Dreams and Visions: Acts 16:6-10
“6) They passed through the Phrygian and Galatian region, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia; 7) and after they came to Mysia, they were trying to go into Bithynia, and the Spirit of Jesus did not permit them; 8) and passing by Mysia, they came down to Troas. 9) A vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing and appealing to him, and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” 10) When he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.” Acts‬ ‭16‬:‭6‬-‭10‬
Do you leave room for the Holy Spirit to change your plans? Paul and Silas had strategic plans, but the Holy Spirit vetoed them; not once, but twice. They were forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. Then He closed doors to Bithynia. I appreciate the fact that they were determined. They just kept going. They passed by Mysia and came to Troas.
It was there that God spoke to Paul. According to verse 9, Paul had a vision of a man from Macedonia standing and appealing to him, and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.”
That was the sign he needed. According to Acts 16:10, they immediately sought to go into Macedonia. Paul concluded because of the vision that God was calling them to preach the gospel in Macedonia.
We now wrestle with the question of whether or not God still uses dreams and visions to direct people. This is compounded by Colossians 2:18 where Paul warns against worshiping angels and take a stand on visions.
God certainly used them throughout biblical history, but they were not common place. From Jacob to Joseph, Pharaoh in Egypt to King Nebuchadnezzar; God gave providential dreams to people. According to Matthew 1:20; 2:13 and19, God often directed Joseph the step father of Jesus through dreams. These are but a few providential dreams in the Bible. We certainly cannot rule them out as valuable tools God has at His disposal.
The thrust to Paul’s warning in Colossians 2:18 might be understood as being “do not take your stand solely on dreams or visions.” You must weigh them by other factors. They must line up with the character and nature of God, Scripture, God’s overall leading and confirming answers to prayer.
For example, if you have a dream about doing something contrary to the character of God or His revealed Word, it is false. I have had people tell me God was leading them to divorce their spouse for someone else… and then they add; “I even had a dream about it!” My response was; “How does that square with Malachi 2:13-16 and Matthew 19:1-12? They didn’t have dream from God; they had a fantasy fueled by the devil.
Another common one today relates to Christian singles moving in together without getting married. How does that line up with 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8 or 1 Corinthians 6:12-20? The flesh can be the source of dreams. Make no mistake; dreams contrary to biblical morals are not from God.
But God can and does use dreams and visions to sometime guide people according to His will. Let me share a time God used dreams in my life.
At one point, I entertained the idea of running for the Iowa Legislature. It looked like the incumbent was retiring and his seat would be open. I was researching the details of a full blown campaign when God seemingly slammed the door closed. The incumbent changed his mind and decided to seek re-election.
The work involved in a full blown campaign was daunting. I was actually relieved by what looked like a closed door. I was very content pushing forward building GoServ Global despite not being gifted in administration. We desperately needed a skilled executive director, and I needed a way to convince the board of the needed change while continuing my speaking and writing ministry under GoServ Global.
Then the impossible happened. Soon after the primary which the incumbent handily won, I had multiple dreams in two weeks that I was serving in the Iowa legislature. They were exact and graphic right down to the seat I would occupy in the Iowa House of Representatives.
I shared the dreams with Debby. I was very shaken by them. We submitted to Gods will and committed to earnest prayer. There was only one problem; it was too late to enter the race. The primary was past. I started thinking about the 2016 election cycle two years later, but the urgency of the dreams made no sense.
Then it happened! The incumbent suddenly dropped out of the race setting up a special election. I somewhat clumsily entered the race, won the nomination and my name was placed on the ballot for the November 2014 general election. It happened so fast it made my head spin, but I had no doubt that I was following the will of God. In less than four months it went from being impossible to becoming a reality. I won the general election.
When session started in 2014, guess where I was seated in the Iowa legislature? All of my dreams played out like previews to a suspenseful movie. I ended up serving for eight glorious years in the Iowa part time legislature, while continuing my speaking and writing ministry under GoServ Global. We also hired a very gifted Executive Director who helped move us to the next level. Thank you Paul Van Gorkom! His gifts were exactly what we needed.
But here is the catch, I would not have entered the special election apart from the dreams God had given me. I had totally let go of the idea of running for office and moved on. I had come to viewed the notion of running for office as a whim. As far as I was concerned, I had sincerely looked into the idea and God closed the door.
I was like Joseph in Matthew 1:19 who decided to call off his marriage to Mary… until God spoke to him in a dream. God sometimes uses dreams to change our plans to conform us to His leading and will. The problem comes when we make them mandatory to discern God’s will or when we think every dream is from God. I am not among those who believe there is a divine message in every dream.
Dreams can be prompted by many sources including the flesh, junk we have been feeding our soul, misplaced emotions, possibly the devil and sometimes God. Each dream must be weighed and tested on its own merit and then compared to other factors like the character of God and Scripture.
Daily Bible Commentary By Terry Baxter: Cofounder of GoServ Global