Dreams play a key role in some of the main stories of the Bible. Joseph interpreted a dream for Pharaoh which saved a nation in the face of famine. Another Joseph, this time in the New Testament, received three key dreams which gently but clearly led him through the epic adventure of his virgin fiancee having a baby who was not only the Son of God and Saviour of the world, but who was also hunted by a paranoid King Herod.
We view these stories as a distant part of Biblical history, but is that where dreams belong — or do they still have something to say to us today?
There has been a recent rise of interest in dreams — science recognises their part in processing our thoughts for good mental health and therapists recognise that they sometimes process how we are feeling. But for those of us with a Christian faith, questions remain. Does God still communicate in this way to take advantage of that still place where we are resting without running the gauntlet of our distractions?
For me, it was when I listened to the stories of the many Muslims becoming Christians when they radically met Jesus through their dreams (the number one way a Muslim becomes a Christian is actually through a dream or vision), that I became impressed and began to pay more attention to my own dreams and the dreams of others.
One day I was asked to go as a family friend to see a little girl who asked to see me after a traumatic set of circumstances. I had prayed that God would speak to her and bring healing but was slightly stressed when I realised He had done so in the dream with which she was bubbling over when I arrived. That very fact was unusual in itself. Fortunately, the dream was simple and as I prayed, God explained the dream story to me. I realised it showed her that the people in her safe world had suddenly become unpredictable in the midst of family conflict. And she was observing a war. But at the end of the war, 'the good wolf lifted up his paw and the war stopped'. (Rose's incredible, complete story is one of those included in my book, Interpreting Dreams and Visions.) I prayed and spent time with the family and watched as, in real life, God lifted His hand and brought peace. The dream contained a story which showed me several elements which were causing trouble that the child could have known nothing about. There was a higher perspective dropping wisdom down to bring peace in the place of conflict: a modern-day parable using everyday symbols to speak into lives that needed help.
It's the same dynamic as Jesus used in the parable of the sower. He used a story and some listened and some didn't bother. He said the 'hard of heart' simply got on with their lives, while others sought to understand.
In our outreach evenings, people hear God's voice speaking to them bringing comfort and encouragement, cheering them on as we explain their dreams. The most frequent comment is 'I'm shocked, how could you possibly know that?' And some lives are radically touched by the messages contained in the dream.
And as we teach Biblically sound and practically competent Dream Interpretation on our courses (Lovehasavoice.org), people are again beginning to be equipped to listen to the Father who watches us as we sleep and cares deeply about our lives and circumstances - enough to comment and to lead and guide us.
This thorough teaching is important because it takes time and understanding to see the meaning of dreams and recognise what God is saying. An important part of that is the wisdom of what not to say, as dreams speak into quite sensitive areas of people's lives. In our courses and in the book, we take time to teach good Biblical practice and safe guards.
But there are some simple tips which can help you to begin to understand your own dreams. Dreams are a lot like a letter.
Where does this dream come from?
• Is it my own feelings/worries/hopes talking?
• Is there a higher perspective coming through bringing hope wisdom, peace or joy? And does that perspective line up with Biblical teaching in tone and content?
• Is it an intimidation nightmare?
Who is the message for? What is the dream about?
• If the dream story is all about you, the dream is about your life/issues.
• If you are a small part of the dream story, it's about something you are part of.
• If you are observing the dream like a video, it's about what you are observing.
How do I understand symbolic stories?
• This is one of the reasons I wrote a book on this subject because this takes time and experience to discern: are the symbols from our common culture or personal to my own life?
In my inbox today, as on most days, there is an email with a dream for interpretation from a church leader who has understood that dreams can still lead people safely through difficult situations. They can still guide the corporate 'Body of Christ' through life's twists and turns, and through more modern challenges.
And we are in the midst of a spiritual famine in the world around us — as we raise a group of sound, experienced interpreters, we, the church, will begin again to say, like the prophet Samuel, 'Speak Lord, for your servants are listening'.
Popular conference speaker Liz Evans is the author of Interpreting Dreams and Visions (Monarch Books, 2018, £16.99). The founder of Love Has A Voice, she has years of senior church leadership experience and now equips churches and supports leaders with prophetic ministry.