Dreams and Visions

The prophet Joel foretold a time when people of all ages and economic statuses would receive revelation in abundance:

I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions:

And also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my spirit.

Joel 2:28-29

What’s the difference between a dream and a vision? Presumably, a dream happens when you’re asleep and a vision when you’re awake. But that distinction gets blurred somewhat as we read about the revelations received by Lehi.

  • The Book of Mormon opens with a vision received by Lehi as he lay in bed. (See 1 Nephi 1:7-15.)
  • Nephi tells us that his father wrote many things which he had seen in visions and dreams (1 Nephi 1:16).
  • The Lord told Lehi in a dream that he should take his family into the wilderness (1 Nephi 2:1-2). He also learned in a dream that Nephi and his brothers needed to return to Jerusalem for the brass plates (1 Nephi 3:2). But when his wife later accused him of being a “visionary man,” he replied, “I know that I am a visionary man; for if I had not seen the things of God in a vision I should not have known the goodness of God, but had tarried at Jerusalem, and had perished with my brethren” (1 Nephi 5:4).
  • Lehi introduces the revelation which we call Lehi’s dream by saying, “Behold, I have dreamed a dream; or, in other words, I have seen a vision” (1 Nephi 8:2).

Here’s how I interpret this ambiguity: God speaks to us with a still, small voice, and we are more likely to hear Him when our minds are still. Often, that stillness comes during the night or in the early morning. We ought to pay particular attention to insights that some during those times.

President Russell M. Nelson takes seriously the impressions that come to him at nighttime. For example, in November 2020, he shared a prompting which led to a global invitation:

A few weeks ago, I woke in the middle of the night with the thought that I should offer a prayer of gratitude to God for all of His children around the globe. Thoughts flooded my mind of all of the things for which we should be grateful and how expressing that gratitude could become a healing spirit in our lives. As the inspiration came, specific details, including when and how I should share this message, came to my mind and heart. The video message shared today was not one that came by chance; it is one that came from heaven.

The Story behind My Global Prayer of Gratitude,” blog post, 20 November 2020

A few years earlier, President Nelson shared a humorous experience about dealing with the practical realities of nighttime revelation:

Years ago, while immersed in the task of preparing a talk for general conference, I was aroused from a sound sleep with an idea impressed strongly upon my mind. Immediately I reached for pencil and paper near my bed and wrote as rapidly as I could. I went back to sleep, knowing I had captured that great impression. The next morning I looked at that piece of paper and found, much to my dismay, that my writing was totally illegible! I still keep pencil and paper at my bedside, but I write more carefully now.

Ask, Seek, Knock,” General Conference, October 2009

Today, I will open my mind to revelation from God, particularly revelation which may come during the quiet hours of the night. I will be grateful for God’s promise to pour out his Spirit upon all of us, and I will strive to be open to the knowledge and insight which He sends to me.

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