Yesterday we considered how God speaks to people using dreams and visions. I just want to reaffirm this a way in which God is still speaking and not something newly invented by some church movement. Throughout the Bible God communicates with his people through visionary experiences. In Genesis 15 the Lord speaks to Abraham in a vision (Gen 15:1). A few chapters later God speaks to the gentile king Abimelech in a dream (Gen 20:3). So it goes throughout the Old Testament stories. The New Testament begins on a similar note, with an angel appearing in a dream to Joseph, telling him that his fiancée is pregnant by the Holy Spirit (Matt 1:20). Not long afterwards Joseph receives direction to go to Egypt as, once again, an angel speaks to him in a dream (Matt 2:13).
If we were to think that things like this happened only for biblical characters, the promise of Joel corrects that misconception. Several centuries before Christ, the Lord spoke through this Jewish prophet:
Then after I have poured out my rains again, I will pour out my Spirit upon all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy. Your old men will dream dreams. Your young men will see visions. In those days, I will pour out my Spirit even on servants, men and women alike (Joel 2:28-29).
Seven weeks after Jesus’s resurrection, God poured out his Spirit as promised by Joel. Peter, preaching the first Christian sermon on the Jewish festival of Pentecost, quotes from Joel’s prophecy to explain what has happened to the followers of Jesus who have just received the filling of the Spirit (Acts 2:16-21). The fulfilment of this prophecy at this time implies that Christians, both old and young, will experience divine guidance through dreams and visions.
The rest of the book of Acts illustrates this implication as the Holy Spirit guides the early Christians through extraordinary visual experiences. In Acts 16, for example, the Spirit at first speaks to Paul and Silas, telling them not to evangelize in the Roman provinces of Asia and Bithynia. Then Paul has a vision in the night, in which a man from northern Greece asks him, “Come over here and help us.” The evangelists quickly leave for that region, believing that God has called them to preach there (Acts 19:6-10). Later on, when Paul’s ministry in Corinth brought on Jewish wrath, God inspired and affirmed Paul through another vision:
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 harm you because many people here in this city belong to me.” So Paul stayed there for the next year and a half, teaching the word of God (Acts 18:9-11).
Hopefully we can see from this that we can really expect God to speak to us through dreams and visions. Even if you have never experienced or reconized God speaking to you in this way as a biblically-committed Christians, we must not limit God’s activity by our own experience, no matter how tempting that may be. Rather, we must let the Bible speak. For this reason we recognize the possibility of spiritual guidance coming through dreams and visions. Whether we are sleeping or awake, the Holy Spirit can reveal God’s will to us through inspired visual images.