Several Beliefnet readers have being visited in dreams by angels. In this month's column, I will address the following questions:
  1. Do angels ever appear in dreams?
  2. Do angels still come to people in dreams?
  3. Are all dreams about angels real?
  4. What are guidelines to tell if a dream about angels is real?
Do angels ever appear in dreams? Yes, definitely. In the Bible angels sometimes appear to wide awake people, as when Gabriel appeared to Mary (Luke 1:26-38). But other times, including the four times an angel came to Joseph (Matthew 1:18-25), it's in dreams.

Do angels still come to people in dreams? Yes! Just as in Biblical times, angels come to people when they are dreaming. Perhaps God chooses this way because we are more relaxed and open to his presence when we are asleep. While most people never have such an angelic visitation, it is more common than most people think. I have talked to hundreds of people who have recounted experiences that I believe to be authentic. Many of these are in the book I wrote with my wife, "A Rustle of Angels, Stories About Angels in Real Life and Scripture."

Are all dreams about angels real? No. A dream about fairies may be delightful and compelling, but that does not mean fairies exist. There are many reasons a person may dream about angels. Some of these are simple wish fulfillment. And some people’s dreams may be a sign of psychiatric illness.

Here is an instance where a dream about angels was real. The story I'm about to share with you is my wife's personal story:

Angels came to me one night in a dream. There were four angels all dressed in black. Even their wings were black because they were in mourning. These were not the glorious, beautiful angels I wanted to see, but I asked the one closest to me, "Why are you so sad?"

"We are sad because you are dying," the angel replied. "Unless something is done, you are going to die."

Then they were gone. Instantly, I woke my husband and told him the angel’s message. "What do you think it means?" I probed.

"I think you need to see a doctor right away," he replied firmly.

I had not seen a doctor for years. My family doctor had retired and had referred me to another. This second doctor moved his practice to another state. The third doctor was a woman doctor who eventually joined the army. This particular doctor had urged me to go to the Loma Linda Women’s Clinic. The clinic told me there was a two-year waiting list and that no new patients were being taken. So I decided to find another doctor, but because I was not feeling sick, I kept putting off my search. Four years passed without a doctor’s visit.

However, the morning after my dream my husband called the Loma Linda Clinic. "My wife must see a doctor right away," he insisted.

"Can you tell me what is so urgent?" the nurse replied. So Bill told her my dream. "Just a moment, I’m going to put you on hold," she told him. A minute later she was back on the line. "The doctor will see your wife on Wednesday," she said. God had taken care of the two-year waiting list.

When I saw the doctor he said, "What’s this I hear about a dream?" I recounted my experience with the four angels dressed in black, and he wrote it at the beginning of my medical history. The doctor did a biopsy and a full battery of tests. When I returned for the results the doctor said, "You have cancer and must have surgery right away. You should be thankful for the warning the angels gave you. With the kind of cancer you have there are no symptoms until it is too late."

My surgery was on September 2, 1993. Praise God, the surgeon was able to get it all. I have been faithful in my follow-up visits and the doctor assures me I am cancer-free. I am living proof that God still uses his angels to give messages today. I am busy spreading the message that angels are not just for Christmas. Thank God for these magnificent, mysterious messengers!

To read the full story, click here.
So, how can we know if a dream about an angel is a real angelic appearance? Here are some guidelines I have developed as a result of my study of the Bible, my postgraduate work in dreams at the Yale Divinity School, and my talks with people about their experiences.

  1. The result of the dream will draw attention to God more than the angel. Angels are God’s messengers and their purpose is always to bring glory to God, not to themselves.
  2. The dreams usually leave a person with feelings of awe and wonder and that God is loving. This is true even when the angel appears to a person who is rebelling against God and is deep in sin. The angel may appear to judge and to scare a person straight. Often, when this occurs, the angel does not even give a message in words, but the experience of God’s presence is shattering and life-transforming and points to a God who cares deeply.
  3. Is this dream sensible or illogical? We need to use common sense. While a dream or a vision may come from God and be a positive life-changing event, the dream may also come from images buried in our subconscious. God does not send his angels to tell us silly or terrible things. It is always wise to share your experience with a trusted member of your faith community. Sharing with another person helps us evaluate the authenticity of what may be an angelic encounter.
  4. Does this dream contradict what is taught in the Bible? God does not contradict himself. See my past column: Good Angels, Bad Angels.
  5. Does this encounter leave you more renewed and more resolved to serve God? If is the encounter is genuine it will move you to love God more deeply and to live out your faith more consistently.
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