I have always been zealous for visions. I want to see the things the prophets saw and have my eyes open to see the supernatural around me. I want to have a vision of the glory of the Lord like Ezekiel did and nearly sound insane when I write it down on paper. I want to be taken up into the throne room of God like John was in Revelation. I want Elisha to open the eyes of my heart so I can see a mountain full of horses and chariots of fire (2 Ki 6:17). These stories are so incredible that I can’t help but desire for the same kind of things to happen in my life.
But the more I’ve learned about visions, the more I feel that the kind of visions listed above are rare. As a general rule I always classified every biblical vision as someone’s eyes being open to the supernatural going on around them or some kind of transportation of body or spirit into the heavenly realm. But now I think that visions like these are more the exception than the rule. These we often call “open visions,” in which our eyes are opened in some way to visually perceive the supernatural around us.
Visions in their most common form, however, are not like this. In fact, I think many people would be turned off by the way in which visions typically work, because honestly, it’s not all that extravagant. For in the same way that you have to discern God’s thoughts from your thoughts and God’s dreams from your dreams, so do you also have to discern your imagination from His—because that’s essentially what a vision typically is: Engaging God with your imagination.
Think of it this way. Daniel refers to dreams with several different expressions: “a vision of the night” (Dan 2:19); “dream and visions of his head as he lay in his bed” (Dan 7:1); a “vision by night” (Dan 7:2); “night visions” (Dan 7:7, 13); and “the visions of my head” (Dan 7:15). Likewise Job says that God speaks, “In a dream, in a vision of the night, when deep sleep falls on men, while they slumber on their beds” (Job 33:15).
With these comparisons of dreams and visions, we see that those who experienced God speaking visually to them understood dreams to be similar to visions. The difference is that visions happen while you’re awake and dreams happen while you’re asleep. In other words, a vision is kind of like a “daydream.”
There is a lot of power both in night visions and visions—dreams and daydreams. What’s important is harnessing them to allow the Holy Spirit to speak in them. We must yield the space to meet with God there and that requires finding quiet space to hear the quiet visual whisper of God.
Now I know that not everyone is imaginative or visual and I’ve even met several people who say they never have dreams—natural or supernatural. That is entirely fine. What is important is figuring out the ways in which God has wired you so that you can offer that wiring over to Him to speak through. Though at the same time, it’s also okay to attempt to practice techniques unfamiliar to you and see if they kick in at all. After all, daydreams have proved to be an effective way for Christians to plug into God for a long time. As Greg Boyd points out,
Following the biblical pattern, the church has always assumed that God can communicate spiritual truths to people through their imaginations, especially through dreams and visions. Church history is replete with accounts of revelations people received by these imaginative means. St. Augustine, Catherine of Siena, Julian of Norwich, Teresa of Avila, Ignatius of Loyola, along with others too numerous to mention have handed down to us their accounts of visions they had of the Lord in their mind’s eye that powerfully affected their lives….
The value of beholding the Lord in the mind has not been limited to unexpected dreams or visions throughout church history. Its value in prayer and meditation has been stressed as well. (Boyd, Gregory A. Seeing Is Believing. pp. 88-89. For a list of more examples of imaginative prayer throughout history and into modern time, see pages 88—95 of Boyd’s book.)
I stumbled into this tradition without fully knowing or understanding it and you can too. And when you look at the list of people Boyd notes as practitioners of visions, you may find yourself hungry for the technique. After all, many of these people are known for their incredible love and the amazing presence of God on their lives. Some of them are even saints, which means they’ve become people that the church believes we should look up to and live like. And so if they had visions, we should desire them too.