Spiritual Encounters with God: Dreams

Spiritual Encounters with God: Dreams

James R. Aist

‘In the last days it shall be,’ says God, ‘that I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.” – Acts 2:17

Introduction

This article is the second in a short series on “Spiritual Encounters with God.” The first article in the series is about visions and voices (click HERE). This time, we will focus on dreams that God uses to illustrate spiritual lessons. I’m usually not one to read a lot either into or out of dreams, as some are want to do, but there are two of my dreams that stand apart from all the rest. They made a deep and lasting impression on me, and, at the time, I knew almost immediately that they were illustrated lessons that God wanted me to learn. So, I paid special attention to them and wrote them down right away.  Among Pentecostal and Charismatic believers, such personal, revelational encounters with God are commonly referred to as “Rhema.” As you are reading, please keep in mind that God interacts with each of His born-again children however He chooses, and one’s lack of a corresponding spiritual encounter with God does not rule out the validity of another’s.

The first dream came to me in 1991. In the dream, I was at a party, celebrating a great research accomplishment of mine that had gained considerable notoriety in the media. The partygoers were all abuzz about it, and I enjoyed listening to their excitement and their lavish praise for the “one” (me) who had done this great thing.

At first, no one recognized me as the one who had achieved this outstanding accomplishment. Then, someone identified me and shouted out, “There he is; he’s the one who did it!” Everyone was very impressed, and they all turned to gaze at me. Suddenly, someone across the room shouted, ”Quiet, I’m getting a message.” After a brief pause, people began to ask him, “What was it?” He turned, pointed straight at me and said, dramatically, “He is powerful!” Then they all “ahhhh-ed” in unison and turned to gaze at me, again.

At that moment, something welled up inside of me as if to take me over, to reveal itself, and I was as if transformed, no longer in control. I was surprised at what was happening to me and at what happened next. I rose up (levitated) high above the crowd, stretched out my arms and, with a fierce look on my face, let out a mighty roar that caused the whole place to shudder. The purpose of this performance was to display my awesome power, frighten them and gain control over them. It seemed to work, and I was feeling evil, haughty and superior. And, I was enjoying it.

Before long, however, I began to regain control of myself. Almost instantly I became very upset with what I had done, and I was condemning this show of power for self-exaltation and desiring fervently to, instead, proclaim the power of God, not of me. So, I started declaring, over and over, “God is powerful, God is powerful…” to somehow counteract the evil thing I had just done.

Then I woke up, still repeating “God is powerful”, until I sensed that whatever it was within me that took control of me had been defeated, and it was clear to me where I really stood with respect to God. I was very fearful of that hideous “thing”, the thing that had manifested itself through me and wanted to control other people through a sinister display of supernatural power.

The next day I recorded this dream in my journal and set about to understand the meaning and purpose of it. The dream indicated and confirmed to me that something despicable in me was seeking dominion over others for evil purposes. It was seeking to substitute itself for God, through me. Clearly, it was an evil spirit, a spirit of pride. The dream was a warning to me to not succumb to pride, and to doggedly resist the temptation to pride until it was overcome and no longer had any control over me. It was a sobering and frightful experience, and a good lesson for all of us.

The second dream came during the winter of 2006-2007, and I believe it was also from God and of spiritual significance. I was an onlooker in the dream and right there on the scene, as the events unfolded.

The scene was an open field among rolling hills, with patches of trees lining the perimeter. A heavy set, scruffy looking, bearded man was in charge of the proceedings. He ordered his henchmen to strap an alligator to the underbelly of a nearby gigantic, scaly, rotund, dinosaur-like beast, using two thick, heavy, elastic bands, and they did. When I inquired what was going on, he explained to me that the alligator has to learn to obey.

At that he commanded the beast, “Go!”, and the beast began to run swiftly through the countryside in great and powerful leaps, with the alligator strapped tightly to his underbelly. As he ran, the back of the alligator rubbed back-and-forth against the hard, sharp scales of the beast’s underbelly with each leap, because of the elasticity of the bands. After just a few leaps forward, the beast’s scales had torn through the tough hide of the alligator and were ripping away at his flesh. The alligator was in such horrific pain and terror that he cried out repeatedly in a loud voice, as if to plead for mercy, but the beast would not stop until he had completed a wide circle through the countryside, as prescribed. I was terrified, watching helplessly as the poor alligator could do nothing to prevent the process from being carried to its gruesome, painful and bloody conclusion. The henchmen then freed the alligator and sent him on his way, writhing in pain. As for me, I was aghast at what I had just witnessed and too afraid to say anything.

Then I woke up and began to ponder in my heart what the meaning of the dream might be. After a brief period of pondering, I conceded the obvious: the dream was a stern warning to me, to turn away from my besetting sins and obey God. If I don’t, I will be the alligator, and I will learn to obey…the hard way. So, I resolved, right then and there, not to become the alligator!

Now let’s compare this dream and its interpretation to 1 Corinthians 5:5, “…deliver him to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that the spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord Jesus.” Sobering, isn’t it? God is so serious about our sins that he sent His only begotten Son, Jesus, to die for them. So, let’s learn from the alligator and get serious with God about obedience, OK?

(You can find more of my biblically oriented articles if you click HERE)

Did Paul Really Have a Thorn in His Flesh?

Did Paul Really Have a Thorn in His Flesh?

James R. Aist

Introduction

Speculation abounds concerning what Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” (2 Corinthians 12:1-10) actually was. Could it have been a literal thorn in his physical body, or a kind of demon that followed him around, or a person who doggedly opposed his ministry, or, perhaps, some sort of physical handicap, or none of the above, or something else entirely? At the end of this article I will provide links to a couple of online articles that will go much further into this specific question than I care to, if you want to go there. What I want to focus on here is the specific points of solid information that Paul, himself, provides in his letter concerning his “thorn in the flesh” and then to emphasize and elaborate briefly on the points that Paul was actually making, in the context of this entire passage. It’s important that we do not get so carried away with speculation about what his “thorn in the flesh” was that we lose sight of why Paul shared this personal experience with us in the first place. But first, let’s consider the basic nature of the phrase itself, to get us off on a proper footing.

What Is the Nature of the Phrase “Thorn in the Flesh”

Let’s begin by considering what a ‘colloquialism” is: it is a word, phrase, or expression characteristic of ordinary or familiar conversation rather than formal speech or writing, such as “She’s out” meaning “She is not at home.” “Thorn in the flesh”, then, is a colloquialism used to describe a chronic infirmity, annoyance, or trouble in one’s life. We can get the impression that Paul’s use of the phrase was also colloquial by consulting several Old Testament passages that use a similar phrase to refer to people who were, or would be, an annoyance or hindrance to the Israelites (Numbers 33:55; Joshua 23:13; Ezekiel 2:6; and Ezekiel 28:24). These people were enemies alright, but they were not literal thorns and they were not in the literal flesh of the Israelites! Thus, Paul’s use of the phrase “thorn in the flesh” is not to be understood to refer to a literal thorn or splinter residing in Paul’s physical body. But it does refer to some sort of chronic annoyance or hindrance in Paul’s life.

What Paul Actually Said about His “Thorn in the Flesh”

Here is the passage presented in its entirety, so that we can refer more easily to the relevant points that Paul makes:

“I must go on boasting. Although there is nothing to be gained, I will go on to visions and revelations from the Lord.I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows.And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows—was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell.I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses.Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say,or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.  That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

Now, so that we can quickly move on to the really important messages that Paul has for us, I’m simply going to enumerate what Paul said about his “thorn in the flesh”:

  • It was given to him to keep him from becoming conceited because of the surpassingly great revelations that he had received from God.
  • It was a “messenger of Satan”.
  • It tormented him.
  • Paul repeatedly asked God to remove it, to no avail.
  • Instead of removing it, God said to Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

And that’s all we really know about Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” per se. So, let’s leave it at that and move on.

Paul’s Message to Us

Again, allow me to simply enumerate what Paul has for us here, with brief commentaries, so as to let his message points speak clearly to us:

  • It was OK for Paul to ask that this “thorn in the flesh” be taken from him, as God did not admonish Paul for asking. Therefore, we, too, will not be asking amiss if we do the same, if and when we find ourselves in a similar situation.
  • God had a blessing for Paul located, if you will, in the midst of his torment. In the same way, God may embed a blessing for us in the midst of a troublesome or painful situation or experience that He allows us to endure. We would do well to look for the blessing.
  • The “thorn in the flesh” kept Paul from becoming conceited. Likewise, God will probably not hesitate to humble us, if and when we need it. If that happens to us, just remember to trust that God has a good reason for doing it, and don’t get discouraged.
  • When Paul realized that God had a good reason for answering his prayer with a resounding “No”, he learned to rejoice in his dependency on God’s provision of strength and power, rather than to overestimate his own abilities and risk coming up short when put to the test. We can, and should, learn the same lesson by simply meditating on Paul’s account of his “thorn in the flesh.” Just maybe we won’t need a messenger of Satan to torment us!

(For more articles on BIBLICAL TEACHINGS, click HERE)

Related links:

What was Paul’s Thorn in the Flesh? At, “Truth or Tradition?” (click HERE).

Paul’s Thorn in the Flesh. Andrew Wommack Ministries. (click HERE).