Prophetic dreams (dreams that are given as a direct message from God)
Non-prophetic dreams (dreams that are not a message from God)
The vast majority of dreams are in the second category. Everyone dreams every night, but only a handful of isolated instances in Scripture describe dreams that were actual messages from God.
In the rare instances when a dream is prophetic in nature, God makes it crystal clear to the dreamer that it is a prophecy. For example, when God spoke to Nebuchadnezzar through a dream in Dan.2, Nebuchadnezzar decided to kill all the Magi unless someone could tell him what the dream was and what it meant. In all the years leading up to that dream Nebuchadnezzar never responded in such a way. He had always been content with either ignoring his dreams or telling them to the Magi and letting the Magi guess at an interpretation. But it was so obvious to him that this one dream was a message from God that he absolutely had to know that the interpretation was correct.
How should we respond to our own dreams today?
When God called someone to speak for Him as a prophet He gave that person the ability to perform miracles, so we would know that person is truly speaking for God. There are two tests, then, for a prophet:
He must be able to perform miracles to prove that he is speaking for God (especially the miracle of 100% accuracy in predictive prophecy).
If a person claims to have a dream that is a direct message from God we should require both criteria to establish that the person is indeed a true prophet. And if someone claims to have insight to interpret one of your dreams, use Nebuchadnezzar’s method to verify that the person does indeed have that divine insight (require the person to tell you what you dreamed first).
What about the non-prophetic dreams we all have every night? Should those be disregarded since they are not direct messages from God? No. In His providence God allows you to have those dreams, and just like everything else God does, they have a purpose. The mistake most people make is in trying to interpret them. Non-prophetic dreams cannot be interpreted because only messages can be interpreted, and if there is no intended message sent by someone then there is nothing to interpret. There is no more value in trying to interpret a dream than in trying to interpret the arrangement of trash in your garbage can or the letters in a can of alphabet soup. Where there is no intended message there is nothing to interpret. Non-prophetic dreams are not messages to be interpreted, but they are events to be thought about and responded to biblically. The right way to respond to a dream is to think biblically about that dream. That’s the right way to respond to any event that happens to you, or any thoughts that pop into your head whether you are asleep or awake. Just as thoughts often come into your head during the day, seemingly out of nowhere, the same thing happens in our dreams. In both cases we must evaluate those thoughts according to Scripture.