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During times of discouragement, if answers to prayer are long in coming or not what we had expected, we can begin to lose hope and even doubt that God will answer our prayers. To help us through, God sometimes encourages us by dreams or visions.

He did this for me and my husband shortly after I gave birth to a son with a facial birth defect. A woman who lived 45 miles from our home had a vision of a baby with socks on his hands and feet. She began to pray for the baby even though she did not understand the vision.

Later that week we were dedicating our son to the Lord during a Friday night service. Our son's birth defect was so sensitive that we had to keep socks on his hands to keep him from harming himself. When our son was held up during the dedication, the woman, who was visiting that night, recognized that he was the baby in her vision.

God used the vision to inspire this woman to organize prayer for my son during his early days of infancy and corrective surgery. The vision and prayers blessed us with fresh encouragement and hope during a very traumatic season in our lives.

However, our experience was not an unusual one. There are many examples in the Scriptures of God's bringing comfort and hope through visions and dreams.

Prophetic Promises

Abraham was a wealthy man to whom God gave great promises. He owned cattle, silver and gold, but he had no son to inherit his wealth, for his wife was barren. The Lord appeared to Abraham in a vision and promised him an heir (Gen. 15:4).

God also said that his descendants would be as many as the stars in the sky. Abraham believed God, and the Lord credited it to him as righteousness (vv. 5-6).

After God spoke to him, Abraham fell into a deep sleep, and God gave him a prophetic promise through a dream. The Lord showed him his descendants would be enslaved in cruel bondage in Egypt for 400 years. Then the Lord would deliver them, and they would come out of Egypt with great possessions and return to the land He had promised to Abraham (vv. 12-16).

The birth and destiny of an entire nation was revealed in this dream. Abraham had longed for an heir, and God gave him a promise far beyond his expectations.

Jacob, Abraham's grandson, received great promises from God, also, not only for himself but also for his descendants. When he was a young man, Jacob had stolen his elder brother Esau's birthright and obtained the blessings normally given to the firstborn. Esau sought to kill Jacob for his deceit, so Jacob's mother, Rebekah, sent him away to seek a wife in the land of her brother Laban (Gen. 28).

On the way, Jacob stopped for the night, and as he slept, he dreamed: "And behold, a ladder was set up on the earth, and its top reached to heaven; and there the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.

"And behold, the Lord stood above it and said: 'I am the Lord God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and your descendants'" (vv. 12-13).

The Lord assured Jacob that He would be with him wherever he went and that He would bring Jacob back to the land He had promised to him (v. 15).

Two wives and 11 sons later, God spoke to Jacob again in a dream (Gen.
31:10-13). Jacob had been working for his father-in-law, Laban, who continually cheated him. In the dream, God revealed a plan for dividing the cattle of Laban's flocks fairly and giving Jacob his rightful portion.

This is the first recorded instance of God's imparting sound business strategy through a dream. God also used this dream to tell Jacob to take his wives, his children and his flocks and return to the land of his father.

The Lord let Laban deal deceitfully with Jacob. God was purging Jacob. It was a long, arduous process, but through this process the promise was fulfilled and Jacob became Israel, meaning "prince with God" (Gen. 32:28).

Dreams often challenge us to change just as Jacob was challenged to change. God had not addressed Jacob's character flaws in his dreams, but that did not mean that God approved of all that happened in Jacob's life.

Similarly, when we receive a word from the Lord, whether through a prophecy, a dream or a vision, we must know that the outcome will depend on our obedient cooperation with God's maturing and purging work in our lives.

Joseph was a young man of 17 when he had two dreams that seemed to bring him nothing but trouble. He was Jacob's favorite son, which made his 10 older brothers intensely jealous.

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