Dreams can be supernatural (above the natural intellect) and prophetic (revelation from God). They come in two varieties, literal or symbolic, and can even be a mix of both. When the Lord has an urgent message with little tolerance for error in understanding (like life-or-death situations), He tends to give very literal dreams. However, for most circumstances, He uses symbolic dreams. While you may be praying for literal or simpler dreams instead of symbolic ones that take more work to understand, you need to know that when much is given, much is required. Your accountability for understanding and correctly reacting to the dream skyrockets with literal dreams. The five most common types of dreams are:
Other types exist including dreams of confirmation, rebuke, and spiritual cleansing. In general, though, all dreams have a component of intercession, and should always incite prayer.
On first consideration, many dreamers believe their dreams are literal because they fail to understand how God uses symbolism to speak to us, and literal dreams require little or no interpretation. In general, if everything in the dream appears as it does in real life, then it usually can be taken literally; however, if even one thing seems unrealistic, then the possibility that the entire dream is symbolic must be considered.
Literal dreams can have a prophetic aspect for future events and thus be a very serious call to intercession. Several times, I have dreamed of a literal catastrophic or world event that later appeared in the news. For example, in 2004, I dreamed of the tsunami that occurred in Indonesia. In the dream I was walking around a beach area observing the people. I strode around a corner passing a white billboard before heading to a nearby building in a town running parallel to the beach. As I made my way to the third floor overlooking the ocean, I could see through every window. When I looked out over the Indian Ocean, I saw a huge watery eruption rising and coming toward the shore. Running to the ground toward the beach, I tried to warn the people, but I only made it to the billboard at the entrance of the beach. The huge wave washed over the billboard and building, and was ready to wash over where I was standing when I awoke. In real life, when I saw the story on the news, the white billboard, hotel, and town were all exactly how I saw it in the dream. The newscaster stood in front of the sign reporting the disaster and the estimated 230,000 deaths.
Ten days prior to his assassination, Abraham Lincoln dreamed of a death. In the dream he heard sobs and mourning. He saw a corpse wrapped up and being guarded in the east wing of the White House, and when he asked who it was, the reply was "the president." Lincoln's dream was not symbolic, and everything about it appeared literal. The only unknown was the timing of the future event. I wonder, if he had understood the importance of this dream, could he have changed his plans and avoided his assassination. This is a great illustration of the greater accountability and urgency associated with literal dreams.
You may not know whether your dream is literal or symbolic until it occurs, but I realized the day I saw7 the tsunami newscast that I did not pray hard or long enough. You may wonder what the point of prayer is when a tragedy happens anyway. I believe that it is still important to pray, and I oftentimes focus prayers for people to make decisions, to leave the region, to find a protected place, or most importantly, to receive the gospel message.
Prophetic dreams always reveal an aspect of a future event or outcome. These types of dreams occur on occasion in the average dreamers to forewarn them of an upcoming event in their life. Because these dreams occur infrequently, they can prove to be difficult for the dreamer to interpret.
A handful of Christians have been appointed by God as official prophetic dreamers. These dreamers are designated watchmen for the Kingdom. They may serve at an international, national, or local level. Because they are appointed by God, He makes sure they have the ear of kings, presidents, or pastors. Many of these watchmen work under the radar and without public affirmation and acknowledgment.
Direction dreams give insight on how to approach or handle a situation. God uses this type of dream to prune us and guide us into the near future. In addition, He may use a direction dream to rebuke us for our previous bad actions and instruct us on how to make amends.
Calling dreams point us to the path of our vocation or calling in life. In these dreams, we may see ourselves doing certain things or performing tasks that we are not necessarily doing at the time. Generally, the action is associated with gifts, talents, and passions that we possess. Although direction and calling dreams sound very similar, the main difference is that direction dreams tend to deal with our next step, while calling dreams address our entire path ahead.
Warning dreams prepare us for something that can possibly be avoided. We always hope to derive a positive meaning from our dreams, but when a warning is issued, it is important to pay special attention. These dreams alert us to potential danger or harm; they should not make us fearful, but instead, ready to put on the armor of God and fight.
Probably the hardest warning dreams to swallow are the ones warning us to straighten up and change our ways. The dream may come with harsh prophetic consequences to get our attention. In addition, if we do not heed the warning the first time, God will continue to bombard us with more dreams that may seem different, but carry the same message.
Dark dreams are nearly always described as nightmares and involve a great deal of fear. They can entail death of a loved one, phobias, being chased, or other fear-based themes. For example, a man who had a fear of public speaking in real life kept having dreams that he could not speak or scream.
The enemy thrives on fear as a tool to hold us back. Although dark dreams are very undesirable, they can shed light on fears that we need to face in real life. For example, a monster chasing us could mean we are afraid of something catching up to us. Falling off a cliff and not being able to scream could mean we feel like we have no control and no voice over our circumstances.
Children often have fear-based dreams. It would be just like the enemy to cause children to fear having dreams when they are young and cut off that form of communication from God for their future. Parents need to understand what is happening in the child's life in order to calm them and teach them how to face their fears.
Trauma can bring on dark dreams, too. For example, some dreamers have drowning dreams, especially when dealing with overwhelming situations.
While most dark dreams are from the enemy or born out of our fears or trauma, sometimes God will allow a dark dream to get His point across after we have habitually ignored His previous warnings or instructions.