|A381 : by Tony Garland |
The question of whether God uses dreams as a normative means to guide Christians today is akin to the question of whether God frequently heals people by miraculous means. The question isn’t whether God can do these things: of course He can. After all, He is omnipotent and has done so in the past. The more relevant question is whether He is doing these things as the norm among believers today. My answer, based on Scripture (but also, from experience in the Pentecostal movement) is: no, God is not expecting believers to interpret their dreams as His means of directing us.
When we turn to the pages of the New Testament, we see few references to God’s use of dreams to guide believers. We find: Joseph assured concerning Mary (Mat. 1:20); Joseph warned to flee to Egypt (Mat. 2:12-13); Joseph told to return from Egypt (Mat. 2:19); Joseph warned not to return to Bethlehem (Mat. 2:22); Pilot warned — indirectly through his wife — concerning his interaction with Jesus (Mat. 27:19); and, that God will give dreams to those whom He pours out His spirit upon at a time yet future—the last days (Acts 2:17).
It is notable that the examples are few and concern highly-significant elements of God’s plan such as the birth and safety of Jesus, events leading to His crucifixion, and the last days. It would be unwise to appeal to these instances in support of the idea that God is using dreams as a normative way to guide individual Christians today.
When we consider the epistles—the primary source of doctrine guiding the Church—we find no instruction about the use of dreams as a source of personal guidance. This is a very significant omission if believers today are to seek God’s guiding hand through dreams. Instead, we find great emphasis upon God’s revealed Word, coupled with the illumination of the Holy Spirit (e.g., John 16:12-15). Even the Old Testament practice of the lot is set aside — only mentioned in Acts 1:26 and absent thereafter.
One issue here is understanding how God expects us to walk as New Testament believers. We are not to be concerned to try and discover God’s secret will—that which goes beyond His revealed will in the Scripture. Instead, He has given us principles which we must walk by with the knowledge that we are only responsible for what He has revealed—not trying to interpret dreams and other unreliable experiences as sources of His secret will. To the degree that we attempt to push beyond His revealed will, we are in danger of what could only be referred to as “Christian divination.” Such an approach, generally considered “faith-filled” or “spiritual” by its practitioners, can actually reveal lack of trust in God’s sovereignty over the myriad details in our lives which we don’t know, won’t know, can’t know, and don’t need to know.
Having said that, it has been my experience that Christians who are convinced God frequently guides them by extra-Scriptural means are almost impossible to dissuade otherwise. This is because they base their walk with God on experience first, and understanding the Word second.
When asked how they know this communication is from God, they will invariably respond “I just know,” or insist it must be from God since it “came true,” or a host of other expressions. But they really have no way of validating the source of their dream: be it the subconscious, imagination, the influence of unclean spirits, or last night’s pizza. The contrast between these “sanctified hunches” and the definite, infrequent, and highly-purposeful dreams found in the New Testament is profound.
Believers who seek God’s special guidance through extra-Biblical means are not likely to change their ways until . . . they crash — heed what they believe to be "God’s voice" which leads them into a harmful physical or spiritual experience which convinces them that what they thought was God’s voice was not. These sorts of mid-course corrections can be extremely painful—even faith-challenging—but God loves us and knows how to raise the stakes to bring correction when needed (Romans 8:28; Hebrews 12:5).
The best thing you can do for them is to be a listening ear, patiently watch for opportunities to speak the truth into their experience-based approach to God, and pray, pray, pray.