Building on the sands of fantasy
Let’s talk about dreaming and fantasy. To clarify, I’m not talking about dreaming when you are asleep. I mean our imagination, our ability to daydream, and our dreams for our future.
While “heart” can literally mean heart, did you know that it also translates to mind, inner man, thinking, or conscience? We may also think of our heart and mind as our soul or emotions. So this scripture tells us that we are meant to watch over our minds and everything that flows from them.
I believe there is a difference between fantasy and dreaming. Fantasy is built on longing or a desire and has the ability to construct a false reality. Dreaming is built on our imagination and creativity, which we can pull into substance.
The overlapping factor is that both fantasy and dreaming are able to lead to substance or a reality (real or false) in some form. As these two areas are so closely linked, it’s easy to become confused between the two. We can think we are dreaming when we are fantasising, and we can think we are fantasising when we are dreaming. This distortion between the two can lead to corrupting our desire to dream. Through negative experiences and heartbreaks that were potentially due to fantasy, we may reject dreams. Dreaming becomes something risky or dangerous to our minds and hearts – something that previously let us down.
Creating paths and worlds
Here’s why I believe this is such an important topic. Fantasy often holds far more power over us than we realise. What can start off as a quick or innocent thought can lead us to literally create worlds and realities that do not exist.
If we take that even further, that fantasy becomes the reality we begin to chase after. We begin to turn our lives, energy, and motivation into trying to make our fantasy a reality. It becomes our belief system, a false reality, and we become derailed. Purpose is put aside for something that feels right, but was never actually God’s plan for our lives.
When we inevitably realise that what we were dreaming and believing was not real, or that the real thing will never live up to our expectations, it can be hugely damaging and destructive to our lives.
We are first commanded to think about what is true. If a fantasy is rooted in a lie or a misrepresentation of reality, if it is not truth, how can we allow ourselves to meditate on it?
I study health and medical sciences and major in neuroscience. Interestingly, we can also think about fantasies from a neuroscience perspective. You may have heard about cortical plasticity – our ability for our brain to rewire its neural pathways, be retrained, and change over time. Neural pathways are strengthened through repetition – in the neuro field, we use the phrase “neurons that fire together, wire together!” Essentially, an established neural pathway becomes our brain’s ‘go-to’ point. To help with this concept, let’s use a thought as an example.
Say we intend to go to the gym, but we put it off a few times because we feel tired. That thought, “I’m too tired”, becomes an association in the brain – a pathway which your brain habitually learns to follow. So the next time we consider going to the gym, our brain already has an established pathway to follow. That thought, “I’m too tired”, becomes forefront to our list of options, so we follow that pathway. The next time, that pathway is even stronger.
Now apply this concept to a fantasy. What may have started off innocently enough becomes a habitual, trained response in our brain. So we will follow that pathway again.
And because fantasy is based on imagination, we may add to the fantasy and expand on it. We may start to craft entire experiences and ideas, building and building on this until we have created a world. Make no mistake, thoughts and decisions do occur at a neural level and are literally capable of rewiring your brain. What you think you have control of can quickly become out of control and habitual.
Before you stress about the fact that you may be neurologically incapable of getting to the gym, or that your innocent fantasy suddenly seems like an unwelcome brain parasite, take a deep breath. No stress. Neural pathways can indeed be rewired and redirected. The next time you face that “I’m too tired” thought but decide to go to the gym anyway, you show your brain another option and begin to rewire that pathway. The same concept can apply to fantasies. When we catch ourselves and remind ourselves what is real and remind ourselves not to engage with a false world, we can retrain our brains.
Understand that a fantasy does not have to be rooted in a bad desire to qualify as a fantasy. The desire to be in a relationship, for example, is not an inherently bad desire. When we take that desire, however, and spin it into fantasy about a specific person and outcome, this dream or idea may begin to become a stronghold in our minds. Apply this to fantasising about someone who is married, which most people would agree isn’t morally right. If we’ve already built up a pathway of fantasising romantically about individuals, does it become easier to fantasise about that married individual? And if we allow ourselves to build up that fantasy and return to it countless times, even though we may have no intention to follow through on that idea, isn’t it possible we gradually begin to accept the idea? We meditate on that idea and craft scenarios, and suddenly those scenarios don’t seem so unlikely or so morally wrong as they once did. Now we’ve opened up a clear path to sin, and if we give in, perhaps we will attempt to pull our fantasy into reality. Perhaps we act on it.
What about a fantasy that encourages a person to believe “the grass is greener on the other side”? That fantasy becomes a goal which becomes a belief that if I leave everything behind in pursuit of this reality, my life will turn out better than it is now. What encourages people to have affairs? To make impulsive decisions that were not based on wisdom? To pull away from counsel and leadership? To suddenly give up everything that was and pursue another life? Perhaps fantasy is rooted in a dissatisfaction with our own lives, or an unhealed hurt or lie we believe about ourselves for which we try to compensate. Maybe fantasy is rooted in a temptation, or a lie, or a seed of doubt we have carried within ourselves. Maybe a fantasy is rooted in what started out as a dream.
Fantasy as idolatry
“We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.” - 2 Corinthians 10:5
The King James Version puts it another way:
There are two key points here: removing anything that exalts itself above the Lord; and taking our thoughts into captivity and obedience.
I read a great quote once which impacted me deeply:
Isn’t that convicting? How easily dreams can become idolatry. Fantasy is the same. We can absolutely love Jesus deeply, but still chase after a fantasy before we chase after Him. Even when it was not intentional, we can trap ourselves in an idea and blur the lines between what we feel we are meant to pursue and what we are meant to pursue.
We already know that idolatry is a sin, and I think it’s fair to say that fantasy can often be classified as a temptation. 1 Corinthians 10:13-14 says:
This verse causes issues for some people. “Does that mean that God gives me temptations? That’s not a very loving thing to do.”
James 1:13 says:
Okay, so that first scripture is not talking about God tempting us, but it does say He will not allow us to experience a temptation beyond what we are able to handle. This is a great thing! It means He has helped set us up for success. We can overcome every temptation we face, even those within our thoughts. Not to mention, the scripture says we face temptations common to man. Meaning if you’ve struggled with fantasies which have turned into idolatry, others have too. What’s even more encouraging about this scripture is that God has provided our escape route – we can flee from idolatry. Where should we flee? I’d suggest back into the arms of Jesus!
Realign your heart and your vision to Him. I do believe a fantasy can quickly become an idol in our hearts, sometimes even bordering on the point of obsession. Some people will go to great extents to see what they believe should be real, become true. This is one of the key distinguishing factors between fantasising and dreaming. A fantasy can become our heart’s focus, rather than Jesus. And because humans are generally pretty determined and stubborn, it can be really difficult for a person to surrender that fantasy and accept that they have focused on - or chased after - something that was not God’s purpose for their lives.
The devastation of an unfulfilled fantasy
Consider if we dedicate months or years of our lives into believing that something we are fantasising about is or can become a reality. We become so attached to the idea and long for fulfilment - to the point where we may begin to seek or believe we have confirmation from God. We look for symbolism or validation in what people say to us, in the prophetic, and in what we believe we are hearing from God. We are created to be a prophetic people and should steward our ability to hear from God. However, we can become pretty good at understanding the prophetic ‘language’ and interpreting certain things to mean what we want. Selectively picking and choosing a prophetic word or symbol and then moulding it to fit a fantasy is dangerous. Of course, sometimes our belief in this sort of thing is genuine – there was no deliberate manipulation on our end. Sometimes we get so caught up in a fantasy world that we truly believe it is of the Lord. We see His hand and believe it is where He is leading us, and what could be wrong with following that?
Aside from the issues of misrepresenting the prophetic or misunderstanding the voice of God, here is the problem: what happens when that fantasy comes to an end? Either we wake up and realise the world we created was not true, or it comes crashing down on its own. That perfect door did not open, the grass was not greener on the other side, the person did not return our feelings...
Having a fantasy unfulfilled is always going to hurt, especially because we are quick to take a fantasy and transform it into one of our dreams. But having a fantasy unfulfilled on top of believing God broke His promises is catastrophic.
Unless we possess an incredible amount of self-awareness, most people are not inclined to say “maybe this was my doing.” We look for people to blame, and the enemy loves to encourage us to pass the blame onto God. Anything that skews our understanding of the Father’s character or love for us leads us a step away from Him. I can say from personal experience that the only time I have ever come close to losing my faith was when I really, truly believed that what I had believed about God’s character – His love, faithfulness, impartiality – was not true.
When we get angry at God and that lie gets sown – “you can’t trust God” – it becomes almost impossible to engage in a relationship with Him. We may still love Jesus and what He has done for us, but it doesn’t mean we will trust Him to be good in our lives. Deep down, we’re suspicious of His intent and suspicious of His voice.
This is why I would caution you when mixing the prophetic with a fantasy. The prophetic is powerful, but you must weigh up a word or dream (night-time dream!) before assuming it means God is pointing you down the direction of that fantasy. We are pretty good at finding ways to justify our belief systems; don’t underestimate your mind’s ability to create alignment where there is none.
To clarify: Do I think dreaming is bad?
NO! I am inherently a dreamer and idealist – I love creativity and imagination. I love what I see in my mind and the way that allowing myself to dream lets me encounter such radical beauty in the world.
We are made in the image of God and He is literally the Creator. A creator. A creative. How can we reflect Him or be made in His image if we are not creative dreamers? Everything we create comes out of our imagination, including daydreams and life dreams. I find it heartbreaking that a bad experience with fantasy can make people distrustful toward their own imagination.
One of our most powerful gifts and weapons is our ability to imagine and tap into the ‘what could be’ of the spiritual world. Prophetic people and seers will tell you that one of the best ways to train and grow in your gifting is to steward your imagination. Which, of course, is one of the primary reasons why the devil would try to shut down our desire to partner with our imagination. The Father loves when we dream and He loves to see our dreams fulfilled, but our gaze has to focus on Him first and foremost.
I think it is a beautiful sound to Him when we bring a dream before Him and ask to see it fulfilled. There is absolutely nothing wrong with telling Him a dream and wanting it to come true.
We have an invitation to bring our requests before God and then trust that He will guard our hearts and minds. So do not think that engaging with a dream is a bad idea!
So what’s the difference between a fantasy and a dream?
It comes down to our hearts and the origin of that fantasy or dream. What drove us to pursue it? Was it our own desire or was it something birthed from wonder? What do we allow our hearts and minds to meditate on? Psalm 19:14 says:
I believe it’s about not idolising a thought, thus allowing our heart perspective to shift. Anything that pulls our gaze from Him or takes the place of our pursuit is more likely to be linked to a fantasy. Yes, pursue your dreams and allow yourself to imagine. Dreaming with God is a safe and beautiful thing, but we do it with Him and keep a check on our hearts.
Pursue your dreams and purpose with intent but do not get caught up in something that pulls you away from Him.
This is why wisdom, discernment, and our ability to listen to Him are such important parts of our lives. We should prioritise knowing His word and knowing His voice. I have had experiences where I have felt the Lord guide me and say, “This isn’t something I want you to dream about right now.” There was no condemnation in it – purely protection – for He understands the power our hearts and minds can hold over us. Above all, He values the state of our heart.
Wouldn’t a good shepherd make every attempt to guide or warn his sheep if they began heading down the wrong path? So listen. And allow yourself to be humble enough to receive a voice that may tell you that you are engaging with the wrong idea. It’s okay to make a mistake and get caught up in the wrong dream – I would say almost every person has experienced this to some extent. But when we are truly yielded to the Lord, getting back onto the right path is a safe, not heartbreaking, journey.
Tips for discerning between the two
- Allow yourself to share your dreams with other people, but use discernment. Dreams and creative ideas are not to be shared with every person. Some people, even by accident, can negatively speak into that space and essentially curse your idea – or support you in something that might not be from the Lord, but they’re too agreeable to tell you their concerns. So go to your trusted counsel and people who you know can hear from the Lord. Seek, value, and listen to counsel and the voice of wisdom.
- Does the dream line up with the word of God? God never violates His own word. If the word tells me that in the multitude of counsel there is safety (Proverbs 11:14), but my ‘dream’ tells me that I need to isolate from everyone, consider that this may actually be a fantasy.
- Does what you are receiving from the prophetic agree with this dream? Again, remember to weigh up the words you receive.
- Does the dream point you back to God and who He has created you to be? Or is it based in wanting something to be true and allowing your gaze to shift from Him?
- Use discernment. If something feels off, it probably is. If deep down you know this isn’t something you should be engaging in, let it go.
- Keep in communication with God and be honest before Him. He understands the longings of our heart and understands that surrendering something we desperately want to see fulfilled is painful. “Lord, all my desire is before You; and my sighing is not hidden from you.” (Psalm 38:9). Above all, if you keep your eyes on Him, He will faithfully direct you.
- Pray. If you suspect you might have been partnering with a fantasy, pray into that space and invite the Lord to help you break a wrong belief system. “Examine me, O Lord, and try me; test my mind and my heart.” (Psalm 26:2).
- Work on changing your thinking and action to align with God. Repent from any fantasy or belief system you may have bought into. Change your thinking and dream with Him, instead!