How to Interpret Your Dreams

Night sky

Ever had a puzzling dream? I have—tons of them. And if a dream contains a message, I want to understand what it is.

14 For God does speak—now one way, now another—though no one perceives it.
15 In a dream, in a vision of the night, when deep sleep falls on people as they slumber in their beds,
16 he may speak in their ears…
–Job 33:14-16a NIV

This post presents a method of dream interpretation I developed from that of psychologist David Ryback.

Dreams: prophetic or symbolic?

We experience two basic types of dreams: prophetic dreams and symbolic dreams.

Prophetic dreams

Prophetic dreams are dreams that come true. They usually depict realistic scenes without much symbolism, and their content is literal. Dreamers find them memorable and recount them as being so vivid and strange they must tell someone about it.

Prophetic dreams often contain one or more odd details that, when they come true, are far beyond coincidence. These rare dreams often prove to be precognitive, foretelling some event.

Two out of three people claim to have had prophetic dreams. Those who give credence to their dreams, as I do, remember them and have more prophetic dreams than those who deny the experience.

When they are heeded, prophetic dreams may forewarn or prepare the dreamer for some future event (see Job 33:15-18).

Symbolic dreams

Symbolic dreams are more common and what we’ll focus on in this post.

Symbolic dreams are filled with seemingly nonsensical happenings. They draw images from our life experiences and mash them together in unique and interesting ways.

Although they may not come true in a literal sense, symbolic dreams have practical interpretations that can provide understanding and direction for our lives. That’s why we must learn to understand them.

At center stage are our emotions, which play parts in a drama. Symbolic dreams are disguised and emotionally encoded in story form using symbols that we must interpret.

“Universal dream dictionaries” may be popular, but every dream analysis book I’ve ever read says that symbols used in our dreams are personal, meaning they’re unique to us as individuals and therefore must be interpreted personally. It’s easy, once you get the hang of it. Here’s how.

Training yourself to remember your dreams

Some people say they never dream. But everyone dreams, although not everyone remembers their dreams.

It takes some practice to train yourself to wake immediately after dreaming and then record your dream. I begin by repeating to myself as I’m falling asleep, “I will remember my dreams… I will wake and record them….”

It may take a few nights or a few weeks, but with determination, eventually you will succeed in waking after a dream.

Tips: The longer you sleep, the better your chances of remembering dreams. Get to sleep early so that you don’t need to jump out of bed at the blare of an alarm. Days off are best for recording dreams, when you can awake slowly, enjoying that dawning phase between sleep and waking consciousness.

Summary of the dream analysis process

The symbolic dream analytic and interpretive process follows these steps:

  1. Write down or record your dream.
  2. Identify the dream elements.
  3. Use word association on each dream element.
  4. Divide your dream into dramatic scenes.
  5. Interpret each scene according to its word associations.
  6. Summarize your final dream interpretation.
  7. Seeking the Lord, make a positive response.

This process works on both prophetic and symbolic dreams. I’ll use a recent symbolic dream of mine as an example.

1. Write down or record your dream.

You can’t analyze your dreams unless you in some way record them. Once you’ve trained yourself to wake after dreaming (see above), you must record the dream immediately upon waking.

Tip: Be aware that the less you move your body upon waking, the more you will be able to remember.

Keep a notepad and pen beside your bed. Or use a recording device. (I use the voice memo app on my smartphone.)

Write or speak your dream naturally, as if you’re telling a story to someone else. Don’t worry about the writing or spelling—just get it down quickly.

Include the main ideas, sensory images, strange little details, expressions, reactions, and anything happening on the side. Remain in the dream mood as much as you can. Relate as much detail and emotion as possible.

Let’s use an example of a dream of mine I recorded on the morning of May 31, 2018, to learn the process.

Dream of Class Being Healed, and Me, Dragged by the Power of the Spirit Around the Classroom

I’m in a class, studying spiritual things. And we all begin to get sick with a stomach virus with flu-like symptoms. The teacher says this happens every time she teaches the class and says, “Could you believe for one to be healed? How about if we can believe for the entire class to be healed?”

We close our eyes—I don’t know whether we’re praying or resting or whatever—but at some point I’m sitting up against the wall in the back right corner of the room. I feel something take me by the scruff of the neck or the back of my shirt and begin to drag me across the floor, around the perimeter of the room. [I believe it was the power of God, like the Spirit dragging Ezekiel.]

I was in the back on the right, and it drags me across the back wall and then around the left wall. There must be 300 to 500 people in the room.

I begin to see things, writing appear on the wall, things that she [the teacher] said, like, “By your stripes we are healed.”  I go, “Whoooaaa!”

When I stop, I have a page of notes with me that I’ve already taken some notes on. She finds me in the front right corner like with my neck or back glued against… I don’t know whether it was a radiator. I can’t move; I can’t get up.

I try to and finally go back to where I was, but then can’t find my papers.

It was just the most amazing thing, that healing was released, and everybody got healed. I got dragged around the entire room and saw the writing on the wall change colors. Amazing dream!

Note that I used present tense: “I am in a class,” not, “I was in a class.” Record your dreams in present tense.

If you record your dreams as audio, you must transcribe them. I transcribe all my dreams and store them in my database of journaling words from the Lord.

2. Identify the dream elements.

Read through your written copy and underline every dream element: each person, place, action, emotion, and descriptive word or phrase. Here’s what I did with my dream:

I’m in a class, studying spiritual things. And we all begin to get sick with a stomach virus with flu-like symptoms. The teacher says this happens every time she teaches the class and says, “Could you believe for one to be healed? How about if we can believe for the entire class to be healed?”

We close our eyes—I don’t know whether we’re praying or resting or whatever—but at some point I’m sitting up against the wall in the back right corner of the room. I feel something take me by the scruff of the neck or the back of my shirt and begin to drag me across the floor, around the perimeter of the room. [I believe it was the power of God, like the Spirit dragging Ezekiel.]

I was in the back on the right, and it drags me across the back wall and then around the left wall. There must be 300 to 500 people in the room.

I begin to see things, writing appear on the wall, things that she [the teacher] said, like, “By your stripes we are healed.”  I go, “Whoooaaa!”

When I stop, I have a page with me that I’ve already taken some notes on. She finds me in the front right corner like with my neck or back glued against… I don’t know whether it was a radiator. I can’t move; I can’t get up.

I try to and finally go back to where I was, but then can’t find my papers.

But it was just the most amazing thing, that healing was released, and everybody got healed. I got dragged around the entire room and saw the writing on the wall change colors. Amazing dream!

Now, list these underlined elements on a clean sheet of paper, leaving two or three blank lines between each entry.

Class:

Spiritual things:

Get sick with a stomach virus:

… etc.

3. Use word association on each dream element.

At this time, don’t think about the meaning of the dream. Instead, quickly review your list and, using word association, jot down the first thing that comes to mind upon hearing the element. If several things come to mind, record them all briefly. You especially want to identify the emotions.

Tip: You could have someone read each item on the list for you and take notes as you respond.

Here’s how I fleshed out the above list:

Class:  Place of teaching, learning. Students on the same page, learning.

Spiritual things:  Biblical teaching, things (gifts?) of the Spirit.

Get sick with a stomach virus:  Affects what we’ve ingested. Problem with assimilating the teaching—it doesn’t sit well. Prophetic revelation, like John eating the scroll in Rev. 10:9-10 [https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Revelation+10%3A9-10&version=NIV].

Flu-like symptoms:  Vomiting, fever. “Like”: fake symptoms?

Every time she teaches the class:  Common reaction. Everyone reacts this way to the teaching when they first receive it. It’s meat, not milk.

Believe for the entire class to be healed:  She doesn’t dismiss the class due to illness. Takes it a step further from individual healing to mass healing. Don’t step back in fear, but surge forward in faith.

Close our eyes:  Traditional posture of prayer. Take our focus off the natural.

Praying or resting:  Seek the lord, rest and trust in the Lord.

Sitting up against the wall in the back:  Not part of the class, on the outskirts (an outcast?). “Back against the wall”—in a hard-pressed situation; as far away as I can get without being totally excluded. But still hungry for the teaching.

I feel something take me by the scruff of the neck or the back of my shirt and drag me across the floor:  The power of God. Unexpected Holy Spirit power encounter. Done by a hand: the hand of the Lord.

Around the perimeter of the room:  Although I’m on the outskirts, I’m still “in the box.”

Drags me: Hand of the Lord. Spirit transportation (Ezek. 3:14,22 [https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=ezek+3%3A14%2C22&version=NIV])

300 to 500 people in the room:  Teaching is popular; many are hungry for it and want to receive it.

Writing appear on the wall:  Prophetic message like in Daniel (Dan. 5:5,24-28 [https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Dan.+5%3A5%2C24-28&version=NIV]). Supernatural breaks into the natural. Done by a hand.

“By your stripes we are healed”: The Scripture being demonstrated prophetically by the power of God.

“Whoooaaah!”: I’m blown away and ecstatic that this is happening to me.

Page with me… taken some notes on:  Traditional way of learning. Learning with my mind instead of spiritually experiencing. The Law vs. the Spirit.

Neck or back glued against… radiator:  God has pinned me down, put the heat on.

I can’t move, can’t get up:  Under the power. God is in control.

Go back to where I was:  To my original place in the back, still on the outskirts.

Can’t find my papers:  My notes, my traditional mental way of learning. Maybe this way is no longer the one to use.

Healing was released:  Power of God demonstrated to bless His seekers.

Everybody got healed:  Not a small feat but a big miracle, like when the children of Israel left Egypt (Ps. 105:37 TLB). A corporate manifestation.

Dragged around the entire room:  Controlled and moved by the power of God.

Saw the writing on the wall change colors:  Technicolor. The ancient Word comes alive. The prophetic, upgraded.

Get the idea? Don’t belabor the process. Think quickly, freely, and listen to your spirit. You may want to make several passes, fleshing out your list over the course of a few days.

4. Divide your dream into dramatic scenes.

Now, divide the dream text and its corresponding associations into four dramatic scenes, like those of a story or play:

  1. Setting: The first scene presents the setting of the dream and its initial situation.
  2. Conflict: This is where some problem or dilemma is presented.
  3. Climax: The situation and problem work out to a crisis here.
  4. Resolution: The conclusion suggests a solution or a change in attitude. If you take this part of the dream seriously, it will reveal its meaning.

Transitions between scenes are often indicated by words like “all of a sudden” or “then.”

Delineate the scenes of your dream according to one of these approaches for the four segments:

Dramatic Scene Approach Symbolic Approach
Setting Situation
Conflict Problem: dilemma, question
Climax Crisis, working out to a climax
Denouement Resolution, answer

Use whatever terms feel right for you. Split your associations list into the same segments.

Here’s how I divided up my dream:

Situation: I’m in a class, studying spiritual things with 300-500 other students, who are sitting in chairs. But I’m sitting on the floor in the back corner with my back against the wall, taking notes.

Problem: We all begin to get sick with a stomach virus thing with flu-like symptoms. The teacher says this happens every time she teaches the class and says, “Could you believe for one to be healed? How about if we can believe for the entire class to be healed?”

Crisis/climax: I’m dragged around the room by the hand of God and immobilized. I see writing on the wall change colors.

Resolution: I return to my original place but can’t find my notes I’d taken on the teaching.

5. Interpret each scene according to its word associations.

Review your associations for each section and translate them into a coherent summarizing thought, the dramatic point of that scene. Here are some helpful questions to spark your interpretations:

  1. Setting/situation: “What is this dream about?”
  2. Conflict: “What is the dilemma?” or “What is the question?”
  3. Climax: “What happens next?” or “How does it work out?”
  4. Solution: “What is the resolution?”

If you have trouble with some of your listed dream elements, you might glean deeper understanding by personifying them. For example, I could consider the teacher in my dream a character and hold a conversation with her, asking her what she wants, how she feels, and so on, and then answering freely for her using my sanctified imagination.

Remember that you’re looking for the emotional meaning of the symbols in your dream.

Here’s how I interpreted the scenes of my dream:

Situation: What is this dream about?
The dream is about… wanting to learn and participate in the ministry of the Holy Spirit. I’m as hungry as everyone else, but I’m in a position of being on the outskirts (whether self-imposed or imposed by the class, I don’t know). I’m learning as best I know how, using the methods I’ve always used (taking notes).

Conflict: What is the dilemma?
The dilemma is that… the whole class gets sick. Perhaps the teaching is “hard to swallow,” or stretching us beyond tradition and comfort, dealing with new and advanced prophetic principles. Can we believe not just for individual healing (belief of the past) to corporate healing (challenge of the present)? Can we take it to the next level?

Climax: What happens next?
It works out that… we begin to pray, and the power of the Holy Spirit, the “hand of God,” drags me physically around the perimeter of the room. I see technicolor writing on the wall of things that are being taught. The supernatural breaks into the natural realm in a powerful way. The entire class is healed.

Solution: What is the resolution?
The resolution is that… I am immobilized by the power of God—learning my lesson that God is in control. I cannot go back to the ways of learning the things of the Spirit as I had before. I must not simply study but must experience the power of God.

When you interpret each scene individually, you’ll notice how seemingly unconnected segments now make sense when you analyze and interpret them. I was surprised at what I uncovered through this process.

6. Summarize your final dream interpretation.

Next, take the analyzed segments and weave them into a final interpretation. Here’s what I did:

This dream is about my hunger to learn the ways of God and the things of the Spirit. I’m studying by traditional means and feel that I’m on the outskirts, not belonging with others.

But in this day God is teaching new things, advanced lessons in the prophetic, and they must be learned not by classwork and book learning, but by direct experience with the power of God’s Spirit.

God is able to do exceedingly abundantly above what we can ask or think (Eph. 3:20). God will demonstrate His power not only to me, but to all who believe Him for great things.

Once you see the power of God demonstrated, you can’t go back to former ways. You’ve taken a step up into new prophetic advances. I need to step forward into the things God is doing now.

So this is how I interpreted my dream. Is it accurate? Only time will tell.

If you feel your interpretations aren’t quite hitting the mark, make a first-pass attempt at analysis and then come back for another round in a day or two. Meditate and pray over it. When you have an “Aha!” moment, that’s when you know you’ve interpreted the resolution correctly.

7. Make a prayerful, positive response.

Interpreting your dreams is interesting but serves little purpose unless you respond in some way to their messages.

Each dream presents a lesson that is revealed through your Spirit-inspired analysis and interpretation. Armed with understanding during your waking hours, you must decide if and how to respond to the dream lesson.

My response to my dream is this:

  • Even though I feel like I’m on the outskirts, I’m hungry for God, and God will use me to demonstrate the power of His Spirit.
  • I will submit to God’s hand upon me, even if He wants to use me as an example.
  • There’s no substitute for experiencing the power of God. I will yield myself joyfully to the Holy Spirit and believe Him for great things.
  • I will not worry about past ways of learning but accept the new prophetic things He is revealing in this hour.

I hope this post proves helpful in interpreting your dreams. It’s definitely a process that must be practiced. But once you learn it, the revelation and insight are rewarding.

Until next time, sweet dreams!