I had one such ‘call’ exactly like you described - a strong inner sense, not necessarily an audible voice but a strong impression directing me to go and do something. The only extra word that I would add to your description of such an impression is ‘persistent’. My call was not just strong and compelling but it was persistent. The place I work in right now is in response to one such call. To my shame, I must admit that I was reluctant and refused to obey at first. But the call was persistent and more importantly it was repeated in various other ways through at least three unrelated people and several circumstances and through the word of God. Ultimately I came to a point that I could not refuse any more and I obeyed. This was 6 years ago. When I look back, I rejoice and am filled with immense thankfulness as I remember the faithfulness of God who honoured my tiny faltering faith and obedience. This to me, confirms that the voice was indeed God’s.

I have had dreams too and one experience which I would probably describe as a vision. The dreams that I had came in pairs, each pair based on the same theme. Another prominent dream was single but it gave me a fair warning of what I would be facing in the years ahead. In both cases, as I look back, my life unfolded just as these dreams foretold. These dreams were very vivid and life-like and during the dream it was difficult to say whether I was in a dream or not. They were so strong that 20 years later I still can remember tiny details of the dreams.

Yes, no question about that and God has not changed over the millennia. Today, one such prominent example is the way Jesus has been revealing himself in dreams and visions to people in the middle east. One person who studied this phenomenon stated that in the churches in Iran, Iraq and neighbouring countries, around 80% of those in any church will say they encountered Jesus in a dream. There is an interesting discussion about this with the popular agnostic Bart Erhmann in the link below.

Dreams are not exclusive to the people of the eastern hemisphere. Two recent examples of dreams and visions to people in the west are the compelling testimonies of Dr. James Tour, an organic chemistry scientist and Nabeel Qureshi.

So how do I know if a dream/vision/impression is from God?
Here is what I follow.

1. Non-contradiction - The revelation cannot contradict or direct you to do something that is contrary to the revealed word of God or the character of God.

2. Double-confirmation - If a dream or impression is confirmed again by someone else, especially in a context that is unrelated to your situation or when the other person is not aware of your situation, then I will pay extra attention to that revelation. Robert Clinton in his book "The making of a leader’ describes this well. If there is triple or multiple confirmation, I am all the more sure.
Joseph in Genesis had important dreams in pairs. Moses was called to go by God repeatedly.

3. Retrospective assessment - When a dream or impression or vision comes to pass and things pan out exactly as they foretold, that for me, is the strongest confirmation that it was a word from God. However, this is retrospective as I look back.
When a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the thing does not come about or come true, that is the thing which the LORD has not spoken. The prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him. Deuteronomy 18:22

There are many who go around giving a ‘word from the Lord’. I would always be super cautious with these. I would also be wary of my own dreams but at the same time, we are asked not to treat prophecies with contempt. 1 Thessalonians 5:20. It is a matter of discernment and balance which we need to grow into and learn.