The Still Small Voice

Encounter His Presence - Dreams and Visions

 Chapter Three, Part Two


My servant Moses:
is faithful in all My house.


With him I speak face to face,
clearly and not in riddles;
he sees the form of the Lord.


Dreams that heal and seal

Then God said to him in the dream . . .
(Genesis 20:6)

Face-to-face encounters in which we meet the Lord and hear His voice clearly are delightful if relatively rare occurrences, but most of us will have known occasions when He has guided us by means of dreams, visions and other signs and pointers that set us thinking and praying along particular lines. Some of these are a direct call to action; others require further prayer (and perhaps confirmation) before we set out to act on them.

Those who have been brought up on “cerebral” forms of the faith may feel somewhat wary of essentially non-verbal ways of communicating. It is right to be cautious but not sceptical; the Bible is full of significant dreams, [1] and the Lord wants us to be comfortable in discerning that which comes from Him.

Dreams and visions are relevant not just for guidance but for outreach. Where preachers cannot freely go, God can reach people’s deepest spirits. Every year more and more people in Islamic countries are coming to faith as a result of receiving dreams from and about the Lord Jesus.

There is nothing new about this. Back in the fifth century, pirates sailed up the River Clyde and seized a young boy called Patrick. Seven grim years of slavery in Ireland ensued. It was during this time that the Lord drew him back to the faith of his fathers, and set him on fire with love for Himself.

One night, Patrick had a dream, in which he saw how he could cross the country and find a boat. The fact that the Lord speaks, however, does not mean that everything works out easily or immediately. It was only with extreme difficulty that Patrick persuaded the ship’s captain to take him on board.

The Lord’s purposes for Patrick in the land of his captivity did not come to an end with his escape to France. Some years later, he “heard” in his spirit the voice of the Irish calling him to return. What the Lord initiated as a rescue mission He developed through this commissioning vision: a mission that was destined to bring whole tribes to faith, to such an extent that Ireland became a leading mission-sending nation.

Each one had their own story of how they were called for love of God to forsake their homeland to share the gospel message. Columba was the first of a multitude of Irish Celtic missionaries who set out to evangelize first Scotland and then, from their island outposts of Iona and Lindisfarne, almost every part of northern and western Europe.

This vital work might never have developed had Patrick refused to return to the country which had treated him so badly saying, effectively, ‘I don’t do countries that treat me badly!’ Mercifully, like Paul, he was more concerned to obey the heavenly vision than to nurse personal grudges.

Not all our dreams have high-powered consequences that send us to the far side of the world of course! Most are more like broad strokes of the Father’s brush, in which a few salient features stand out to direct us towards some particular person, insight or project. Because our memories are fickle, we are wise if we jot down the details of dreams we believe may be of spiritual significance as soon as possible after we wake up.

The Lord uses dreams to keep us in the loop

Shortly after I became a Christian, I began to pray for an old school friend. My clumsy attempts to tell her about the Lord met with no response, and for the next twelve years, I had no contact whatsoever with her. One night, however, I saw in a dream that she had become a Christian. I shared this with Ros, and was amazed to receive a letter from her the very next day. Not only had she given her life to the Lord, she had already led a couple of others in her village to Christ. I had felt led to pray and reach out to one person, but the Lord was already thinking of all the people He will bring to Himself through her. It has been a joy to resume friendship on a completely different level!

The Lord loves to keep us “in the loop” of what He is doing, whether for really positive things like this or concerning more challenging developments that are unfolding behind the scenes. It has been a joy to resume friendship with her on a completely different level.

Dreams often require further confirmation and clarification

It is important to bear in mind that whilst some dreams are quite specific and literal, most supply a vital portion of the guidance the Lord wishes to impart.

These “pointers” require further clarification before we should accept them as definitive guidance. As I came to the end of seven exciting years of ministry in Oxford, I knew the Lord was calling me to resign my post as an evangelist with one particular church and move on – but I had no idea where the Lord wanted me to move on to. When I had a dream of black and white houses, however, or some reason I felt convinced that the Lord was speaking about Chester.

I needed more details! The following night, as I was going to sleep, the names of two Anglican churches came clearly to mind. I happened to be up north a few weeks later, so I popped across to Chester (in those pre-Internet days) to pursue the matter. The churches did indeed exist, and, once the leadership of the principal church confirmed the dream and welcomed me into their fellowship, became fruitful bases for the next eight years. It does not bear thinking about all that would not have happened had I not had – and responded – to those dreams and subsequent words of knowledge!

The Lord uses dreams internally

‘All the things one has forgotten scream for help in dreams.’ (Elias Canetti)

The interpretation of dreams is the royal road to a knowledge of the unconscious activities of the mind. (Sigmund Freud).

It is a shame that Freud was unacquainted with the ways and workings of the Holy Spirit. God loves to impart His perspectives to help us understand what is going on in ourselves. If the examples quoted above are examples of our Heavenly Father’s broad brush strokes, more commonly He uses finer brushes to highlight particular issues through our dreams that we might otherwise never face. We may have done our best to bury certain memories, for example, but the dreams our subconscious throw up are there to remind us of things we really do need to face.

Many of the specific details in our dreams may be of no particular significance, but we should be alert to themes and symbols that regularly recur in our dreams. Time and again the Lord uses these as His most discreet means of showing us things – especially where we are out of balance in some way. In other words, if the same theme is repeated more than once, it is likely to be significant, and quite possibly urgent. (cf Gen. 41:15-37)

As for those dreams which are more like X-rated films, the Lord may be allowing us disturbing glimpses into the strategies of hell as they plan their attacks against God’s people. Rather than accepting whatever dire scenarios these dreams are predicting, it is wiser to see them effectively as a call to pray that the very opposite of what we have seen comes about.

In other words, we can use and “harness” the power of these horrible dreams as a stimulus to pray more intensely and so thwart whatever it was that the powers of darkness were seeking to bring to pass and see something good established instead. How much better is that than merely being intimidated by them?

One step down from these “Gothic” dreams lie those which are two parts psychological for one part spiritual. Suppose, for example, you are organizing a meeting, and dream of an empty auditorium. The chances are that this may be nothing more than the subconscious having a wobble. But there again, it may also be the Lord alerting us to the fact that the meeting (or whatever it was that we dreamt of) will only fulfil all the Lord has in mind if we pray a whole lot harder!

Likewise, unless the Lord confirms the warning in other ways, we should not be in too much of a hurry to change our ticket if we dream that the plane we are due to catch is going to crash. If the meeting and the journey are important to the Lord, then may the meeting be well attended and fruitful – and the journey be both safe and blessed!

For Reflection and Prayer

Father, dreams come thick and fast in the course of the night, there is nothing we can do to ward them off. Help us to discard all that is merely random, but to identify all You are seeking to highlight through them. Then may we harness what they are pointing to in such a way that we focus our prayers and release more of Your power into these situations than would otherwise have happened. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Visions that inform and direct

Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint.
(Proverbs 29:18)

In the verse above, the word hazon (often translated ‘vision’) speaks of direct communication from God to a prophetic people, rather than about people setting their own goals.

One night as I was falling asleep, I saw a girl of student age crying out, ‘Lord, I’m so lonely.’ I woke up and asked the Lord for details. He supplied me with the address. We went to visit the house the next day, but it was deserted. When we knocked on the door of the neighbouring flat – there was the young lady in question, just as I had seen her in the vision – lonely, and ready to hear about the Lord Jesus.

Because our minds are fully conscious when we receive visions from God, there is usually less subliminal clutter to fillet out than is the case with dreams. Whether the emphasis is on words, (which we normally associate with ‘prophecy’) or on pictures (‘visions’) there is no limit to what the Lord may choose to speak about.

Visions can range from fleeting impressions and steering touches on the screen of our minds to the full-scale trance that Peter experienced on the rooftop – a vision the Lord used to open his eyes to His desire to reach the Gentile world.[6]

What we need then is a different set of skills to know what to do with what the Lord is showing us. Sometimes it is wisest to keep the matter between God and ourselves in prayer until we are sure we know what to do next.

On other occasions we must seize the moment and share what He has given us straight away. Never be afraid to share what the Lord gives you, just because it does not make much sense at the time. The larger picture might be incomplete without your contribution!

For Reflection and Prayer

Lord, we are so grateful for the many times
When You have given people ‘living words’
And they have had the courage to pass them on.

(Pause and remember such examples)

Make us open first to hear Your Still Small Voice –
And then to know what to do
With the words and visions that You give.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Heed God’s love nudges

I want to celebrate the way the Still Small Voice impacts the human soul. Words that turn out to be pivotal often originate in gentle whispers that come unheralded, before crystallizing into powerful words that echo across sea and land as if amplified by a megaphone.

When crosswinds blow, the words often appear to fade from view, yet somehow, like frail saplings, they survive the storm and emerge to fulfil all the Lord had in mind.

God speaks not only because He wants us to know what is going on, but because He has already planned solutions for the dilemmas that we face. Call them ‘nudges,’ ‘words of knowledge,’ or ‘prophecies’ – may we be constantly open for the Holy Spirit to sharpen our ability to know things we could not be aware of without His direct impartation.

I am sure you can testify to many occasions when the Lord’s promptings has opened doors and saved you much time and expense. Moreover, following one of God’s ‘love nudges’ often leads to other doors opening.

There are two key principles to bear in mind: ‘Consult before Acting’ and ‘Obedience preceded Understanding.’

I think of a man who was well into his seventies when the Lord called him to serve the Church behind the Iron Curtain. As he approached a border checkpoint on one of his trips, carrying urgently needed supplies, the Lord told him to move a package from its hiding place, and to put it somewhere else. When the border guards came into his car, the only place they checked was the place where the package had been.

It reminds me of how the Lord showed Elisha in great detail what the king of Aram was planning to do to Israel. The information was put to such good use that the king was forced to conclude he must have a traitor in his midst.[7]

We are not psychic if we hear such things: we are simply in touch with the Lord who loves to speak to His children. It is not only about matters of state, therefore, or when someone is going astray, that the Lord speaks.

On a recent trip to London, I was delighted to find lunch waiting on the table when I arrived at my hostess’s house. ‘The Lord told me to have it ready for you,’ she explained. ‘He said that you are diabetic.’ I was doubly grateful: for the food itself – and for the reassurance that the Lord knows my need to eat regularly.

I can think of various occasions when we have arrived on people’s doorsteps having felt a clear check against telephoning them first to see if they were free. Since the people only returned home minutes before we arrived, we would have assumed that they were out – and something precious or important would have been missed. (This is not to make a ‘doctrine’ out of not phoning before visiting. It is normally only courteous to do so.)

Likewise, when we were staying with some friends on holiday, we had more or less promised to take them out for a meal one evening, when the Lord told me to stay in instead. At the risk of appearing stingy we stayed put, only to have a most useful time with someone who dropped by later that evening.

If we do not act on some nudges immediately, the opportunity passes by and is gone forever. If we pluck up courage and reach out to the people the Lord directs us to, be sure to make a note of their names and addresses. God can alert us at any time then if He wants us to get in touch with them again.

Occasionally, something is sufficiently important that He will give us a second chance. As a young Christian, I was walking down the Metro one day in Paris when He told me to go up and witness to a beggar lady. I resisted, arguing that it would make me late for church! (We can be very devious sometimes in justifying our disobedience!) As I put my ticket through the barrier, however, it refused to work.

The Lord had been teaching me a lot about how He is often saying something through these sorts of things. Instead of pausing to inquire, however, I went and bought another ticket.

This time it did work, but when the train stopped at the next station the Lord caught up with me – and there was no mistaking the displeasure in His voice. ‘I told you to go and do it!’ I made my way back and found the woman still there, crying out for somebody to come and talk to her. I had learned a valuable, if not altogether comfortable, lesson concerning the sovereignty of the Lord.

For Reflection and Prayer

Never underestimate what God can accomplish through even the briefest word. One day, a famous guru was startled to hear the Lord say to him, ‘You are not God!’ This simple but far-reaching word began the process that led first to his conversion and then to a wide-ranging ministry, alerting young Westerners to the perils of eastern meditation techniques, and to the parallels between them and certain mind-altering drugs.[8]

Seed nudges that lead to long term fruit

On my return to England, I was walking briskly up the High Street one evening, on my way to preach for the first time at a particular church when the Lord told me distinctly to go back and look at my car. It sounded an odd thing to do. I protested that I did not want to be late for the meeting, but the Lord repeated the instruction, so I went back to look at it. Clouds of acrid smoke were billowing into the car through the heating ducts!

Feeling decidedly foolish, I asked the driver of a car that had just pulled up, ‘Excuse me, are you as expert at putting out car fires?’ To my astonishment, he replied that he was! Taking out a fire extinguisher he promptly saved my vehicle. Was he, perhaps an angel?

On a recent trip to Dresden, I scheduled an extra day at the end, really just to give the Lord the chance to do the unexpected.

After completing my ministry assignments, I heard that the Christian classical musicians in Weimar were meeting on that day, three hours’ drive away. Because I had spoken at their inaugural weekend, five years previously, it felt more right to go there than to spend the time with friends in Dresden.

As soon as I arrived, I was introduced to a Canadian opera singer. ‘What did you say your name was?’ she exclaimed. To our mutual delight, she turned out to be someone I had led to the Lord twenty-seven years ago in Paris. I had long since lost touch with her – but she had been praying that our paths would cross again!

The years rolled back as we made up for lost time. One October Saturday, when I was spending a year abroad as part of my French degree, I had planned to attend a conference in Paris. For the first and only time in its honorable career, however, my alarm clock failed to go off. By the time I woke up it was too late to bother going, so I decided to pay a visit to a (supposedly retired) vicar, whose name I had been given before going to France. I had no idea that he was pasturing a thriving church, and was most surprised to find him leading an afternoon fellowship meeting.

The vicar invited me to share my testimony. A young Canadian au pair approached me at the end of the meeting, asking me to pray with her to receive the Lord Jesus into her heart. And here she was, all these years later, still going strong in the Lord!

Paris holds a special place in my heart. I returned for a brief visit a year or two later and spoke at an evening fellowship meeting. On the following morning, I felt a nudge to visit an outstanding musician who had participated in the meeting. I trekked across the city, only to find that she was out. I dithered at her door, before shoving a note under her door: ‘If ever you are back in the UK, this is my address.’

Three years passed without a word, and then, out of the blue, I heard from her. By now, she was on the committee of the Musicians’ Christian Fellowship, and had been praying about whom to invite as speaker for their annual conference. The Lord impressed on her that she should invite the person who had cared enough to visit her on that occasion three years before, when she had been out.

I wrote back saying that I would have been delighted to accept, but unfortunately had a prior commitment. The following day brought news that I was no longer needed for the other event. I was free to be with the musicians!

I love telling this story, because it illustrates that when God has a purpose in mind, He is both resourceful and determined in bringing it about. I had kicked my self for getting my guidance so badly wrong that day back in Paris – but God knew all along what He intended to bring about through this briefest of contacts.

Many precious friendships and opportunities emerge as the result of that conference, particularly in terms of developing the blend of worship and intercession which we have found to be such an effective way of seeking the Lord for wider issues. Effectively, it marked the beginning of an entirely new phase of our ministry.

I wish I could say I always obeyed the Lord’s nudges so successfully. There have been other occasions when I have been far too slow in responding to what God tells me to do.

I came home from church some months ago tired, but aware of a prompting to give someone a ring. ‘I’m sure it can wait,’ I rationalized and sat down to watch TV. A few minutes later, I had a blazing row with my son – over the matter of what we were watching!

I will never know how urgently the other person needed me to contact them that night, but at least I would have been out of harm’s way, and a most unfortunate confrontation would have been avoided.

For Reflection and Prayer

The Lord always has a reason for speaking to us.
Take some time out to consider specific ways the Lord has spoken to you.
What fruit has there been as a result?

Line my heart up, Lord, to receive more of Your nudges,
and to be quicker to obey them.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Answers that pose further questions

Let him who walks in the dark, who has no light, trust in the name of the Lord and rely on his God.
(Isaiah 50:10)

Much of our hearing comes when we ask God questions. It sometimes feels, however, as though He answers our questions at a tangent – or even sidesteps them altogether.

When Jesus told His country-dwelling disciples that not one stone of Herod’s great Temple would be left on top of each other, the disciples were puzzled and asked Him what He meant.[9] Jesus embarked instead on a wide-ranging overview of the end times. This was no politician ducking an awkward question: this was the Lord introducing His future leaders to themes that would be crucial for the Body of Christ to grapple with throughout the generations to come.

Remember how your maths teachers used to insist that the working out was as important as the answer? Long ago, in the golden age of Greek philosophy, Socrates recognized that people learn best by finding out things for themselves. The ‘Socratic’ style of teaching asks questions in such a way as to help people see truth for themselves.

In the course of his intense suffering, Job asked God many hard questions. The Lord wasted no time justifying Himself, but when He ‘shows up’ at the end of the book, He asked Job a harder set of questions. I find it particularly striking how many times He refers to animals that can be of no possible use to mankind – indeed, which are often hostile to us.

It is as though the Lord was saying through the questions He asked, ‘Look Job, I made these creatures. You cannot tame or harness them. You know next to nothing about them, but they still have their place in My overall scheme of things.’[10]

The Lord often chooses to draw out our understanding rather than telling us too quickly or too directly how to proceed or what to believe – just as He asked Philip a seemingly impossible question in John 6:5-6 in order to test him.

For Reflection and Prayer

There is a real need to search out ways of teaching that draw out people’s understanding.[11] When we feel as though circumstances are crowing and besetting us on all sides, by all means seek the Lord as to what is going on. He loaves it when we ask Him questions – but may they stem more from a desire to be prophetic than from anxiety or fretfulness. Be prepared, too, for Him to ask some in return!

Lord, help me not to become discouraged
when You appear to be slow – reluctant even –
to give straightforward answers.

Thank You that You know exactly what steps to take,
and the right order in which to do them.

Teach me to trust Your character,
even when I cannot discern Your leading.

1 For a few examples of significant dreams and visions, consider Genesis 15:1ff; 31:24; Acts 11:5ff, 16:9, 18:9; Ezekiel 1-3; 11:1-25; Matthew 1:20-21; Rev 1:1-2, cf Acts 2:17; 2 Cor 12:11 Although no one can see the Lord’s face, He promised that He would cause His goodness to pass in front of Moses. (Exodus 33:19-20)
3 Psalm 27:10
4 For a few examples of significant dreams and visions, consider Genesis 15:1ff; 31:24; Acts 11:5ff, 16:9, 18:9; Ezekiel 1-3; 11:1-25; Matthew 1:20-21; Rev 1:1-2, cf Acts 2:17; 2 Cor 12:1
5 Elias Canetti wrote, ‘All the things one has forgotten scream for help in dreams.’ Freud wrote, ‘The interpretation of dreams is the royal road to a knowledge of the unconscious activities of the mind.’ It is a shame he knew nothing about the workings of the Holy Spirit.
6 Acts 10. I love the way the angel tells Cornelius that his prayers and almsgiving have come up as a memorial to the Lord.
7 2 Kings 5:25ff. Cf 2 Kings 6:10-12
8 Dave Hunt Death of a Guru (Hodder and Stoughton)
9 Mark 13:2
10 Job 38-42
11 Eg Wolfgang Simson ‘Houses that change the world – the return of the house churches.’ (Authentic Media). See especially pp. 215-217.