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Dreams and Visions

The following is an adaptation of the sermon ‘Dreams & Visions’ preached by Pastor Mike White on Sunday, 3/2/2014, at CityLight Church. To listen to the full podcast please click here:


Dreams and Visions


“Where there is no vision, the people perish…” – Prov 29:18


Receiving revelation from God in picture form is not just a ‘good idea’: it’s necessary for our survival. Without hearing from God in picture form, we perish. We need His Word illuminated to us in order to survive. Many of us, myself included, are visual learners: vision is the dominant sense in our bodies. We’re all different. God knows this, and speaks to us in different ways. Regardless of how God speaks to you most often, I believe He wants to speak to all His children through dreams and visions.


Jesus Christ is the Son of God. He is just as much God as God Himself: the same Substance, just a different Form. Even He needed to see what God was showing Him in picture form:

Most assuredly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner. For the Father loves the Son, and shows Him all things that He Himself does; and He will show Him greater works than these, that you may marvel.

– John 5:19-20

If even Jesus Christ Himself needed His Father to show Him what He was about to do, how much more so do we (the performers of greater works, according to the verse above) need God to show us what He is willing to do through us?


Part I: Dreams


If you’re having a son and you want him to have dreams, name him Joseph! In the Old Testament, God spoke to Jacob’s son Joseph in dreams and visions (see Gen 37:6-10). In the New Testament, God does the same to a different Joseph: also the son of a man named Jacob.


The New Testament opens in a flurry of dream activity. God speaks to Joseph four times in the first two chapters of Matthew’s gospel; a fifth dream occurs when the wise men are warned not to return to Herod (Mt 2:12). This is not by accident. This opening sequence of dreams sets the tone for what we should expect in our daily lives under the New Covenant. Let’s take a look at Joseph’s dreams:


First, as Joseph ponders what exactly being the earthly father of Jesus Christ will entail, God speaks to him and confirms that he should take Mary as his wife:

But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. – Matt 1:20

Then, Joseph is warned in a second dream to flee into Egypt:

Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, “Arise, take the young Child and His mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I bring you word; for Herod will seek the young Child to destroy Him. – Matt 2:13

Next, in dream number three, Joseph is given permission to return to Israel:

But when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, “Arise, take the young Child and His mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the young Child’s life are dead.” – Matt 2:19-20

Finally, Joseph is warned to settle in the region of Galilee instead of Judea:

Then he arose, took the young Child and His mother, and came into the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea instead of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And being warned by God in a dream, he turned aside into the region of Galilee. And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, “He shall be called a Nazarene.” – Matt 2:21-23


There is so much we can take away from Joseph’s dreams. Their content reveals how we should expect God to speak to us – His children – when we hear from Him in dream form under the New Covenant.


First of all, in the New Testament context, dreams are most often easy to interpret. This was certainly not the case in the Old Testament. When Joseph speaks with Pharaoh’s baker and butler in Genesis 40, the meaning of their dreams was not easily decipherable. Yet notice what Joseph says: “Do not interpretations belong to God? Tell them to me, please” (Gen 40:8). Joseph was able to interpret the dreams because he heard from God. We are supposed to hear from God: He speaks to us because He loves us and seeks a restored relationship with us as His children. Meanings of dreams, therefore, should come to us quickly. If they don’t, it’s quite likely that God is not the source of the dream. He wouldn’t try and communicate something with us and then leave the meaning of the dream veiled.


Whenever Jesus spoke to His disciples in parable form, He always set aside time later on to explain the parable(s) to them. He knew their understanding and interpretation was imperfect, and ours will be too. However, as a people who are told to boldly approach God’s throne (Heb 4:16), it is completely legal for us ask for more understanding. When we have a dream we don’t understand, we should ask God to have His Holy Spirit interpret the dream and illuminate its’ meaning to us. If we still don’t receive an interpretation, odds are God isn’t trying to tell you anything specific through the dream.


The situation we want to avoid here is Christians having dreams, and then reading too much into them. If God is speaking to you through a dream, the interpretation will likely be 1) immediately decipherable, or 2) decipherable after praying in partnership with the Holy Spirit. If the meaning still isn’t clear, please don’t waste your time racking your brain and wondering what God’s trying to tell you that you’re missing. You might have just eaten some funny takeout the night before.


Now this isn’t always the case. There are whole courses on dream interpretation that you can take at various Christian churches and institutions. However, our expectation should be to see clearly. Living on this side of the Cross, we see in the light instead of the dark. We have already seen the fulfillment of God’s Ultimate Promise in the Person of Jesus Christ. The veil is torn (Mt 27:51), and part of the resulting benefit is complete and total clarity when it comes to the messages God wants to get to us.


Second, it’s important to notice that Joseph’s dreams inspire confidence instead of fear. There’s an easy test when you want to know if a dream is from God: does it cause anxiety and fear, or encourage confidence and boldness? ‘God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind’ (2 Tim 1:7). God wouldn’t promise us freedom from fear and then burden us with that same emotion because of our dreams. Every single one of Joseph’s dreams gave him confidence to go out and act; none of his dreams caused him to fear what was in front of him. Fear can only precede a Godly dream; confidence always follows. All of our dreams should give us confidence to go out and do 1 of 2 things: 1) act or 2) pray


You Reap What You Sow


Subject matter is important when it comes to dreams. We can only regurgitate what we ingest; this law applies just as much to our dreams as it does to our physical bodies. If I watch Keeping Up with the Kardashians (a reality show, for those of you who have been living under a rock) before I go to bed, I might have a dream about the Kardashians. That doesn’t mean God is telling me to drop everything, move to California, and try to join their family. It just means I filled my mind with something silly before I went to bed. So, if we spend our days digesting ‘worldly’ material, our nights are going to be filled with ‘worldly’ dreams.


On the other hand, if I’m doing my job and digesting as much of God’s Word as I can every single day, every single thing I think, dream and see in visions will be from God. When I pray, study the Word of God, and fellowship with Godly people all the time and make sure the majority of external stimulus in my life comes from those sources, the only thing my brain will reproduce in dream form will be Godly. We reap what we sow. Our thoughts, emotions and desires should become so intertwined with God’s Will that we can’t tell where His thoughts end and ours begin.


Effectively, adequate time spent in God’s presence can eliminate ever having to ask the question, ‘Was that from God?’ The Bible tells us that we have the mind of Christ (1 Cor 2:16). We should strive to have our thoughts become completely aligned with His Will as we seek to become more like Him. When we delight in God, He will give us the desires of our heart (Ps 37:4).


Words for the Wise


When it comes to dreams, there are a couple points of general wisdom that we should bear in mind. First, we should always be sensitive when we share our dreams. Be careful who share your dreams with. God will very rarely give you a dream so you can go out and preach it on the rooftops. That is what the specific office of the prophet is for, and why we see men like Ezekiel going into hostile foreign lands and proclaiming the Word of God. For most of us, dreams will be for private consumption. Most often God is giving us wisdom as to how we should interpret the events in our lives and apply the Word of God to a specific situation.


Joseph (Old Testament) was a man who should have kept his dreams to himself. In Gen 37:6-10, he has two dreams, and shares them with his entire family. First he offends all his brothers, and then he goes on to even offend his mother and father. Because Joseph so liberally shared his dreams, his brothers threw him into a pit and sold him as a slave. Yes, it’s true that God worked the miraculous through Joseph’s captivity and imprisonment; but we should be careful about the situations we needlessly put ourselves into when we share our great dreams with a hostile audience.


Finally, we should always pray about all our dreams. Remembering and recording dreams can be excellent tools for personal contemplation and reflection. Dreams can prepare our spirit for something that’s about to happen. They can also serve as supernatural reminders that we need to pray for a specific situation. Sometimes I’ll have a dream about someone very close to me and it’s downright scary; the purpose is not to accept the event as inevitable fate, but to have an extreme possibility illuminated to me so I can pray for the situation!


Part II: Visions


Elisha received a double portion. He picked up Elijah’s mantle and ran with it, and became one of the greatest prophets the world has ever seen. In 2 Kings 6, we see just how intimately Elisha received instruction from God. Syria is at war with Israel, and the Syrian king continues to send troops to ambush the Israelites; but Elisha always knows they’re coming. Finally, the Syrian king finds out Elisha is camped in Dothan, so he sends an army to find him:

Therefore he sent horses and chariots and a great army there, and they came by night and surrounded the city. And when the servant of the man of God arose early and went out, there was an army, surrounding the city with horses and chariots. And his servant said to him, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?” So he answered, “Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” And Elisha prayed, and said, “Lord, I pray, open his eyes that he may see.” Then the Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw. And behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.

-2 Kings 6:14-17

Elisha did not fear the oncoming army because he knew God would protect him. He fills his servant in on his secret by asking God to open his eyes. The Lord will open our eyes when we pray that prayer as well! There is always more going on around us than we can see with our own two eyes. Angels and demons are real; our prayer in every conversation and situation should be that God would show us what’s really going on by opening our spiritual eyes.


We should notice a few things about Elisha’s vision. First of all, as with Joseph’s dreams, it was easy to interpret. God was not showing Elisha and his servant some vague metaphor for horses and chariots of fire; He very simply showed them what was actually taking place in the spiritual realm around them. Second, the vision was not scary; instead of inducing fear it inspired confidence and boldness so that Elisha’s servant could act with the knowledge that God was with him. Notice again that fear precedes the vision, and confidence follows. Before seeing the vision, Elisha’s servant was afraid. After seeing the vision, we can only imagine what great confidence he had!


God will give us different types of visions. With an open vision, you see a picture in your field of vision while maintaining the ability to see what’s going on around you. With a closed vision, your field of vision is cut off, and you can only see what God is showing you. Please don’t pray for these while you’re driving.


When God speaks to me, he shows me open visions the vast majority of the time. I have had instances in premarital counseling sessions where I will pray and ask God to show me something about the couple I have just spoken to. Sometimes He will show me a picture of the future husband and wife, old and gray, still holding hands and married many years down the road. Obviously this helps me to approach the counseling session with a great deal of boldness and enthusiasm.


Before I started working at CityLight Church full time, the Lord showed me a picture of myself, working in the office with both the lead pastor and worship leader. This gave me incredible confidence when I was given the chance to start working on staff full time. Recently, God has been giving me visions of CityLight Church owning its own building and having the resources to operate full-time children’s programs. I obviously don’t take that as a sign that I should go look for a building today. However, it will give me incredible confidence to act when an opportunity presents itself, and impulse to pray until that day comes.


God can also speak with words of knowledge (1 Cor 12:8). Sometimes as a person approaches me to request prayer, I’ll see a picture of something specific happening in his or her body. I can then pray for that issue or area with boldness, knowing that the Holy Spirit is highlighting something He wants to heal.


As members of the church, we are supposed to be pursuing dreams and visions. Practice makes perfect: if we don’t ask God to show us things and practice receiving input from Him, we might miss out on pertinent information when we need it most! Old Testament prophets promised us – Christians living in the fullness of the Holy Spirit – that we would see dreams and visions:

“Then you shall know that I am in the midst of Israel: I am the Lord your God And there is no other. My people shall never be put to shame. “And it shall come to pass afterward That I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh; Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, Your old men shall dream dreams, Your young men shall see visions. And also on My menservants and on My maidservants I will pour out My Spirit in those days. – Joel 2:27-29

Dreams and visions prove that God is with us. They give us evidence of the Holy Spirit’s indwelling presence inside of us. God has promised us that we will experience them. So, what’s holding us back?


The Obstacles


Science and faith have been at odds for quite some time now. I don’t believe that science and faith contradict each other. The two subjects are not mutually exclusive. They should both work in tandem to strengthen our understanding of God. Science can answer questions of function, and theology answers questions of design: purpose for being, and reason for life.


Science has examined dreams, and the explanation goes like this: At certain points during the sleep cycle, we enter into the Rapid Eye Movement (REM) phase. In REM sleep, signals originate in an area in the base of the brain called the pons. Those signals are sent on to the thalamus (a sort of switch board), and then on to the cerebral cortex (the area of the brain responsible for learning, thinking and organizing information). Those signals – synapses firing and the brain interpreting the activity – cause dreams. But does the fact that a scientific explanation exists mean that God has nothing to do with dreams? Of course not! Let’s think about this.


Could it be that the God of the Universe controls your synapses? Of course. Could it be that your Creator, who formed you in the womb and knows your innermost parts (Ps 39:13), controls the thoughts and emotions you experience during dreams? Of course. Will He, however, control them if you don’t ask Him to? He will not. The Holy Spirit is a gentleman. The moment of salvation doesn’t happen unless you make a verbal confession and invite Jesus Christ into your life. The Holy Spirit doesn’t come to dwell inside of you if you don’t invite Him first. God won’t control your dream life if you don’t invite Him to play that role. Before Jesus died on the Cross, prophets longed for dreams and vision from God. We’re in an amazing position of privilege: a time in which we can hear from Him whenever we want to! God’s not going to hit you over the head with truth; you have to pursue it.


Doubt can also hold us back from experiencing dreams and visions. Let’s face it: we don’t like to experience what we don’t understand. The Western world is one of the few societies where we do not readily embrace the supernatural. What’s more, scary dreams can happen too! Does that mean that God is telling you your life is going to be full of doom and gloom? Of course not. Remember: sometimes I’ll have a dream about someone very close to me and it’s scary. The purpose is not to accept the event as inevitable fate. God is showing me what could happen if I don’t pray for a situation, and giving me the motivation to go out and pray for it.


I have been asked questions along the lines of, “What if I ask God to open my eyes, and I see things I don’t want to see?” I always refer those curious minds to Jesus’ commentary on receiving the Holy Spirit:

If a son asks for bread from any father among you, will he give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent instead of a fish? Or if he asks for an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!” – Luke 11:11-13

If you ask to see more of God, He’s not going to give you a counterfeit. If you ask for the Holy Spirit to fill your life, Satan can’t jump in and fill you with a demon instead. If you ask to see dreams and visions from heaven, hell can’t jump in and fill your mind with something God doesn’t want you to see.


Our focus determines our field of vision, and our field of vision determines what we see. If we want to see dreams and visions, we have to ask God to open our eyes! If you haven’t yet, pray the same prayer Elisha prayed for his servant in 2 Kings 6:17: “Open my eyes that I may see!”


Keys for Activation


If we want to experience God, we don’t have to start from scratch. We can pray the same prayers the Old Testament prophets prayed. We can also pray the same prayers Jesus Himself prayed:

Then they brought to Him one who was deaf and had an impediment in his speech, and they begged Him to put His hand on him. And He took him aside from the multitude, and put His fingers in his ears, and He spat and touched his tongue. Then, looking up to heaven, He sighed, and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” Immediately his ears were opened, and the impediment of his tongue was loosed, and he spoke plainly.

– Mark 7:32-35: 32

Even though this prayer doesn’t deal specifically vision, it’s applicable any time we need to pray for God to activate one of our spiritual senses. ‘Ephphatha’ is an Aramaic word, meaning ‘be thou opened.’ The instances in which Jesus speaks in Aramaic are particularly powerful. The fact that the word wasn’t translated means there was no better way to say what He was trying to say. This is one of those times: we are able to replicate His words in the purest form possible.


Dan 6:10 uses a derivative of the same word, ‘ephphatha,’ to describe windows opening. Dan 7:10 uses the same derivative to describe a book opening. What is Jesus telling us? We can (and should!) pray that our eyes would be opened in the same way a window – or a book – is opened!


Windows can be tricky to open from the outside of a house or an apartment, because they’re often locked. They’re designed to be opened from the inside out. So many of us see ourselves as outside the Kingdom of God, without the ability to hear from Him. We see ourselves as banging on the window trying to come in. God is saying just use the door and come inside! Jesus Christ is the door (John 10:7). He is the way, the truth and the life (John 14:6). Once you’re inside God’s house, you can open the windows whenever you want, and see everything God has in store for you.


– by Pastor Mike White


© Michael D. White and CityLight Church, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael White and CityLight Church with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.



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