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How does God use dreams?

What dreams should we pay heed to and which should we ignore?

Do dreams count? Is there a spiritual dimension to them? Should we pay attention to them?

The answer is probably yes, no, well: maybe. We know, of course, that there's a spiritual dimension by virtue of the Bible -- which recounts the role of dreams in both testaments (Psalms, Daniel, Job, Matthew), particularly with the Nativity itself: the way a dream informed Joseph about Mary's innocence despite what appeared to be and later warned the Holy Family to flee from Herod's massacre of the innocents.

Dreams aren't just mentioned in the Bible: they play a critical role.

Even Pontius Pilot's wife had one pertaining to Christ (God communicating the Truth and the Light)!

But back to those questions: as far as our own lives, what is the purpose of dreams? Can we interpret them for hidden messages, or at least some sort of meaning? Is it safe to ignore them; how safe is it to act on them? How much influence should they possess in our lives?

These are some of the questions posed and answered by an author named Barbie L. Breathitt who calls herself Christian and believes -- based on her interpretations of Scripture -- that the Lord indeed deploys dreams to affect our lives. He uses dreams to wake us up, to give us prophetic insight, and to spur us forward toward our dreams and destiny so we don't lose sight of them," she maintains. "In a society where success often looks like busyness and hurried insanity, God sometimes talks to us the only way He can: when we are asleep.

"That's when we are quiet enough to hear Him. He can reveal our emotions, our pain, future events, and even the secrets of others' lives to us. The puzzles that God uses in dreams are a secret language known to us, God, and to the people we have the dreams about.

"While we sleep," argues the author, "our souls continually search for God. We desire to make contact with the all-knowing Creator [see Psalm 121:3-4]. Sleep is the time God chooses to give us perspective, to steer us away from harmful events, and to give us life, vision, direction, provision, and destiny."

They are snippets of life. The involve the imagination. They are splices of a subconscious domain. It's an area about which to be very careful. Dreams are often simply a regurgitation of the subconscious. Everything from what we experience to what we eat before going to bed can affect what we then recall in those night-time dramas. Moreover, dream interpretation too often seems to venture into the realm of the New Age.

Here we have to raise an actual alarm. For the New Age always seeks to infiltrate Christianity, putting us on our guard whether the mysticism is angels, dreams, near-death episodes, or apparitions. According to one Christian watchdog, Breathitt not only delves into the meaning of numbers but also of color therapy and has devised dream "cards." Besides dream interpretations, one of the cards lists colors and musical keys that are supposed to bring healing to specific body parts. The use of music and colors for healing is also promoted in occult circles, notes the watchdog. There is so much out there that must be approached with caution.

Much of the time, dreams make little or no sense. Often, dreams are surreal. And perhaps that's because they are, in many cases, a simple release of the subconscious.

How many times have you dreamt about something that caused past tension -- a trip, work, taking college exams (even years after graduation)?

But there is certainly a value to dreams when it comes to physical and mental health and on occasion spiritual formation. Like Joseph, we are sometimes warned in dreams. We are informed. We may encounter a symbol that grants us knowledge about something or someone with which or whom we need to be cautious. They can prepare us for future events, challenges, or decisions. The mind -- free of conscious restraint -- meanders in what seems like other dimensions. As Breathitt -- who wrote a book called Dream Encounters -- says, dreams are like parables that direct our paths. She quotes Job 33:15: "In a dream, in a vision of the night, when sleep falls on men as they slumber in their beds, He may speak in their ears and terrify them with warnings, to turn man from wrongdoing and keep him from pride, to preserve his soul from the pit, his life from perishing by the sword."

That much we can accept. God spoke to Abram in the "night seasons."

Unfortunately, the devil is also a watcher in the night and can infuse the thought process. Never do we escape the need for discernment! But it seems like a good idea to spend a moment recollecting dreams every morning (before they evaporate) and praying as to whether they carry meaning.

If a dream is from God, He will let you know it! They are different. Have you had incredible, lucid dreams? Have any come true? Do you dream of deceased loved ones?

It's when we put too much stock in dreams -- or become obsessed with interpreting them -- that we risk running off course (and into deception).

Can one say -- as does the author -- that dreams of flying may indicate a creative person or be encouragement to "rise above" real life circumstances? Are falling dreams related to being knocked off balance or overwhelming episodes in life? Do "chase" dreams symbolize anxiety, stress, and pressure in waking life situations? What of what we wear (or don't wear) in dreams? What of colors? What about recurring nightmares?

Some children are plague by what is known as "night terror" -- fright at night that goes beyond normal young trepidation.

In that case, it seems clear something should be cast out. Bedtime is a good time for sacramentals.

"Night terrors are most common during the first third of the night, often between midnight and three a.m.," says the National Center for Biotechnology Information.

At night, we are vulnerable. The veil thins. The spirit wanders. And for this reason, praying just before falling asleep -- in fact, praying as we fall asleep -- is very important and may indeed enhance God's communication (as well as His protection).

St. Michael... Blessed Mother... Dear Jesus....

They are words not only to enhance dreams but to prevent insomnia. Our "mantra" is "Jesus."

"It is essential that we learn to still our racing minds by releasing stress and calming ourselves," suggests Breathitt. "Instead of ruminating or mulling over problems and concerns of the day, make it a habit to compile a list of thoughts, worries, and concerns on a pad of paper kept near the bed.

"Whisper a simple prayer.

"Ask God for the needed answers and then allow His peace to take over.

"We should believe that we will receive God's Divine intervention and answers and enjoy peaceful, deep sleep."

"When you lie down, you will not be afraid; Yes, you will lie down and your sleep will be sweet," says Proverbs 3:24.

That much we'll accept -- with a splash of Holy Water.

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