What are dreams? Do dreams mean anything?
There are three popular ways of thinking about dreams.
1. Some people think they're caused by random impulses in your brain and that they don't mean anything. They don't even make sense.
2. The other extreme is that every dream has some deep meaning and that you can interpret each dream to gain insight into what your subconscious is telling you.
3. In the middle is the idea that at least some dreams are your mind's way of processing stress or what you were thinking about that day.
According the Bible…
We don't talk much about dreams in most churches, but let's talk about what the Bible says about dreams and why we have them.
1. First, the Bible tells us about a number of times when God sent someone a dream, from Joseph in the Old Testament to Joseph in the New Testament, from Pharaoh to the Magi.
God communicated with people in dreams to give them instructions or reveal something to them about the future.
So, why do we dream? The first answer is that God uses them to communicate with us.
2. Ecclesiastes 5:3:
A dream comes when there are many cares, and many words mark the speech of a fool.
What causes dreams according to this verse?
The cares of life. Stress. Whatever you were thinking about that day. These aren't messages from God or anything to act on. Solomon goes on to say in Ecclesiastes 5:7, "Much dreaming and many words are meaningless. Therefore fear God."
I don't think he's saying the dreams don't have a meaning in that they're nonsense. They have a cause, and you can interpret them to be your mind's way of dealing with "many cares."
He's saying they're meaningless in the sense that they're not like the dreams that come from God. They're not instructions or visions of what will happen in the future. They don't amount to much, just like a bunch of hot air or someone talking all the time doesn't amount to much. We need to base our lives on God's instructions to us, not the things we dream.
In the very same way, on the strength of their dreams these ungodly people pollute their own bodies, reject authority and heap abuse on celestial beings.
Apparently, some people in the days of the early Church were taking their dreams to be the inspiration for doing sinful things instead of fearing God and living by what He said.
3. Isaiah 29:8:
as when a hungry person dreams of eating, but awakens hungry still; as when a thirsty person dreams of drinking, but awakens faint and thirsty still.
What causes a person to dream in this verse?
Their desires. If someone is hungry or thirsty, they'll dream about eating or drinking.
What if someone desires something that is sinful? Will they dream about it?
I know I've dreamed about doing something I shouldn't do, whether it be sexual or committing some act of violence or indulging in some other immoral behavior. My wife says that she often dreams about eating to the point of gluttony. How do we handle that? What does God think of us dreaming about sinful things?
For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what defile a person…
God says the evil thoughts that come out of our hearts defile us. It's not simply evil deeds that defile us. It's the thought itself. And that makes sense, right? We can't imagine Jesus having sinful thoughts and sinful dreams. Those twisted ways of thinking are a result of our sinfulness. Our sinful heart produces sinful thoughts. If we act on our sinful thoughts, we commit sinful deeds. But it's all sin at every level. God cares about our thoughts.
The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled.
God cared so much about the state of people's hearts and what they were thinking about that He flooded the earth.
But someone could argue that they can't control what they're thinking about when they're asleep. Does that mean God doesn't hold their sinful dreams against them?
If anyone sins and does what is forbidden in any of the Lord’s commands, even though they do not know it, they are guilty and will be held responsible. They are to bring to the priest as a guilt offering a ram from the flock, one without defect and of the proper value. In this way the priest will make atonement for them for the wrong they have committed unintentionally, and they will be forgiven. It is a guilt offering; they have been guilty of wrongdoing against the Lord.
Negative Emotional Dreams
There are other times I dream not about something sinful but something that causes a negative emotion in me. Maybe it's of me falling or being chased or even dying. Maybe it's of me being afraid of someone or being verbally abused by someone.
Fear, anxiety, and hurt are not emotions that God wants me to feel, so how do I deal with those dreams? Is there a way I can prevent them?
Training Our Minds
If God doesn't want us to have sinful thoughts, even in our dreams, and He doesn't want us to be victimized by thoughts we have of fear or worry or grief, etc., what can we do to control our dreaming mind and prevent ourselves from having dreams that aren't pleasing to God and aren't good for us?
Refer back to Leviticus 5:17-19. If we have a sinful thought in our dream, when we wake up, we should pray for forgiveness. We have sinned in our thoughts and need to be forgiven for the sin we committed unintentionally.
So, first, we pray about it. And we don't need to pray only when we have a sinful dream. We can also take our fear and our anxieties to God in prayer and ask Him to help us to overcome whatever is causing those emotions.
2. Continue to Transform Our Thinking
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
As we continue to grow and mature in our thinking in our waking life, our dreaming mind will follow suit. God will continue to change our hearts so that even when our guard is down when we're sleeping, our natural thoughts won't be sinful or fearful but pure and holy.
The Bible says we have dreams for three reasons:
- God communicates through dreams.
- The cares of life continue into our sleeping mind and cause us to dream about them.
- We dream about what we desire.
God does care about what we dream because He cares about what we think. He cares about the thoughts of our hearts.
We can control our dreams by praying about them and continuing to allow God to transform our thinking.
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Find more surprising answers to interesting questions on my Theology 101 page!