Seaborn Hall, May 8, 2017, update 5/09/18
One of the most needed qualities, traits, or functions in our contemporary culture today is discernment.
One dictionary defines it merely as “good taste and judgment.” Another is better: “The act or process of exhibiting keen insight and good judgment.” But the definition of discern takes us closer to what we’re looking for: “to see something that is not very clear or obvious,” or “to be able to tell the difference between two or more things.”
Let me modify that last definition to this – “To discern is to be able to tell the difference between two or more things, especially between good or evil, or between better and best.”
What Is The Source Of Dreams?
Over the last 25+ years I have heard three primary statements about discerning the source of dreams:
1) A Vineyard pastor told me early on that all dreams were from God – he was wrong.
2) Many years ago, through John Paul Jackson’s ministry, I learned that color dreams were from God and that other dreams – black/white or gray scale dreams – may be soulish or demonic in nature. This has seemed to bear good fruit in my life. Additionally, this ministry categorizes dreams in multiple ways, including soulish dreams and false dreams.
John Paul also indicated that even color dreams can convey meaning about our souls, or about false motives. In this case, colors take on their soulish meanings rather than divine ones (see Stream’s Ministry Dream Dictionary).
John Paul also indicated that gray scale dreams may be God giving you a window into the plans of the enemy against you or someone else. This is something to pray against.
3) More recently, I heard from Neville Johnson – on his tape series, To Walk With God, The Voice of God(CD#5), that as many as 90% of dreams are not from God. This dovetails with my experience with the exception that God dreams may be a higher percentage depending on your gifting and call.
Some speakers say that the more vivid the dream the more likely it is from God. According to Neville Johnson in the same series and CD above, dreams from God have a special feel and vividness.
How Do We Discern Dreams?
The primary question here is “How do we discern the source of God and other dreams?” Potentially, there must be at least three sources of dreams:
1) The world or the flesh – Our own soul, personality, body, desires, and lusts, intertwined with our associations in the world. This includes what we might have eaten the night before. These are all soulish dreams and might or might not tell us something about ourselves, but are not God ordained or predictive.
2) The devil – these are false dreams, designed to deceive us and put us on the wrong track.
3) God dreams, of two to three basic types:
- those dreams in which God shows us the plans of the enemy, and
- those dreams in which God shows us His plans and purposes
- those dreams in which God shows us something about ourselves for development, growth, maturity, or other reasons
If Neville Johnson is right, the last category of different types of God dreams makes up about 10% of our dream life, while the first two, soulish dreams or dreams from the devil or demons, make up about 90%.
This may be overstating things a little though. I believe the percentages will also have to do with your gift make up. People who have a calling in the prophetic – with prophecy as their primary gift – may find that God dreams are a higher percentage, while others like teachers, pastors, etc. will find that Neville’s percentages are about right.
A Little History In Dream Discernment
Following both Hebrews and Greeks, early Christians looked at the world dualistically. This meant there were two potential sources for dreams – God and demons.
Tertullian, in the mid-second century, reflected the view of most of the early Church fathers and the early church when he affirmed dreams and visions as one way that God speaks. According to Tertullian, there were four possible sources of dreams: God, demons, the soul, and an imperceptive activity of the mind and body that produced nothing meaningful. We might term this last category as “pizza dreams.”
According to Tertullian in one treatise on dreams, most of a Christian’s dreams will be from demons because this is a main avenue of the devil’s influence in a believer’s life. On the other hand, many of a non-believer’s dreams may be from God, because God seeks to guide the non-believer and influence that one towards Himself.
Soulish Dreams and False Dreams
Whether or not we can use color as a simple way to tell God dreams from false dreams is not clear to me personally. Isn’t it possible for the enemy to counterfeit color? After all he disguises himself as an “angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14). So, one might speculate that not even John Paul Jackson’s method of discernment is without weakness. On the other hand, if the devil is attempting to disguise himself this might account for the soulish color hues – rather washed out colors, rather than vivid, bright colors.
According to Ecclesiastes 5, dreams may be empty and vain, coming from soulish sources. According to Jeremiah 23 and many other Old Testament passages there are false dreams that come from demonic sources. According to Jeremiah 23:32, “Behold, I am against those who have prophesied false dreams,” declares the LORD, “and related them, and led My people astray by their falsehoods and reckless boasting; yet I did not send them or command them, nor do they furnish this people the slightest benefit,” declares the LORD.” This passage and others will be examined more fully in a later essay.
In summary, what can we say about discerning the source of dreams? Nothing emphatic or dogmatic, but just some views that are in process.
- There are at least three primary sources: the world/flesh, the devil, and God.
- God dreams may have a special feel and may be more vivid, with brighter, fuller, more vivid colors.
- Black and white or gray scale dreams are, at times at least, soulish dreams.
- Gray scale dreams may be those in which God shows you the enemy’s plans. These dreams are to be prayed and acted against.
- Just because dreams are in color or have some color does not automatically mean that they are from God.
- The enemy can counterfeit and colors have soulish or human meanings in some contexts.
- Washed-out colors seem less likely to be God and more likely to be the soul or the devil.
This is the most emphatic statement I can make about dream discernment: Most dreams are either soulish or from the devil or demons. Truly divine dreams are more rare and make up the minority in our dream lives.
The witness of the Spirit should be the final arbiter for whether a dream or experience is from God, soulish, or from the devil. One should always test dreams by their “feel.” But, be careful about projecting idealistic or soulish hopes and dreams onto your dreams, or wanting them to be from God to puff up your own importance.
Throughout history God has spoken through dreams and He is well able to give you dreams and convince you He is speaking.
Resources: God, Dreams, and Revelation A Christian Interpretation of Dreams, Morton T. Kelsey, Augsburg Fortress, Minneapolis, MN, 1991; John Paul Jackson’s Dream Interpretation Course, Stream’s Ministries.