[Jacob] had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. There above it stood the LORD, and he said: "I am the LORD, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying." (Bereshit / Genesis 28:12,13)A couple of weeks ago I heard Bruce Wilkenson, author of the book "Dream Giver" - a book I read a couple of years ago. His talk was a powerful reminder of some of the principles he explains in his book. Wilkinson's premise is that every single person has a dream or dreams in their heart. These dreams come to us from God. In order to live the life we were meant to live, we need to follow those dreams.
Before examining the Bible's perspective on this, we need to make clear that Wilkenson doesn’t mean "dream" in the technical sense. He is using it in the popular sense of heart desire. This is most likely what Martin Luther King Jr. meant in his famous "I Have a Dream" speech. He wasn't saying that he had a literal dream in which he saw the breaking down of racial barriers. He meant that he had a burning desire to bring racial equality into reality.
While this popular use of the term, "dream" is both common and clear, it does confuse the issue, since the Bible doesn't use these terms in this way. When the Bible refers to dreams, it means them literally, as is the case with Jacob in this week's Torah portion. This distinction between the popular use of these terms and how the Bible uses them is very important, especially if we are going to bring the God of the Bible into the discussion.
So does the Bible support the idea that everyone has a "dream" or heart desire from God? Are we responsible to discover that thing (whatever we call it) in order to live our lives the way God intends?
First, with regard to literal dreams, not all people ever receive them. While there are several examples of such things in the Scriptures, not everyone in the Bible has this kind of experience and nowhere are we told that dreams are a necessary aspect of a true life of faith. I do think that such things are more common than we might care to admit and that those of us who have been brought up within secular framework tend to filter out such phenomena, but that's a topic for another time. However, as common as such things may be, not everyone has them.
As for the dreams recorded in the Bible, they do not all have the sense of creating something hoped for in the individual, which is how we use "dream" in the popular sense. Therefore we should be careful when trying to apply the Bible's use of "dream" when referring to its popular use.
What then about the popular use of "dream," meaning desire? We read in the Psalms:
Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart. (Psalm 37:4)
It is possible that what David is saying is that when we delight in God, then the desires of our hearts are the very things God himself desires. And when we have God's desires in our hearts, then we can expect him to accomplish them. But this doesn't imply that every desire we have is necessarily from God and automatically becomes that which we were meant to pursue.
This is what is missing from what I have observed from Wilkinson's teaching. While his book is helpful to understand the dynamics of living out our God-given dreams (more correctly "desires"), we need to find out how to discern those things in our hearts that are actually from him.
There are two key things that will help us in this: First, we need to realize that the communication of God's plans and purposes in our lives are primarily his responsibility. We are not required to climb mountains or swim oceans in our attempt to figure out God's will for our lives. The Bible illustrates that when God wants to communicate to people, he does, as he did in Jacob's case.
The second thing is something we can do and that is to get to know him better. The better we know him, the better prepared we will be to receive special assignments as they come, whether they come through dreams or not.