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Seven Foundational Principles for Interpreting Dreams
Seven Foundational Principles for Interpreting Dreams
1. Most dreams are symbolic (including biblical dreams), so view them the same way you would view a political cartoon. Throw the switch in your brain that says, “Look at this symbolically.”
You can learn the art of communicating symbolically by playing the game “Pictionary” or “Bible Pictionary.”
2. The symbols will come from the dreamer’s life, so ask, “What does this symbol mean to me?” or, if working on another’s dream, ask, “What does this symbol mean to you?”
For example, Joseph was a shepherd, and he dreamed of sheaves and sun, moon and stars bowing down (Gen. 37:1-11). These images surround a shepherd boy who lives in the fields. Nebuchadnezzar, a king, dreamed of statues of gold (Dan 2:31ff), which surround kings who live in palaces.
3. The dream generally speaks of the concerns which your heart is currently facing. So ask, “What issues was I processing the day before I had the dream?”
For example, Paul was wondering where to go next on his missionary journey and had a dream of a Macedonian man motioning for him to come on over (Acts 16:6-11). Nebuchadnezzar was thinking his kingdom would go on forever (Dan. 4:28-33) and he had a dream of a tree being chopped off at the roots (Dan. 4:9-27). Once you know the thoughts that were on the dreamer’s heart when he fell asleep, it is much easier to draw out the meaning of the dream.
4. The meaning of the dream must be drawn from the dreamer. Realize you know nothing about the dream, but through dependence upon the Holy Spirit and the skillful use of questions, you can draw the meaning of the dream out from the heart of the dreamer.
As for these four children, God gave them knowledge and skill in all learning and wisdom: and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams (Dan. 1:17). Counsel in the heart of man is like deep water; but a man of understanding will draw it out (Prov. 20:5).
5. The dreamer’s heart will leap and “witness” and say, “Aha!” when it hears the right interpretation, so never accept an interpretation that does not bear witness in the dreamer’s heart.
6. Dreams reveal but do not condemn. Their goal is to preserve life, not to destroy it (Job 33:13- 18).
7. Never make a major decision in your life based only on a dream without receiving additional confirmation from the other ways that God speaks to us and guides us (peace in our hearts, the counsel of others, illumined Scriptures, God’s still small voice, prophecy, anointed reasoning, etc.).
Discerning Dreams About Yourself At least 95% of your dreams will be about you – your inner self, your current situation, your relationships. Your dreams come from your heart and will express the things that are important to your heart. The most common area your spirit will reveal will be your emotional, heart struggles and sanctification issues, expressed symbolically. Body and health issues are also important to your spirit, so they may be revealed, again in a symbolic way. Your relation- ships to other people are important to your heart, so these may be conveyed in signs and symbols. And the circumstances and events that surround your life, ministry or vocation are also important to your heart, so these may be portrayed symbolically in your dreams.
Because the vast majority of dreams are about your inner self, begin the process of interpreting your dream with the assumption that it probably is about something you are or should be dealing with in your own life right now.
Isolate the feeling of the dream first. How did you feel upon first awakening? Was your heart pounding in fear? Were you confused, frustrated, angry, rejected, or threatened? Did you feel loved, excited, happy, or content? Did you feel exposed, unprepared, or disappointed? What was the overall emotion that the dream evoked? In what aspect of your life are you also feeling this emotion? If it is not immediately obvious to you, ask the Lord to reveal it to you.
Look at the action of the dream next. Ask the Holy Spirit to show you the symbolism of the action. For example, if the symbol in your dream is that your car is going backward, ask, “In what way do I feel that I am going backward, that I am not moving forward in this area of my life?” If someone else is driving your car in the dream, ask, “In what way is this person driving or controlling my life (e.g., my reactions, attitudes, behaviors) at this time?” or “How is the characteristic that this person symbolizes controlling me?” (See the section below on the symbolism of people in your dreams.) If you are falling, ask “In what way do I feel like I am falling, losing ground, or out of control in my life at this time?” If you are soaring, ask, “In what way or what area of my life do I feel like I am flying, that I am rising above my problems or my abilities?” If you are being chased, ask, “How and why do I feel like I am being pursued or hunted?” If you are naked, ask, “In what way do I feel like I am exposed and vulnerable?” If you dream of dying, ask, “What is dying within me?” (This may be a good thing, for perhaps you are dying to pride, or to self, or to workaholism.) Remember, actions in the dream are to be viewed symbolically. If your dream wanted to really show you that you were going to die, it would picture that event symbolically. For example, just a few days before his assassination, President Lincoln dreamed of a casket.
Once you have used the feeling and action of the dream to identify the aspect of your life that it is revealing to you, the rest of the symbols will be much easier to identify.
The people in your dreams often represent characteristics within you. You can determine what facet of yourself they are representing by simply asking, “What is the dominant personality trait of this person, as I know him?” The answer will tell you what aspect of yourself you are dreaming about. For example, your heart may want to show you the entrepreneur, the hospitable host, the administrator, the class clown, the spiritual leader, the laid back one, the workaholic, etc. that is within you by the appearance in your dream of an individual who epitomizes that kind of person to you. Your pastor may be the spiritual part of you; a president or king may symbolize other leadership qualities within you; a policeman, judge, or dictator may be the authority figure in you; people in uniform (nurses, waiters, choir members) may represent your desire to con- form.
It is also possible that the person’s name may be the point that the dream is trying to bring out, especially if that name is spoken within the dream. Dreaming of a friend named Charity or Joy or Grace or Joshua or David may be your heart’s way of calling your attention to the qualities that are seen in the meaning of the name. Or the name may actually sound like the message the dream is trying to convey. For example, dreaming of “Sharon” might be your heart’s way of pointing out an area in which you should be “sharing” something you are not, or should not be sharing something you are. One person reported dreaming of a friend named “Anita Cook” and finding the interpretation to be “I need to cook.” It is also possible that the Lord Himself or one of His angels may meet you in the dream.
Animals often represent your emotions.Ask, “What emotion might this animal be symbolizing to me?” This will depend on your geographical home, your personal experiences, your knowledge of the Bible, and your own culture. For example, a bull might be anger (an “angry bull”); a fox, craftiness; a cat, curiosity; a dove, peace; an eagle, freedom; a snake, subtlety; a lion, royalty, and so on. Keep in mind that in the Bible, a lion is used to represent both Christ (“the Lion of the tribe of Judah”) and satan (“as a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour”). Therefore, you must maintain your dependence upon the Holy Spirit to reveal what the animal represents in your specific dream.
When you face the animal representing your emo- tions in your dream rather than running from it, you may find that the animal changes into a different one. It is good to face your emotions. Numbers in dreams generally represent the identical \number in real life. However, the number will probably be linked to something which needs to be interpreted symbolically. For example, when Joseph dreamed of eleven stars, the eleven was literal but the stars were symbolic and actually represented his brothers. Joseph was dreaming about his eleven brothers (Gen. 37:1-11). Likewise, the cupbearer’s dream of three branches stood for three days (Gen. 39:12), and for the chief baker, the three baskets represented three days (Gen. 39:18). In Pharaoh’s dream, the seven cows were seven years (Gen. 41:26). So expect the number to mean that exact number of something. It will take prayer, discernment and the revelation of the Spirit (confirmed by the leap in your heart) to determine what it means. Continue to move through the dream, seeking revelation on symbol after symbol, until you sense in your spirit that the interpretation is complete. Occasionally you may have dreams that relate to more than your personal, inner life. If you have examined the dream carefully, in full reliance upon the Holy Spirit to bring the interpretation, and you cannot see how the symbols of the dream apply to you, seek the input of your spiritual counselors. They may be able to see your blind spots and recognize the message your heart is trying to give you.
If your counselors agree that the dream does not apply to your inner life, you may then consider the possibility that it is a dream for or about others. One indication that this may be a dream for another rather than you is if you are an observer of the action of the dream, rather than a participant.
Following are some biblical dreams that demonstrate this principle:
Gen. 15:1-21 Abraham in interaction with God & sleeps = dream about himself
Gen. 20:1-18 Abimelech and God in interaction = dream about himself
Gen. 28:10-22 Jacob being spoken to by God = dream about himself
Gen. 31:10-29 Jacob and God in interaction = dream about himself
Gen. 37:1-11 Joseph and brothers in interaction = dream about himself
Gen. 40:1-23 Cupbearer and Baker = dreams about themselves
Gen. 41:1-49 Pharaoh’s dream of 7 cows = dream for others
Gen. 46:1-7 Israel in dialogue with God = dream about himself
Judges 7:9-18 Loaf of bread hitting camp = dream about himself
1 Kings 3:5-28 God and Solomon interact = dream about himself
Daniel 2:1-49 Statue hit by stone = dream about others
Daniel 7:1-28 Four beasts = dream about others
Daniel 8:1-27 Ram and goat = dream about others
Daniel 10:1-12:13 Terrifying vision = dream about others
Matt. 1:20-25 God spoke to Joseph = dream about himself
Matt. 2:3-15 God spoke to Joseph = dream about himself
Matt. 2:19-23 God spoke to Joseph = dream about himself
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