Abu Dhabi is the capital of the United Arab Emirates, located between Saudi Arabia and Oman. The government graciously allows Christians from other countries to establish churches there, and to worship freely. And God has led us to plant an English-speaking international church in this strategic city.
This started with a dream — literally, while I was sleeping. I saw myself being sent out from our existing church to some other undisclosed ministry. The idea of being led by a dream might sound strange in the West today, but in Scripture we often see God speaking through dreams — to Abimelech (Genesis 20:3), Jacob (Genesis 28:12; 31:10–13; 46:2), Laban (Genesis 31:24), Joseph (Genesis 31:5–11), Pharaoh (Genesis 41:25), Solomon (1 Kings 3:5–15), Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 2:28, 45; 4:23–24), Daniel (Daniel 2:19; 7:1), Joseph (Matthew 1:20; 2:13, 19, 22), the wise men (Matthew 2:12), and the apostle Paul (Acts 16:9–10; 18:9–11).
Of course, the Bible shows that not all dreams are from God, and that they must be tested by the Scriptures (Deuteronomy 13:1–5). But it also shows that dreams can be from God, and bring great benefit (Job 33:13–18; Acts 2:17–18).
So, I started praying about this dream, and shared it with my wife and the other leaders of our church, so that they could pray as well.
A few weeks later, I was walking by a creek, crying out to God for wisdom. I felt an overwhelming sense of God’s nearness. I believe he impressed on my heart that day that this dream was from him. That he was, in fact, calling us to be sent out from our church. I felt both joy in God’s guidance, and sadness at the thought of leaving our church. But I still did not know where God might be calling us to go.
A friend suggested that my wife and I look at ministry employment websites, to see if anything stirred us. We did, and saw dozens of pastoral positions — but none of them interested us.
Then one Sunday afternoon, during a membership class at our church, someone asked, “If it’s true that lost people will not be saved without hearing the gospel, shouldn’t that change our priorities?” I knew the answer was yes. But this time, as I answered the familiar question, my heart was gripped with a stronger-than-usual burden for the unreached.
That evening, as I looked at the ministry employment website, a new job opening popped up. An international English-speaking church in a difficult part of Southeast Asia needed a pastor. Could this be what God is calling us to do?
What About Abu Dhabi?
I could not shake that thought. So, I emailed missions leaders, to ask about international churches, and to get feedback as to whether my wife and I would be a good fit. The feedback was positive, so I sent out resumes and started interviewing with international churches in the Middle East who needed pastors.
Then I heard about the possibility of planting a church in Abu Dhabi. My wife and I were not thrilled at the idea of a church plant, since we knew it would be a lot of work. But we went ahead and contacted them.
One of the Abu Dhabi leaders responded and said he would be vacationing near us in California. He asked if we could have dinner. We enjoyed hearing his story and learning about Abu Dhabi. Then a few weeks later, I had a video call with that leader and three others on the ground there.
I was encouraged by their love for Jesus and their excitement about what God was doing. But I was still not sure we wanted to pursue it.
Then the Abu Dhabi leaders emailed. They said that after much prayer they believed God wanted them to call me to lead their church. They wanted us to pray about this, and if we agreed, to come and visit.
So my wife and I started praying. To think through the options, I made a chart listing each potential location down the left side of the page, and the various factors across the top. When I came to “kingdom impact” in Abu Dhabi, and typed “planting a church in the Middle East,” my heart changed. I was overwhelmed with the glory that could come to Christ through such a church plant. My hesitation about church planting left. I knew this was God’s call.
At the same time, in other ways, God did the same for my wife. And as we talked with our church leaders, and other trusted counselors, everyone agreed.
The Sunday before we visited Abu Dhabi, I shared with our church how God was leading us. At the end of the service, everyone gathered to pray for us. But before anyone prayed, a woman said that God had given her a dream the night before. Through tears, she said she did not want to share this dream, because she knew what it meant. But she said that in the dream, my wife and I were planting a seedling in the desert, which was growing and flourishing.
This encouraged us, but also the whole church, that God was, in fact, calling us to Abu Dhabi.
Grace, Mercy, and Help
We visited Abu Dhabi. We interviewed with church leaders, preached at the two churches sponsoring the church plant, and both churches confirmed our call. So, three years ago, we moved to Abu Dhabi. God gave us unusual grace for the move. And he poured out his mercy in quickly raising up Grace Church Abu Dhabi.
But it has not been easy. It was hard leaving our church. It is painful to be far from our children and parents. And church planting in this part of the world comes with unique challenges (on top of all of the typical challenges in planting a church).
And yet God has met us in every difficulty. He has guided and helped us. He has given us outpourings of joy in him. He has strengthened believers, saved the lost, raised up a church, and brought glory to his name.
We are not all called to the Middle East. But we are all called to ask God for guidance, and to be open to whatever guidance he chooses to give — including when he guides through dreams. If the thought of dreams like these seems strange to you, let me suggest a few steps.
First, read the stories in the Bible that I referenced at the beginning of this article in which God did give people dreams. Keep in mind that our Enlightenment-shaped Western societies teach us to be far more suspicious of dreams than Scripture does.
Second, pray and ask God to give you guidance, and ask him to use dreams if that would bring him the most glory.
Third, if you have a dream that seems significant, ask God to confirm that it was from him. Share it with close friends and church leaders, so they can pray about it with you. With regard to major directional decisions, like mine, dreams can be one merciful element in a process of discerning God’s guidance, but we should not take them as the only element.
Fourth, respond to the dream according to the wisdom God gives you.
All through the Bible we see God using dreams to lead his people:
- Assuring Jacob of God’s presence (Genesis 28:12–16)
- Revealing himself in a dream to Daniel (Daniel 2:19)
- Comforting Joseph that Mary’s baby was from God (Matthew 1:20)
- Protecting the wise men from Herod (Matthew 2:12)
- Sending Paul to Macedonia (Acts 16:9)
- Encouraging Paul to keep preaching in Corinth (Acts 18:9–11)
God still communicates to his people through dreams, and he very well might want to use dreams, in part, to lead you.