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Prophetic dreams: What do they mean and how to identify them

Kendall Laughlin
Courtesy of Kendall Laughlin

Recently, a pastor at our church had a dream.

In the dream, he was waiting in a doctor’s exam room. Suddenly, a doctor appeared. The doctor ran up to a glass screen and slammed his hands upon it. After the dream, the pastor awoke with a mild headache.

The dream seemed ominous, so to respond our pastor reached out to his doctor. At this point he learned some alarming news — he had a brain aneurysm. Thankfully, the aneurysm is operable.

The dream seemed to be a warning from God.

Many Christians will be familiar with the idea that, in the Bible, God spoke to people through dreams. The Bible recounts at least 20 dreams in full. Dreams, and especially dreams from God, seem inseparable from the story of Scripture.

Although some today dismiss the idea of God speaking to us through dreams outright, I find that most people have wondered if their dreams might be from God.

God’s distinctive voice

For a moment, think of a distinctive voice in your life — the voice of a spouse, parent or close friend. It is easy to distinguish the recognizable voice of a loved one.

Scientists now study this phenomenon of the recognizable voice. Remarkably, the human ear has an even higher success rate than artificial intelligence at identifying familiar voices. Ninety-nine percent of the time, two words are enough for someone in an intimate relationship to recognize the voice of a close friend or relative. Two words!

God desires is for you to distinguish His voice with the same amount of clarity. It is possible to know that you are receiving guidance from God. Hearing from God is the birthright of every Christian! The Bible says this: “He who belongs to God hears what God says” (John 8:48).

When a dream is from God

It is essential to separate and discern divine guidance in dreams from other types of dreams. In my recent book, The Dream Map, I seek to do just that as readers learn about the differences between dreams of the body (some people called them “pizza dreams”), psychological dreams and spiritual dreams.

Spiritual dreams have a different quality than other dreams. They seem to impact the heart uniquely. Spiritual dreams also have irregularities. For example, biologically, one should not be able to read text in a dream ... and yet many people do.

Here is a list of Biblical truths I see about dreams given to men and women by God:

  • Dreams from God linger: Dreams from God linger and may even bother the dreamer until they are interpreted. I often hear the phrase from people, “I never remember my dreams but I had a dream that I think may be from God,” or This dream felt different.” Dreams from God have a certain, intangible spiritual quality. Dr. David Benner writes that the “vividness of these dreams often lasts a lifetime.”
  • Dreams from God may have a divine messenger: Scriptural dreams often record a divine messenger sent to the dreamer for a purpose. If someone in a dream gives advice, counsel, a gift, or help, that guidance may be from God.
  • Dreams from God may have overt Scriptural themes or language: The presence of an obvious Scriptural theme or symbol indicates a dream is from God. Scripture will always confirm what God is saying to us.
  • Dreams from God may cause you to wake up in the presence of God: I think of Paul, who awoke to “feel the Lord standing by him” (Acts 23:11). Many people report waking up with a sense of peace, excitement, or awe after a dream from God.
  • Dreams from God will have predictions that come to pass: In Deuteronomy 18 we learn that true prophets will have predictions and dreams that come to pass. If your dream predicts a personal or world event, and that event comes to pass, there is a high probability the dream has a divine message.
  • Dreams from God pass the P.E.A.C.E. test: Even in tough circumstances, God’s people are promised to be led forth in peace (Isaiah 55:12). Peace is the indicator that we are receiving divine guidance from God, especially if peace is present in a situation that otherwise should not be peaceful!

I use the acronym P.E.A.C.E. to describe what God’s voice sounds like to me.

Point us to Jesus (Revelation 19:11).
Encourage us with faith, hope and love (1 Corinthians 13-14).
Agree with the Scriptures (John 10:35).
Confirmed by Community (1 Corinthians 14:29).
Empowers Life Change (Romans 12:1-2).

The Billy Graham Association writes: “God may communicate through dreams or visions even today, but we need to carefully check any such guidance we receive with Scripture and godly counsel to be sure it is from the Lord.”

Although there will always be charlatans and fakes that claim divine relation for personal gain, we must not discount the beauty of God speaking in dreams. Many leaders in Church history and in Scripture experienced direction from God in dreams. St. Patrick of Ireland, Martin Luther, Harriet Tubman, John Newton and Thomas Aquinas all experienced divine dreams.

I hope that you and your spiritual community will realize the power and purpose of dreams from God in your life. Today we live in the promise of Acts 2:

“And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams."

To learn more about interpreting and growing in spiritual dreams, check out The Dream Map.

Kendall is involved in the leadership of All Peoples Church, part of the Antioch International Movement of Churches. He lives in San Diego, CA with his family and is an author, pastor, and coach. Visit his website, kaljr.com, to learn more about his upcoming book, "The Dream Map," available on Amazon this August.

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