[This is chapter 22 of “How God Guides.” Now it’s getting exciting! Does God still use these as means of leading his kids? Well, I have no evidence ot the contrary, biblical or otherwise. I don’t encourage you to insist on such methods, but don’t resist them if they come your way either.]
Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Joel 2:28
An angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Go south to the road…” Acts 8:26
Now there was a believer in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord spoke to him in a vision calling, “Ananias!” “Yes, Lord!’ he replied.” Acts 9:10
About noon…Peter…fell into a trance and saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down… Acts 10:9-11
That night Paul had a vision: A man from Macedonia in northern Greece was standing there, pleading with him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us!” Acts 16:9
One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision and told him, “Don’t be afraid! Speak out! Don’t be silent! For I am with you, and no one will attack and harm you, for many people in this city belong to me.” Acts 18:9
I saw a vision of Jesus saying to me, “Hurry! Leave Jerusalem, for the people here won’t accept your testimony about me.” Acts 22:18
As far as I know I’ve never seen an angel, though it is hard to say since sometimes they show up undercover. But I have had a number of visions and several dreams that I would call, “prophetic dreams.”
Some years ago I had a dream that I believe was given me by the Lord. In the dream I was swimming in a public pool, and an overweight teenage boy playfully jumped on my back, expecting me to carry him across to the other side. I’m a very good swimmer (in the non-dream world, that is), and took him up on the challenge. But he proved too big a test, even for my aquatic ability, and we began to sink. I swam frantically, gasping for air, until we finally arrived at the pool wall. I got the boy off my back and anxiously caught my breath. We had been way too close to drowning, and I was exhausted and terrified!
The boy, not nearly as traumatized as I, sprang up and said, “Let’s do it again!” At that, he jumped on my back again and we were repeating the former insanity! It was nuts, but for some reason I complied, and I was fighting for oxygen again while swimming with all my might. This time there was another factor that made it even more stupid. While struggling to stay afloat with this heavy teenage boy on my back, I was wearing a short sleeved, button-down shirt. If that weren’t enough, the shirt was unbuttoned and un-tucked! It was flapping in the water, tangling itself around my flailing arms, making the crazy trek even crazier. Half way across the pool I woke up in a sweaty terror. The dream was over, but unfinished. I was hugely relieved to be awake in the real world, but was left hanging about the outcome of the foolish swim. I think that was God’s way of saying to me that I had a choice whether or not to engage in such irrational activity.
Through it the Lord made two distinct spiritual lessons clear to me. The “flappy shirt” represented compromise with sinful activity. It was a warning from the Lord about getting tangled up with unhealthy and impure habits. Tucking the shirt in and buttoning it was an option, but the obvious need was to shed myself of it altogether. You can try, I felt the Lord speaking to me, to minimize your sin’s impediment, but discarding it altogether is the obvious call. It’s a no-brainer that I can’t swim in a flappy shirt, especially when trying to swim for two. In the same way I can’t do spiritual leadership while tangled up in sin. If I try, I’ll fail in my assignment and drown along with them!
Then there’s the lesson of “swimming for two.”The Lord made it clear to me thatI shouldn’t be carrying people on my back, doing their swimming for them. I’m not able, not for very long anyway, to swim for two. I’m no “Cruise Ship for Christians,” doing for them what they should be doing for themselves. Not only is it unscriptural, it’s untenable and dangerous!
It was clear to me that the Lord was saying, “Your shoulders are not broad enough, and your strength not great enough to carry the church. I’m not asking you to bear this people. Quit doing for them what they should be doing for themselves. Just shed your own entangling sinfulness, rescue the drowning, and teach people how to swim for themselves. Not only will they be kept from drowning, but they’ll enjoy the swimming experience as much as you do.”
Face on the floor vision…
I’ve also had quite a few, what I would call, “visions” over the years. One of the most pivotal and life-changing ones occurred in my early 20’s. I had brought some teenagers from our church to the Bay Area for some training and experience in evangelism. We were worshipping Jesus during one of our training sessions and I had a profound picture arrive in my mind. My “visions” have all been more like mental scenes of varying degrees of clarity and detail, and not in a trance state. This one was like a video without sound. I saw myself worshipping the Lord (he was an indistinct image of glorious and attractive light in front of me) on my knees with my face on the floor. I saw another young man behind me who saw the Lord and how I was responding to him in abandoned worship. He then followed suit by kneeling beside me, putting his face on the floor and began to worship too. Another young man saw the both of us, what we were doing and why, and knelt beside us to do the same – then another and another. [End of vision.]
The speaker at the meeting came to the microphone right at that point and read the passage from Isaiah 6, “I saw the Lord, high and lifted up, and his train (entourage) filled the temple.” Before I had a chance to wonder about what it might mean, I instinctively knew that God was giving me marching orders for my life – that I was to make disciples of other young men by modeling to them a lifestyle of humble love and passionate worship of Jesus. It’s been a constant reminder to me of an essential part of who I am and how I am supposed to invest the rest of my life in others.
She dreamt that I died…
One of my most bizarre experiences with what might have been a prophetic dream was back in the 1980’s the day before I was to go on a Missions trip to Mexico City. One of the young women in the church had a dream the night before and brought it to me. Michelle dreamt that I died while in Mexico, and when the church in Santa Cruz gathered to mourn my passing everyone was devastated except one of my closest friends and confidants, “Sean” (not his real name). In the dream, he was apparently not at all affected by my death, about which Michelle assumed that he had great faith, and had thoroughly put it in God’s hands. AfterI had her share the dream with the church’s elders we prayed and consulted about what might be the most accurate interpretation. Was this a warning from God for me not to go, a cue for us to pray against any attack from the enemy, a caution to take no unnecessary risks on the trip, or was this not a dream from God at all? We mused also that it might mean something other than physical death, something spiritual that I needed to discern. I decided to go and trust God to protect me and lead me. Well, I didn’t die on the trip and, as far as I know, there was no threat of bodily harm to me. It’s possible that there was a satanic “hit” planned for me and our prayers abated it. I’ll never know. But more than 20 years later my relationship with “Sean” imploded to the extent that he was heard to say that he wished I were dead! “Coincidentally” it was at that point that I was diagnosed with bone marrow cancer. When I recalled Michelle’s dream, a thought came to me that maybe she was seeing into the future when “Sean” wouldn’t grieve at my funeral after all! Weird, huh?
God uses dreams, visions and angels to guide us, but I don’t recommend that we expect him to always lead us with such extravagant means. I’m afraid that some people want the miracle of a prophetic dream, a vision, or an angel visitation more than they want the marching orders that come from them! They’re more interested in the medium than the message.
I think that sometimes God utilizes such radical means of communication in order to burn his message into our memories. He might be saying, “This is something you’re never to forget or ignore!” The visions and dreams he’s given me are certainly memorable. Could it also be true that he uses these means because we’ve missed what he’s been saying to us through other methods? I don’t think because the Lord gives you a vision or dispatches one of his angels to bring a message to you that you’re necessarily more “spiritual” than other people. It may mean that he couldn’t get your attention in any other way. We had a neighbor who could sleep through a tsunami! When his wife was at work and was trying to call him, he’d usually sleep right through the ringing phone, so she’d call us and ask us to go next door and wake him up. He couldn’t hear the phone, so we’d go and bang even louder on the door! When one means of leading doesn’t work, God may use a louder one.
[You’re probably tired of hearing me say this, but as is the case with each of our principles, I advise you to avoid depending on this one by itself. Dreams can be the result of too much pizza for dinner, visions may be conjured by an overactive imagination, and angels – well – I suppose you might mistake a friendly stranger for one. I’m just saying that you’ll want to be sure that any leading you think you receive from these supernatural sources doesn’t directly contradict the Bible’s teaching and/or other principles we’ve studied so far.]