I had gone off the theological deep end.
At least my friend seemed to think so. I had just finished telling her about testimonies I had heard from Central Asians that involved experiencing Jesus in dreams—dreams of images like a figure in a white robe, a cross, or a lamb. Such dreams had become milestones on these Muslims’ journeys to Christ, yet my friend seemed to doubt the facts of my statement.
She reacted as if I had cut loose my spiritual anchor, abandoning the authority of Scripture to adopt an uncertain theology of experiences and feelings. I walked away indignant and defensive. Who says what these former Muslims experienced wasn’t legitimate, I thought.
Several years later, I took a role to coordinate prayer requests from church planting teams in Central Asia. I noticed that people on these teams requested prayers for Jesus to reveal himself to their Muslim friends in dreams or visions. My new responsibility triggered an acute awareness of how Christians in Muslim contexts discussed and prayed for dreams. Sometimes I felt uneasy by what I heard or read, but I wasn’t sure why. I began to question the perspective I offered to my friend years earlier. Is it okay to want God to work through dreams? Is it okay to pray for dreams?
It’s easy to inadvertently build a theology based on experience, so I used a few questions to approach this issue in light of scriptural truth.
What Scriptural Principles Apply?
There are many biblical encounters when God revealed himself through a dream, a vision, or an extraordinary experience. This was frequent in the Old Testament, but it even happened in the New Testament. For example, Jesus revealed himself to the apostle Paul in a flash of light and a voice.
Paul’s experience with Jesus on the Damascus Road, however, was not the foundation for his theology about evangelism and ministry. The experience itself did not become a normative principle. Rather, Paul and other New Testament writers taught that the consistent means of encountering Christ is the work of the Holy Spirit through the faithful proclamation of the Word.
“Our foundational prayer in evangelism should be for the Holy Spirit to change hearts as we preach the gospel.”
Paul asked the Colossian church to pray that he would have opportunities to proclaim the mysteries of Christ (Col. 4:2–4). He told the Corinthians that God was spreading the “aroma of the knowledge of him” through the members of the church (2 Cor. 2:14 HCSB). Paul put the onus on the proclamation of the gospel when he said, “And how can they believe without hearing about him? And how can they hear without a preacher?” (Rom. 10:14 HCSB). Our foundational prayer in evangelism should be for the Holy Spirit to change hearts as we preach the gospel.
What Do I Believe about God?
When considering dreams, we must examine the posture of our hearts toward God. He is not obligated to work within the confines of cultural values—be they Western or Eastern values. He doesn’t need to reveal himself through dreams to Muslims. Yet he can, and he often does.
God’s mercy in drawing sinners to repentance is beyond comprehension. We can cling to the sufficiency of Scriptures and the means of gospel proclamation to spread the kingdom but still praise God for his glorious, unexpected displays of grace. This is a grace that draws men and women out of Islam to embrace the beauty and divinity of Isa Mesih, Jesus Christ. Belittling extraordinary displays of mercy that draw Muslims to the gospel belittles God himself.
“Whether we agree on the particulars of how to approach dreams in a Muslim context, God will fulfill his glorious plan for salvation.”
With this mindset, we can say with Job, “I know that you can do anything, and no plan of yours can be thwarted” (Job 42:2 HCSB). A testimony that involves a dream should move our hearts to sing, “For who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?” (Rom. 11:34 HCSB).
What or Who Am I Choosing to Exalt?
It can be tempting to wow people with testimonies about dreams. Whether we ask people to pray for dreams or recount a story about a dream, we should always exalt Christ, not the dream itself. Yes, include the dream, but don’t stop there. Tell the whole story that gets to the heart of the gospel. This is a story of a sinless Savior who died in our place and conquered sin and death. It’s the greatest story we could ever tell. We don’t want to leave listeners fixated on the dream without seeing the glory of the giver of the dream.
How Will I Approach God in Prayer?
As I recently passed the home of my ninety-four-year-old neighbor, I did pray that God would give her a dream of Jesus. But I also prayed that I would be faithful to persevere in proclaiming Christ to her. If God uses a dream to draw her to repent and believe the gospel I’ve shared with her, you can be sure I will be singing praise to God.
Whether you’re someone who has never thought deeply about dreams or a skeptic who thinks God doesn’t work through dreams, persevere in relentless, faith-filled prayer because God has promised to save Muslims. Pray the Holy Spirit will open blind eyes. Pursue obedience in evangelism, and wait in confidence for God to accomplish his redemptive purposes.
Whether we agree on the particulars of how to approach dreams in a Muslim context, God will fulfill his glorious plan for salvation. One day men and women from every nation, tribe, people, and language will worship before the throne, and that’s something we can all dream about.
Madeline Arthington serves in Central Asia.