February 27, 2018
Recently my husband and I taught a Sunday School class on faith. As we left the last class we both had the distinct impression that we had lead people to the very door of having a living faith walk, but we hadn’t walked them through the door. We talked about how important faith is, examples of faith and doubt, where faith comes from, and the barriers to the growth of faith. We even talked about faith being an open-handed request…a conversation with God, but we did not talk much at all about how to hear and understand the voice of God in our lives.
In the class, I described a living faith walk as an open-handed request to God. It is placing our request before God and inviting Him to shape it and mold it into His will and plan for our life. It is having a conversation with God about the things that we care deeply about and inviting Him to speak into the situation, letting Him take our very heart and mold it into a heart that desires what He wants. It is in dying to ourselves and our desires and taking up His desires, that faith is birthed and grows. It is here that we begin to please God with our faith because we trust Him to know what’s best for us.
Hebrews 11:6 – And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.
Being open-handed in our requests is difficult. It is difficult to quiet the noise of our own heart and desires to seek after God’s heart and desire. But quieting the noise is exactly what we must do. After we have presented our request to God and quieted the noise of our own hearts, we can begin to hear His heart for us and our requests.
But here is the question that I felt we didn’t answer very well in our class: How do we hear God’s heart? How do we know the voice is His? We want to follow Him. We long to know what He would have us do. “If only I could hear and understand His leading, I would follow it,” we say. Of course, it is much more complicated than just understanding God’s voice and following His leading, but the desire to know God’s voice is a good desire and where we should start.
In Acts, the apostles followed the leading of the Holy Spirit over and over. They recognized His leading in their dreams and visions. They listened to His voice. They also followed His tug on their hearts. We can follow the Holy Spirit in the same way. In the next couple weeks, I’ll explore each one of these leadings of the Holy Spirit in turn. First up is dreams and visions.
Dreams and Visions
There are several times in Acts where the apostles were lead by dreams and visions. Among the most notable is when Peter had a vision of unclean animals that God told him to kill and eat. (Acts 10:9-23) This vision prepared Peter for his ministry to the Gentiles.
Paul also had several visions including a “vision in the night” guiding him on where to go next in his ministry journey.
Acts 16:9-10 – During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.
We should not be surprised that God would speak to us in this way. After all, it is used over and over in the Bible as a way that God directly communicates with us. Joel prophesies that in the last days the Holy Spirit will communicate with us through dreams and visions.
Joel 2:28-29 – “And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days.
I’ve had both dreams and visions from God. Once, before I was married, I was singing and worshiping God while talking to Him about my desire for a family of my own when I had a vision of me with a baby. The vision was so strong and real that I could not deny it. Years later, this vision continued to give me hope through 6 years of infertility and miscarriage. God knew that I would need something concrete from Him to look back on during that time of waiting.
For me, dreams come with much more frequency than visions. I’m one of those that dreams nightly. Often I will wake up remembering a dream, but it will quickly fade. There have been a few instances where the dream will persist and, after prayer, I will know that it is a message from God.
If you feel that God is wanting to speak to you in dreams, there are a few things that I would suggest…
1) Hold all dreams up to the Word of God. If it does not line up with God’s Word, it is not from Him. Dreams can be tricky things and it takes discernment to see what is just the natural brain processing events and what is a message from God.
2) Talk to a trusted person about your dream. Often the message in a dream becomes clearer when you articulate it to someone who has experience in this area. But a word of caution…make sure the person you trust to help you understand dreams has a pure and genuine relationship with God. Above all, bathe any conversation you have about your dreams with prayer and ask God to reveal what He is wanting to say to you. If He is desiring to speak to you in dreams, He wants the interpretation to be from Him as much as you do.
3) Begin to keep a dream journal. As you write down what you’ve seen and experienced in dreams, the messages God wants to show you from the dreams will become clearer. I’ve also found in the short times that I’ve kept dream journals, my dreams become more frequent and it becomes easier to interpret them.
As I was researching the information for this post, I read through some other articles about dreams and visions from God. Most of the articles I read had a very skeptical or conservative tone. Although none of them said that God would not speak in dreams and visions, many warned that it is rare and not a method that God uses often. I must admit that even though I have had visions and dreams from God, I tend to be on the more skeptical side of visions and dreams…holding each instance out as perhaps being from God until I can confirm that it is from Him. So, to those of us that are skeptical of God leading and speaking in this way, here is what I’ve discovered.
The Bible tells about people of God receiving visions and dreams from Him in the first book of the Bible, the last book of the Bible, and many books in between. God used visions and dreams to speak to His people in the Old Testament, before the coming of Jesus. He also used visions and dreams to prepare for the coming of Jesus. Zachariah received a vision and Joseph a dream to help prepare them for the coming Christ. God also spoke to people in visions and dreams after Jesus ascended to heaven and the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost. Visions and dreams are not described as an abnormal or uncommon in the Bible. Instead, the Bible portrays them as one of the ways that God communicates with us. Scripture does not say that the times of visions and prophesies has or will come to an end. Instead, as the verse in Joel above seems to indicate, visions and dreams will continue to increase.
We should be open to God speaking to us in visions and dreams. As with all types of communication with God, once we are open, God can and often does begin to communicate with us in that way. Many times communication with God can be like learning a new language. This is definitely true in learning how to listen to God in visions and dreams. Allow this to become an area of conversation with God, another place of open-handed request before Him.
As you begin the conversation with God about visions and dreams, keep in mind that it is wise to test what you receive to make sure it is from Him. Often the enemy will try to counterfeit what is from God to lead us astray. This is definitely true in the area of dreams and interpretations. We can test our dreams and visions by holding them up to the Word of God to make sure they line up with scripture. Scripture is the ultimate authority and anything against scripture cannot be from God. The following verses are for testing prophesies and spirits, but they can be applied to dreams and visions as well.
1 Thessalonians 5:19-22 – Do not quench the Spirit. Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all; hold on to what is good, reject every kind of evil.
1 John 4:1-3 – Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.
The takeaways from these verses show that we should not limit God by quenching the Spirit. Instead we should test what we receive, rejecting what is not from Him, but holding on to what is. We should test what we receive against the Word of God, specifically against the knowledge that Jesus is God in the flesh.
God wants us to be in communion and conversation with Him. Dreams and visions are another avenue for allowing that conversation to continue. Has God used dreams or visions to speak to you in the past? Is there a dream or vision that you’ve had recently that you are unsure is from God or what it might mean? As you process your dreams and visions with God, I would suggest asking God the following questions…
- Is this from You, God?
- What do you want me to do with this dream/vision?
- Ask God what specific parts of the dream/vision represent.
- Ask God if the dream/vision is a warning, direction, confirmation, encouragement, or a promise.
In everything you ask God, listen to His voice in response. Remember, He wants the dialog just as much or more than you do.