Editor's Note: Pastor Roger Barrier's "Ask Roger" column regularly appears at Preach It, Teach It. Every week at Crosswalk, Dr. Barrier puts nearly 40 years of experience in the pastorate to work answering questions of doctrine or practice for laypeople, or giving advice on church leadership issues. Email him your questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Last night I dreamt that Satan tried to possess me during my unconscious state. I called on Jesus and at first his name could not come out of my mouth but a very vile inhuman sound was coming from my throat and my body was shaking terribly. I had a pentagram marked on my right leg that I discovered after dreaming of enticing an old boyfriend from college to sleep with me...in my dream....my stomach was swollen with an inguinal hernia or with Satan because after my stomach swelled, I noticed the pentagram and suddenly called on Jesus...because in my unconscious state, I knew that I was a child of God. After the horrible take over [sic] of my body, and voice, I tried calling again as loud as I could...and I suddenly woke up! I did not return to sleep until daybreak after asking believers on Facebook to pray for me.
Had I allowed Satan to take a foothold of my spirit? Is that possible? Did I somehow make myself susceptible to satanic attacks, by having unconscious longings? I haven't seen my ex-boyfriend since 1987; he's happily married and I have no desire to be a home wrecker. In my dream, I did not care if he were married or not....I was not saying anything remotely Christian to him; but only interested in fleshly desires. Can Satan take over when we think ungodly thoughts conscious or unconscious?
Could Satan mark me as his b/c my thoughts were impure-- conscious or unconscious-- even though I have given my life to Christ and repented of my sins and waking [sic] with Jesus daily? I know that Jesus has not given me a spirit of fear, and that the blood of Jesus has made me whole, and also He is greater than Satan and all of his demonic forces...but why did I dream such a nightmare....something so vile and evil....seeming to possess me?
My first impression is that your dream was a reflection of a really, really, really bad day. Of course, upon further review, much more was going on.
Can Satan control your sub-conscious? No.
Can Satan control or influence your consciousness? Yes.
Your dream reminds me of the night one of Job's friends, Eliphaz, watched a demonic spirit "glide" past his eyes in the darkness. He was having a rough night and was in a “deep sleep” when the dream apparition scared him senseless—just like your dream scared the life out of you.
A word was secretly brought to me,
my ears caught a whisper of it.
Amid disquieting dreams in the night,
when deep sleep falls on men,
fear and trembling seized me
and made all my bones shake.
A spirit glided past my face,
and the hair on my body stood on end.
but I could not tell what it was.
A form stood before my eyes,
and I heard a hushed voice: . . .(Job 4:12-16).
This passage is difficult to interpret properly. So many questions arise. However, it is significant that the “demonic form” proceeded to give Eliphaz the working outline for Job’s three friends to use in judging and tormenting Job for the next thirty chapters or so.
Your experience matches Eliphez’s—awakening from a deep sleep into a full blown satanic attack.
We will keep this discussion simple. For our purposes, consciousness occurs when we are awake; we are in a sub-conscious state when we are asleep.
As I read the first paragraph of your letter, it seems to me that your inability to call out for Jesus may have been some sort of satanic attack. However, it also seems quite possible that the hand-off between your sub-conscious and your conscious was fumbled momentarily and neither entity was in control.
When we go to sleep our conscious mind makes a “hand-off” to our sub-conscious. Perhaps you’ve been almost asleep when you suddenly jumped and were wide awake. The conscious mind was handing control to the sub-conscious mind and the transition was poorly made—and vice-versa.
When we sleep, our brains produce chemicals to paralyze our bodies. Otherwise, we would act out our dreams. Sleep walkers have a deficiency of these chemicals—some more than others.
Perhaps you were coming out of the “paralyzed” state and thus couldn’t move or speak until the transition of control was returned to your conscious mind. You were hindered from calling out the name of Jesus until the transition was complete and you were back in control of your voice.
Eliphaz’s demonic dream occurred in that transition moment from “paralyzed” subconscious sleep to wakeful consciousness (Job 4:12-16). I postulate that you were not fully awake when you called out for Jesus. The timing described in your first paragraph makes me think it is possible that your entire dream occurred completely and rapidly as your conscious brain was struggling to take the handoff from your sub-conscious.
However the scenario may or may not apply to you, there is no doubt that you awakened terrified and afraid and in the midst of a full-blown satanic attack.
May I answer your questions with some of my personal observations regarding your experience in light of Biblical truth?
- I do not believe that Satan can enter, influence or control our subconscious minds. His attacks are limited to the times when we are fully awake and can defend ourselves.
- It is possible for Satan to grab a “foot hold” in our lives. Paul tells us that this may occur if we continue to sin again and again in the same area. Control of that particular area is ups for grabs and if Satan gains control we must repent of our sin (which you did) and pray for Satan to depart. When the sin is forgiven Satan no longer has a foothold (James 4:7).
- I don’t believe that our subconscious longings can be sins. After all, by definition we cannot know what is occurring in our sub-conscious.
- I don’t believe that we can sin during our dreams. You did not sin when you dreamed about “fleshly” longings for your old boyfriend.
- As Christians, we can open up our lives to Satanic attacks. My guideline is as follows: “Any area of our lives not in full surrender to the Holy Spirit is open to attack by a demonic spirit.”
- God has given to us every “tool” we need to overcome satanic attacks.
- Julie and I go to bed praying for the Lord to build a spiritual, Holy Spirit hedge of protection around us as we sleep. We travel a lot. We spiritually “clean out” every hotel room in order to remove any satanic activity that may have occurred in that room.
- We overcome satanic influences in our lives by resisting the Devil when he attacks. When we demand that he flee from our presence he must depart, as you affirmed earlier in your letter: “Greater is he than is in us than he that is in the world!”
- Wisely, you didn’t attempt to handle the satanic attack alone. You enlisted the help of other Christians.
Catherine, the Bible is filled with dreams. I think it will be profitable for us to delve into the subject just a little more.
No one knows all the reasons why we sleep. We do know that getting too little sleep is harmful in both the long and short term. A group of MIT masters’ level students were kept awake for 48 hours. eeg Brain scans then revealed that their brain functioning was indistinguishable from those of schizophrenics.
Most dreams are what we might call “normal.” They are pleasant, enjoyable experiences—if we remember them at all. Our brains covet sleep as the time that our sub-conscious processes the events in our lives. Dream studies reveal that most of the events that occur in our lives are laid down permanently in long-term memory during our sleeping hours. Regrettably, as we grow older, our brains become less and less proficient at locking in memories as we sleep.
Obviously much processing occurs in our subconscious as we sleep. We may discover that our subconscious brings up repressed memories that need revealing and healing. Perhaps issues in our lives are need attention and resolution. Perhaps God has a message to share with us—a lesson, encouragement, comfort, warning or direction—just to name a few.
The Bible is filled with dreams chock full of meaning. If these dreams were important in Bible times, then we can suspect that they are important in our lives as well.
- Some are nightmares (Nebuchadnezzar's dream of coming world empires--Daniel 2).
- Some are warnings (Gabriel to Joseph warning about fleeing to Egypt--Matthew 2).
- Some give advice (Joseph interpreting Pharaoh's dream about seven good years of abundant harvests to be followed by seven lean years of harvest--Genesis 41).
- Some are daydreams (Joseph interacting with his brothers--Genesis 37:19).
- Some are prophetical (Nebuchadnezzar's dream of his coming insanity--(Daniel 4).
- Some dreams give guidance (Paul's vision about going to Macedonia--(Acts 16:6-10).
- Some dreams carry messages (Gabriel explaining to Joseph about why Mary was pregnant--(Matthew 2:20-23).
- In the last days God's people will have many dreams to share about the Kingdom of God (Joel 2:28-29).
Catherine, I hope you are getting the idea that God often speaks in dreams. It is OK to analyze and/or consider that they have special meaning for us. The same reasons God used dreams in the Old Testament are the same reasons that He gives dreams to us as well.
It is possible that the awful nightmare you experienced may have tucked inside of it a lesson or word of victorious living. In the midst of your terror you didn’t stumble. You knew to go straight to Jesus. I hope you learned that no matter how treacherous and tormenting is the satanic attack, relief is just a prayer away.
Thanks for the good question. I hope you find some helpful things to consider as you digest my answer.
God bless you for great days ahead.
Dr. Roger Barrier recently retired as senior teaching pastor from Casas Church in Tucson, Arizona. In addition to being an author and sought-after conference speaker, Roger has mentored or taught thousands of pastors, missionaries, and Christian leaders worldwide. Casas Church, where Roger served throughout his thirty-five-year career, is a megachurch known for a well-integrated, multi-generational ministry. The value of including new generations is deeply ingrained throughout Casas to help the church move strongly right through the twenty-first century and beyond. Dr. Barrier holds degrees from Baylor University, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Golden Gate Seminary in Greek, religion, theology, and pastoral care. His popular book, Listening to the Voice of God, published by Bethany House, is in its second printing and is available in Thai and Portuguese. His latest work is, Got Guts? Get Godly! Pray the Prayer God Guarantees to Answer, from Xulon Press. Roger can be found blogging at Preach It, Teach It, the pastoral teaching site founded with his wife, Dr. Julie Barrier.