Latter-day Saint Life

"All In" Podcast: BYU Professor on How to Determine Which Dreams Are Revelation


We’ve all heard stories of people claiming to have received messages from God through their dreams. Is that really possible? Does the Lord communicate with us through dreams, and if so, how does it work? On this week’s episode of All In, Ken Alford, co-author of Dreams as Revelation, dives into what we know about these nighttime revelations.

Read Ken Alford’s conversation with All In host, Morgan Jones, in the excerpt below or listen to the entire episode here

Morgan Jones: So first question for you is, is it worth it to look for symbols or signs in our dreams?

Ken Alford: Yes. Let me begin by stating that when you have— a regular dream can come from any number of causes. And psychologists, I'm sure, would give us lots of reasons. Revelatory dreams, as we look at the words of prophets and apostles, are in a different category. They're sent with a purpose. And the purpose may be to comfort us, it may be to warn us, it may be to teach us, it may be to help us clarify and understand a gospel principle. But revelatory dreams, which I will tell you are rare, most dreams—and there are statements that go back as far as Brigham Young saying that most dreams are not revelatory or spiritual in nature—most dreams are just dreams. 

Morgan Jones: Right.

Ken Alford: But there is a category and class of dreams that are from the Lord, that are revelatory, that are scriptural, that are, basically, a tender mercy to us, that at that point in our life, we benefit [from] for some reason. The Lord chooses to give us this dream at that time. When those dreams come, we found a common thread, and also a great deal of prophetic commentary. We talk about this in the early chapters of the book. But people, when you have these kinds of dreams, you just know, that dream was different. . . . There was something about it, the clarity of the dream, the reality of the dream, just there was just something different. A lot of times there's a spiritual feeling that accompanies the dream. And when you get those kinds of dreams, those are the ones to really pay attention to. Brigham Young has got a really funny statement in his collected works that says, you know, "People tell me all the time they're having different dreams and they're dreaming that the prophet should do this." And he says, "Those are not from the Lord." He said, quite frankly, "You can have a lot of dreams that just are from inside your head." 

Morgan Jones: Yeah.

Ken Alford: But when you have these revelatory dreams, it is helpful to look to see what the Lord might be trying to tell you because sometimes symbols are involved. Other times, it's just very straightforward and plainspoken. Elder Scott and Elder Eyring and others have spoken about dreams quite a bit, it turns out, and have taught that sometimes in our dreams, the Lord will send someone in the dream that we respected in life, whether they're living now or not, but someone that we respect and understand, to teach us a principle through some of these dreams. There's just lots of different ways they can come. Sometimes they are full of symbols, but not always.

Morgan Jones: So interesting. So . . . how do we tell if a dream is revelation or just a dream? And you mentioned that the main thing is, there's just something different about it. Is there anything else, any other way to distinguish a revelatory dream from just a weird dream due to your psychosis?

Ken Alford: That was one of our big questions when we got into this. And, quite frankly, we were really surprised at the number of these kinds of dreams that exist. We found many more dreams than are even in the book. This is not a complete recitation by any means. We did cherry-pick what we thought were some really great and fun ones by different categories for the book. But there are, it turns out, there are a lot of these in this dispensation. And as you do it, we then looked for prophetic commentary on how do you tell if dreams are a legitimate way for the Lord to communicate with His children? How can you tell? How do you know yourself? And so we've got a whole series of guidelines. I'll just share a couple of them. One of them is that spiritual or revelatory dreams concern important matters. You're probably not going to get one of these dreams about what kind of beans you ought to buy at the grocery store.

Listen to the entire episode here.

Many times, the Lord's involvement with His children takes the form of significant dreams and visions. In Dreams as Revelation, BYU Church history professors Mary Jane Woodger, Ken Alford, and Craig Manscill share prophetic guidance and other counsel to help readers recognize when a dream is revelatory in nature. Now available at Deseret Book.


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