How to Discern If a Vision or Dream Is from God
“Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world. Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world.” (1 John 4:1-3)
Jesus warned, "Many will say to me on that day: ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out devils in your name, and work many miracles in your name? And then I will tell them: I never knew you. Depart from me you workers of iniquity.’"
It can be dangerous to focus one's spiritual life on dreams and visions, hoping for special revelations.
All dreams and visions are subject to the test of the Word. Any revelation through a dream or a vision, or a word of prophecy—no matter how spectacular or supernatural-- outside of the Word of God must be judged. We are commanded in the Bible to test the spirits.
Dreams and visions are certainly to be expected in the Spirit-filled life of all believers, according to Acts 2:17. They are the methods that God has used frequently to speak to people throughout the ages. Secular humanism has conditioned us to treat as suspect knowledge that does not originate from the five senses. Yet picture language in the Bible is the language of the Spirit.
Perhaps you have experienced a dream or a vision and wonder if it was truly “from God” or perhaps from a “jinn” (a spirit of questionable origin), or perhaps it was merely a result of your thought patterns during the day.
Perhaps you have experienced a recurring dream. If you determine that the source of the dream or vision was from the Spirit of God, you will be very wise to take heed to the message and to obey it. If the dream or vision, on the other hand, is the result of a “familiar spirit—“i.e., a demonic spirit that is “familiar” with your life and circumstances — then you must resist the dream or vision and cancel its troubling effects through prayer. The Bible gives a strong warning against dabbling in the occult, which can result in a person being visited by and tormented by familiar spirits:
“And when they shall say unto you, Seek unto them that have familiar spirits, and unto wizards that peep, and that mutter: should not a people seek unto their God? for the living to the dead? To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.” (Isaiah 8:19-20)
Certain patterns emerged in the various incidences reported in this volume. Many persons over the course of time have experienced the same dreams and visions about Jesus more than once. There is a principle set down in the Bible, mentioned in the book of Genesis by the dreamer Joseph, who was endowed with the gift of dream interpretation, that if a dream comes from God it could be repeated more than once. When the Egyptian Pharaoh dreamed about forthcoming famine, the message from God was repeated in two different dream parables, because the future event was “established by God” and would shortly come to pass. (Genesis 41:32)
So recurring dreams, especially about the Lord, can be highly significant-- don’t ignore them! Seek God and pray it through. A dream that originates from God will leave you with a deep feeling of peace and purpose; it will leave an indelible impression upon your spirit that will not go away but will grow.
Ever since the author was a teenager, I have experienced awesome dreams of the Second Coming of Jesus. I have seen Him descending in the clouds with great glory and authority. These dreams have strengthened my faith in Jesus as the Risen Lord and Coming King. I have never doubted that these dreams originated from a heavenly source, because the Bible confirms the truth of the Second Coming. In fact, the doctrine of the Second Coming of Jesus is one of the greatest historic and orthodox doctrines of the Church.
Nightmares, on the other hand, can be demonic and must be resisted and stopped by prayer. You must actively refuse to accept disturbing interruptions of peaceful sleep by demonic invasion! I related earlier in this book about a young man who was tormented by a recurring nightmare. When we prayed in the Name of Jesus and took authority over the demonic attack, the nightmares stopped immediately.
The Blood of Jesus is a powerful spiritual weapon that never fails to protect. Before going to sleep at night, commit your body, soul and spirit to the Lord and ask that only He communicate with you. Draw the “bloodline” of the protection of Jesus, and do not allow demonic influences to disturb your sleep. Learn to use the authority of the Name of Jesus to command all disturbances to leave you at once. When my husband and I were staying with our young boys many years ago in a Cypriot hotel room, one night a demonic presence came into the room. My husband sat up in bed and demanded the presence to leave immediately in the Name of Jesus, and the door banged shut! Since then we have learned to cleanse our hotel rooms spiritually through prayer and the Name of Jesus.
In childhood, we often experience a fine line between reality and the realm of our imaginations. We must also take into account the possibility of an overactive imagination in some persons, even adults. The human personality can be very susceptible to imaginations. Even hallucinations can be the result of abstinence and weakness through fasting. Some persons have used their imaginations to invent stories. About 10 years ago, a former nun visited Jerusalem and claimed to have met with a rabbi who gave her many “revelations” which tickled the ears of many believers. Even though at the time the incident was reported as fact, I felt in my spirit that her stories were not true. Now she is claiming that the events were not actually real, but visionary.
In “Private Revelations and Discernment of Spirits,” Catholic priest William G. Most reminds us that the Devil may give false visions or revelations, as was the well documented case of “Magdalen of the Cross.” She was a Spanish Franciscan nun who lived at the beginning of the sixteenth century, who faked the stigmata of the wounds of Jesus and who managed to persuade others that she lived without food while procuring it for herself secretly. She had entered into a pact with the devil in order to gain fame as a saint.
Furthermore, Most says, “During the great Western Schism at end of 14th century, there were many [devout] men who had false revelations, and even thought they would be the pope. At fifth Lateran Council in 1516 Leo X published an order prohibiting preachers from giving public prophecies. There were many during the French Revolution, clear and in detail on the past, vague on the future. . . .
“ . . . .Some say that Mary of Agreda was an ignorant girl. But she could read, knew the Bible well, and Cardinal Gotti showed several of her revelations were borrowed from a 15th century book, The Raptures of Blessed Amadeus. And she admits the help of theologians. Yet she said, in exaggeration: ‘No human mind could have imagined this work’ (III, # 789).
“. . .We need to watch out for the work of satan--he may really promote good things for a while, provided that in the long run he gains. The revelations of Necedah, Wi. seemed to have good fruits, yet were false. Rosaries were said to change to gold. . . .
“ . . . Humility is a major key. Satan has the greatest horror of it. Yet Satan can lead a person to false humility. Pride shows in contempt for others, in an independent spirit in obstinacy in opinions, in refusal to submit to examinations . . .. It shows too in desiring to publish the graces the person thinks he has received--when it is not necessary. Humility leads to wanting to hide them, except in cases of real usefulness.”
Smith Wigglesworth and the Devil
English Evangelist Smith Wigglesworth was fearless as he prayed for the sick and performed apostolic exploits for the Lord. Wigglesworth’s grandson, Leslie, personally related an incident to me. One night Smith Wigglesworth was sleeping in a draughty room during a thunderstorm. The windows rattled, the lights flickered, and suddenly Wigglesworth saw a vision of Satan himself standing at the foot of his bed! But Wigglesworth was not in the least bit disturbed. Because he possessed such a revelation of personal safety under the watch-care of the Good Shepherd, and because he understood the power of the Name of Jesus, Wigglesworth just dismissed the devil. He said, “Oh, it’s only you!” He turned over in his bed and fell into a deep slumber!
We must underline the Biblical principle that God seals our instructions often when we are fully surrendered in deep sleep. A dream is ordinarily not God’s primary way of speaking to us—He may first speak to us through His Word and through His still small voice. But often because we are dull of hearing, or simply because we are not listening, or because we perhaps do not have access to the Word of God, the Lord in His love and mercy, employs the means of speaking to our spirits, which are alive and never sleep, through dreams, night visions or “similitudes” (mental pictures, images).
“In a dream, and in slumberings upon the bed--” God has stated methods of opening the ears of men, and “sealing their instructions.” We learn this very salient point from Job 33:15-16. Thus through dreams and night visions, the Lord God admonishes men by their consciences, in secret whispers, which any man or woman of wisdom will hear and heed.
On the other hand, most of our dreams are merely colored by the events of our daily lives. According to Ecclesiastes 5: 7, it is important to note that some dreams are simply the result of various vanities: “For in the multitude of dreams and many words there are also divers vanities: but fear thou God.”
Job 33:14-23 is an important passage of Scripture to understand how and why God speaks to us in dreams:
“For God speaketh once, yea twice, yet man perceiveth it not. In a dream, in a vision of the night, when deep sleep falleth upon men, in slumberings upon the bed; Then he openeth the ears of men, and sealeth their instruction, That he may withdraw man from his purpose, and hide pride from man. He keepeth back his soul from the pit, and his life from perishing by the sword. He is chastened also with pain upon his bed, and the multitude of his bones with strong pain: So that his life abhorreth bread, and his soul dainty meat. His flesh is consumed away, that it cannot be seen; and his bones that were not seen stick out. Yea, his soul draweth near unto the grave, and his life to the destroyers. If there be a messenger with him, an interpreter, one among a thousand, to shew unto man his uprightness. . . .”
In the above passage, we see that God graciously and mercifully speaks again and again to us in dreams, in visions of the night when deep sleep falls, during what the scientists call REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. God opens our ears in times like that and imparts to us wisdom and instruction, causing us to “wake up” and to change our minds, restraining us therefore from the dangerous sin of pride, and warning us of the penalties of sin, or preventing us from falling into a tragic trap.
God’s methods have not changed, for he says, “I am the LORD. I change not.” (Malachi 3: 6) In the above Job passage, we learn that all people dream and are thus susceptible to receiving letter pictures from God. Some people tell me that they never dream. They are simply not remembering their dreams, because scientists inform us that all people dream every night. However, dreams that originate from us or from a distraught day or from indigestion will not be long remembered. A supernatural dream, on the other hand, will be remembered. Some we will remember all of our lives because of the impact of God-sent dreams.
Furthermore, we learn from this passage of Scripture in the Book of Job that God allows sickness and pain, so that we may lose our appetites and even perhaps become so ill that we are reduced to mere skin and bones as we draw near to the gates of death. This in turn causes us to seek the Lord and to develop a prayer life. And if an interpreter of dreams, who is a rare commodity, can be found, to show us what is right, then our chastened bodies will become as healthy as a child's, firm and youthful again. Yes, God often does these things for man-- brings back his soul from the Pit, so that he may live.
So a dream comes once, twice, to deliver us from our own destructive ways.
Whenever God outpours his Spirit, dreams and visions become a part of the move of God, but these phenomena are especially a Last Days characteristic according to the prophecies in Joel 2: 28 and Acts 2: 17: "And afterwards, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and your daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions."
True Biblical dreams and visions are therefore often the result of the gracious outpouring of the Holy Spirit and are part of every move of God. The enemy will always counterfeit the genuine moves of God, but that does not change the fact that God will deign to use and speak through visions and dreams. It is our duty not to resist the gracious Spirit of God when he deals with us privately through these means.
Today there is an insatiable interest in the supernatural, in angels, apparitions, demons, physic hotlines, the occult and the paranormal, prophecies, astrology, mediums, UFOs, “holy” men, fakirs, spiritual “channels,” etc.
Pray for Gift of Discerning of Spirits
There is, therefore, much delusion in the world today. People believe there are many paths to God outside of the Way and The Door, Jesus the Messiah. They believe that if their good actions outweigh their bad, they will somehow earn the right to enter the portals of Heaven. Even some of the most vile and wicked persons delude themselves because of “pop theology,” believing that they are protected by guardian angels, or that they will somehow slip into Heaven through a back door when they die. But the New Testament teaches that angels are “ministering spirits” unto “the heirs of salvation” (Hebrews 1: 14), those who trust completely in the Atonement of Jesus the Messiah. “There is a way that seemeth right unto man, but the end thereof are the ways death.” (Proverbs 16: 25)
Much of the supernatural concerning angels depicted in the media is not of a Biblical origin, but the proliferation of the paranormal does underscore the great hunger that exists in the world for the supernatural. This is why we must also hunger and thirst for the gift of the discerning of spirits to be able to detect accurately what phenomena are godly, what is simply an outcome of the natural world, and what originates from the demonic realm. The gift of the discerning of spirits—i.e., what kind of spirit is communicating with you or dominates a person—is listed in the New Testament as an enablement of the Holy Spirit. All believers should earnestly covet these spiritual gifts from God:
“But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal. For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; To another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit; To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues. . . . “ (1 Corinthians 12:7-10)
The Lord established communication principles in the Torah, stating some of the ways that He would make himself known to mankind:
“And he said, Hear now my words: If there be a prophet among you, I the LORD will make myself known unto him in a vision, and will speak unto him in a dream. My servant Moses is not so, who is faithful in all mine house. With him will I speak mouth to mouth, even apparently, and not in dark speeches; and the similitude of the LORD shall he behold. . . .” (Numbers 12:6-8)
Before sin entered the world, divine guidance through dreams and visions was not necessary. Adam and Eve enjoyed perfect and intimate communication with God so that there was no need for “dark speech,” similitudes, dreams and visions. However, when man was alienated from God through his fall into sin, the Lord in his mercy reached out and spoke to mankind by anointing and sending prophets, by commissioning his written Word and by speaking through the gifts of the Spirit, including dreams and visions.
God says he will not always speak to us face to face. In the above passage, God explains that he will make his will known and seal the instructions of many who are destined to become his messengers, his “preachers.” By noting that he favored Moses by speaking “mouth to mouth,” i.e., “face to face,” he also revealed that with others who do not hear Him so clearly, he will speak with “dark sayings” and similitudes. Why? These mental images, parables in picture, puzzlements, are meant to “bait” us, in a sense, to entice us to seek more intensely after the Lord in fervent prayer. These “dark sayings” are almost like qualifying tests to see how hungry we are to hear more from the Lord. Unspiritual casual souls will not seek the Lord further in prayer and will not press through to gain additional clarifying insights from the Lord. Thus they eliminate themselves from much fruitfulness and opportunity in the Lord’s service. In the Old Testament the prophet Daniel experienced many visions but he diligently sought the Lord through prayer and fasting for the interpretations. God may give you a vision but he may also require you to seek for the meaning. If we will faithfully pray and fast if necessary, the faithful Lord will grant us light.
Many times the Lord will speak in a dream to avert disaster; we must not ignore these communications. Even our subconscious will speak to us in a dream if we are about to embark on a decision with which our spirit man or the Holy Spirit do not agree. A person who has made a wrong decision in an engagement to be married, for example, or in a career move, may receive a disturbing dream as a warning, which he or she must not ignore.
When we discern that a vision or dream originates from God, it is vitally important that we, like the Apostle Paul, obey our heavenly vision. Summoned to make an answer for himself before King Agrippa, Paul gave this testimony concerning his commission from Jesus to preach the Gospel:
“. . .I heard a voice speaking unto me, and saying in the Hebrew tongue, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks. And I said, Who art thou, Lord? And he said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest. But rise, and stand upon thy feet: for I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee; Delivering thee from the people, and from the Gentiles, unto whom now I send thee, to open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me. Whereupon, O king Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision.” (Acts 26:14-19)
Some people say they were shown in a vision to preach in Africa or elsewhere, but they are uncertain if it was God or Satan speaking to them. But does Satan ever call anybody to preach the Gospel and to minister to the lost? The devil hates the Gospel! Note that in the above vision, the Lord and Paul conversed with one another. It was a “two way street” of communication on the Damascus Road. Also in the vision Jesus informed Paul that He would appear unto him again to give further instructions. Therefore we can count on the Lord’s guidance as often as it is needed.
The following passage from Habakkuk 2: 1-3 contains some of the most important and insightful verses in the Bible concerning the reception and outworking of heavenly visions:
“I will stand upon my watch, and set me upon the tower, and will watch to see what he will say unto me, and what I shall answer when I am reproved. And the LORD answered me, and said, Write the vision, and make it plain upon tables, that he may run that readeth it. For the vision is yet for an appointed time, but at the end it shall speak, and not lie: though it tarry, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry.”
From the above verses, we learn that, as we watch and pray, we will “see” something as the Lord speaks to us during a time of exhortation and reproving. We learn that whatever vision or dream the Lord grants should be recorded plainly and that all visions from the Lord will come to pass at His appointed time without disappointments or delay. Let God fulfill every vision in its time!
God Cherishes His Own Dreams About You!
A precious Biblical truth is that God himself envisions and cherishes dreams for our lives! The Psalmist proclaimed that while we were just beginning in our mothers’ wombs, “Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being unperfect; and in thy book all my members were written . . . .How precious also are thy thoughts unto me, O God!” (Psalm 139:16-17)
And in the following verse, the Lord revealed that he envisions special plans for every life:
“For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the LORD, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you an expected end. Then shall ye call upon me, and ye shall go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you. And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29: 11-13)
Therefore, we must petition the Lord to open our eyes to behold the special visions and dreams that He has preordained for our lives. Like the prophet Habakkuk, let’s start to look “to SEE what God will SAY to us!”
Steps to Recall Your Visions and Dreams
1. Before retiring to bed or finishing a prayer time, ask the Lord to sanctify your time of sleep and to commune with your soul and spirit in the night watches.
2. As an act of your will, command yourself to remember your dream or anything else the Lord shows you. This is an act of faith that will send a signal to your spirit to stay alert.
3. Keep a journal of every prophetic word, impression, vision or dream that you receive from the Lord. Even though you assume at the time that you will remember all the details of even spectacular visions and dreams, chances are you will not recall everything. That is why it is important to record the details immediately so nothing will be lost. When attempting to recall an important dream or vision, close your eyes and review every scene and impression before recording the details.
What Should Be Your Response?
After you have determined that the source of your dream or vision is divine, pray for the proper understanding and interpretation, as well as the timing of your response. Petition the Holy Spirit to help you with the interpretation. Seek the counsel of more mature, godly believers.
If you believe Jesus has been communicating with you, pray for courage to respond in faith to the dream or vision. If He is calling you to follow Him, please note the following strong words of our Lord in Luke 14:26-28 concerning the cost of discipleship: “If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it?” In these words Jesus is not demanding that we must literally hate our families, but rather He used an idiomatic expression of preference—meaning that we must prefer Him above all earthly persons and relationships.