Nightmares: Distressing or Directional?
“Indeed God speaks once, or twice, yet no one notices it. In a dream, a vision of the night, when sound sleep falls on men while they slumber in their beds, then He opens the ears of men and seals their instruction, that He may turn man aside from his conduct, and keep man from pride; He keeps back his soul from the pit and his life from passing over into Sheol.… Behold, God does all these oftentimes with men, to bring back his soul from the pit, that he may be enlightened with the light of life.”
(Job 33:14-18; 29-30)
At times God has repeatedly warned me that something is dangerous, but I’ve been a little rebellious and didn’t believe Him. I think, I’ve got this. I decide that maybe I can actually play with fire and not get burned. So even though God keeps telling me, “Hey, don’t spend too much time getting involved with this person. This path leads where you don’t want to go!” somehow in my pride and selfishness I think I know better and that I might be able to handle it just this one time.
In addition to many spoken warnings during the day, God also gives me picture warnings at night through my dreams. Dreams are much harder for me to ignore, escape, or deny—especially intense dreams, like nightmares. Can God speak through them? Sure He can. God will give me the same message: “Hey, danger. Watch out.” But the difference is, I’m living it. I am not just hearing Him say, “Going any farther down this road will lead to trouble and pain.” Instead, I’m dreaming it. I am actually going down that road—or in my case, it was a river.
In my dream, I’m being carried quickly down a violent river. I was not in a raft; I was all by myself, and I was being tossed about the whitewater from rapid to rapid. I was totally out of control and could do nothing about it. It was scary and dangerous, and I was terrified. My heart was pounding; my hands were shaking, and I knew it was going to end very badly.
I wake up. God says, “See, told you.” I’m clearly distraught, and He calmly explains, “Well, if you would have listened to Me the first ten times I told you in waking life, I wouldn’t have had to scream it in your heart at night.” Point taken.
Dreams are pictures that we live. We feel them. We can’t tell the difference between something we are dreaming and something that happens in waking life. That is why we sometimes wake up with sweaty palms and racing hearts. For all our bodies know, we really did just live that experience.
Not only are our physical bodies influenced by dreams; our emotions are also fully engaged. God can even fast-forward and let us experience during our night visions the future consequences of the path we’re considering taking. He does this as a blessing for us, to help make the message palpable so that we don’t miss it and disobey. He wants us to get on His best path and stay on it, following His perfect plans.
Pictures evoke emotion, and emotion moves us to action. Experiencing emotion is an extraordinary benefit of dreams, and we should always be mindful of the feelings we have in them. Dreams exaggerate to get our attention. They will also reoccur if we ignore their messages to us.
Face the Fear
Another reason we may experience nightmares is because they are the cry of an unhealed heart asking us to apply the prayer ministries of inner healing and deliverance to the areas of need within us.
The next example illustrates this and comes from one of our Christian Leadership University students who took the online course, “Wisdom Through Dream Interpretation.” Karyn Pearson shares a disturbing night vision along with the powerful message God gave her through it.
PRE-MINISTRY DREAM: “I had a frightening reoccurring dream for over thirty years. The dream was always about me running and hiding from a man. Sometimes it would be someone else who was running and trying to hide; however, by the time I woke up, the person running would have morphed into me.”
SETTING: “The dream changed for me after receiving prayer in waking life during a revival meeting at my church. The Lord ministered to me powerfully, and upon leaving the church, I knew I had been delivered from a spirit but didn’t know which one—until my dream that night.”
POST-MINISTRY DREAM: “It started out the same way with someone chasing me; however, this time I turned around to face him and pointed to him, saying, ‘No! I rebuke you in the name of Jesus.’ I have not had that dream since!”
EMOTION: “Intense fear”
INTERPRETATION: “The dream was revealing the scream of my heart. I grew up in an alcoholic home with lots of fighting and violence. My father would physically beat my mother while he screamed at her. The Lord showed me that when the beatings would start, I would run for cover to get away from him. This traumatic time opened a door in my life to the spirit of fear, which was often played out in this nightmare. However, after the Lord delivered me from fear the dreams completely stopped!”
Job Was Right
Praise God for His revelation through our dreams – even the “bad” ones. We want to remember that just because a dream is frightening doesn’t mean it’s not from God. When the Lord established His covenant with Abram, the Bible says that as deep sleep came upon the patriarch, “terror and great darkness fell upon him” as well (Gen. 15:12). Likewise, when Jacob awoke from his dream of the heavenly ladder, he, too, was afraid (see Gen. 28:17). Obviously those dream encounters, scary as they may have been, were most certainly from God.
Job was right: While we are asleep in our beds God opens our ears and instructs us through our dreams at night to turn us back from the pit of destruction and to enlighten us with the light of life.
Want to learn more?
For more on how God can speak to us even through nightmares check out our dream book, Chapter 10 on The Blessing of Nightmares & Other Surprising Revelations, as well as the corresponding video teaching session, Why All Bad Dreams Aren’t.