All of us have had dreams, but perhaps not many of us have had a vision. If we have a dream we know that, generally speaking, we have been asleep. There are times when we may dream when we are awake, but this is called day–dreaming. Have you ever day– dreamed? You have, probably in church or school when the pastor or teacher is explaining something that is too complicated to follow easily. Your mind wanders and you go into a dream–like trance. You realise this best if the teacher suddenly asks you a question and you have to come back to reality again.
In the Bible, dreams were very important and people who had unusual dreams wanted to know what they meant. Joseph, for example, explained to his brothers, and later to a King, exactly what items meant, such as the sheaves of wheat bowing down, or what was the difference in meaning between the fat and lean cows. The prophets, too, had dreams in which God revealed certain things to them.
Sometimes we use the word dream in a way which shows that we do not believe someone. We may say “He is just dreaming”, or “He is a dreamer”, meaning that his claims are not likely to happen. In fact we may feel that the person is simply imagining something and that it has no factual basis at all. We know that some people, especially children, seem to have very well developed imaginations. They form mental images of things and interact with them just as if they were taking part in something real.
If a dream is very different or weird we can say that it is a fantasy or a delusion. What the person claims to see and experience is so different from real life that we just cannot believe it. In some cultures people who are drunk claim to see pink elephants. In other cultures they may claim that they are the Prime Minister or the President. We say in such cases that they are suffering from a delusion, that is, they believe something which other people claim to be false.
Dreams, then, can lead to false beliefs and vain hopes. They can even lead to hallucinations, where one’s mind is filled with things that are not present at all, like pink elephants.
Perhaps you have had people encourage you to dream. They want you to think in a different way than you usually do, to imagine that you are doing something great. What we are encouraged to do in such instances is to think about something that has not yet been done, but which possibly could be done. In such cases they are asking us to be visionary, or to have a vision for the future.
In the Bible in the Acts of the Apostles, Saint Peter had a vision. It was during the day and he was not sleeping, so we know that it was not a dream. He saw a large sheet coming down from the sky and it was filed with animals of the kind that the Jews did not ordinarily eat. He was told to eat some of them, but of course they were ‘unclean’ to him because of his Jewish culture.
Because of the vision or trance, Peter was in such a state that he saw things which only later made sense to him. The Gentiles or non–Hebrews became people that he could minister to, but only because God had shown him the vision. Peter was then able to understand the meaning of the vision.
Throughout the course of history many people have had a vision of what they believe could be done. Those who have invented things first had an idea in their minds of how a certain thing could be used to help other people. They have seen things in their minds that ordinary people could not and they have changed or trans formed the vision into an action.
It is possible for someone to be so exalted by their feelings at a given time that they go into a trance, which is a sleep–like state. People who are hypnotised go into such a trance. They do not act like they normally would in such a condition or state. I once saw a woman hypnotised by a doctor and she delivered a baby without any apparent paint. She responded to the doctor’s sug gestions from a sleep–like condition.
We can say that people who are in a trance or ecstasy are carried away (somewhere) by their feelings. Their emotions are such that they do not control their minds, although someone else or some thing else does.
When Jesus told his disciples to look out at the harvest fields they were probably standing near some wheat fields. But he was asking them to imagine, to have a vision for what the people around them needed, meaning His own love and care. He did not ask his helpers to then dream about the people, nor did he put them into some kind of a trance. He simply asked them to pray that God would send people out who would be willing to complete and take part in the Kingdom harvest.
As Christians, we need to see what can be done to help others, and this requires a vision. But we are not to idly dream about it. A vision will often provide the setting and motivation to do things we did not think of, perhaps we did not think they were possible. God will then make the vision clear in terms of ac tion, whereas a dream will simply fade away.