October 12, 2011

Laying out the Fleece, and Other Techniques to Figure out God’s Will

Even Christians try to practice a little divination or voodoo now and then. Sure, we may spiff it up a little to make it seem more spiritual, but we still try. Often, this shows up in the practice of laying out the fleece and other techniques to figure out God’s will. Is this okay? Is it a legit method of making decisions? Is fleece how we figure out God’s will? Have you ever tried fleece techniques?

Fleecy Stuff:  What Is it?

Sometimes, Christians will clearly state what the fleece test is, or they may try other techniques. Here are some examples of what it might look like:

  • “I was thinking about getting a new camera, and suddenly our old one just broke; clearly, God was leading us to buy a new one.”
  • “I’m still not sure if I’m supposed to move to Cancun, so I’m going to put my house on the market. If it sells within a week, then that’s God’s sign I should go to Cancun.”
  • “I really want to marry this girl, but I’m not totally sure it’s God’s will. Since I don’t know her yet, I’ll take it as a sign:  if she comes up to me at lunch today and asks to eat with me, then she’s the one.”
  • “I’m not sure if God is calling me into missions. Therefore, if our pastor preaches on missions this Sunday, then I’ll know I should go into missions.”
  • “I’m going to close my eyes, open up my Bible at random, and whatever verse I point to, that’s God’s will for me.” (Well, obviously!)

Say Hello to Gideon:  What’s the Story?

The whole fleece idea comes from the book of Judges, where we read of a man named Gideon. In Judges 6, God calls (i.e., commands) Gideon to be a leader in Israel, and to defeat the Midianites who have invaded the country. Israel, by the way, is in shambles at this time. They’ve rejected Yahweh. As a result, the Israelites have succumbed to enemy occupation. The angel of the Lord shows up to talk with Gideon, and the first thing he says is “Yahweh is with you, O mighty man of valor” (Judges 6:12) which is a very encouraging way of saying “hello” to Gideon, who was at the time surreptitiously scraping together some food so the bad guys wouldn’t see him and rob his dinner. The angel’s greeting was followed by a command: “Go in this might of yours and save Israel from the hand of Midian; do not I send you?” (Judges 6:14)

Gideon refused to do it at first. Instead, he asked for a miracle. So, God causes miracle #1—fire consumes Gideon’s dinner offering. Gideon takes a little step towards full obedience (Judges 6:22-27), but he’s not convinced that he should be the main revolutionary to throw off the enemy occupation. So, he asks God for another miracle. Here’s where the fleece comes in.

Gideon literally laid out an actual sheepskin overnight, and asked God to make the fleece wet, but keep the ground dry (Judges 6:36-37). (This is like asking God to make a square circle.) When it actually happened, he asked God to do it again, with a little twist:  wet ground, dry fleece (Judges 638-40). (This is like asking God to make a circle square.) And, yes, God again caused a miracle.

With this assurance, Gideon was ready to go and make war against the Midianites.

Gideon and You:  What He Did, and What You Shouldn’t Do.

Drawing inspiration from the story of Gideon, Christians “lay out the fleece” in an attempt to discern God’s will. But let’s make some observations about Gideon’s situation:

  • Gideon did not put out the fleece to figure out God’s will. He already knew God’s will. That was plain within the first thirty seconds of his meeting with the angel. He put out the fleece even though he already knew what he was supposed to do.
  • Gideon put out the fleece because he was faithless and unbelieving. Gideon had already seen miracles. Why did he need a wet fleece and dry ground? He laid out the fleece, because He did not trust God to fulfill His promises. He knew God’s will, but refused to go and do it.
  • Gideon put out the fleece, knowing he was asking for a miracle. Often, Christians “put out the fleece” by saying something like “If I see an advertisement for a cruise in the next five minutes, then I’ll know God wants me to take a vacation to the Bahamas.” If that actually happened, and a cruse for Royal Caribbean Cruises showed up, it wouldn’t be much of a miracle, nor should you take it as a “sign.” What Gideon was asking for was a straight-up miracle. There is nothing wrong with asking God for miracles; perhaps we should do more of it. But please notice again why Gideon was asking for a miracle. He wasn’t asking God to save a loved one from cancer or save a soul from sin. He was asking to see a personal miracle show from God, which would allegedly help reverse his own faithlessness and disobedience.

Obviously, we don’t want to be too hard on Gideon. After all, God was asking him to rally the squashed nation and rise up to defeat an insanely huge and powerful enemy (Judges 7:12). Nonetheless, let’s not carelessly import Gideon’s fleece techniques into our own situation merely because it’s mentioned in the Bible. Let’s understand the context.

Back to Your Life, Fleece Included:  Why Fleece Isn’t Necessary

Do you sometimes try to lay out the fleece before God?

Think about what you’re doing. Whether it’s figuring out if you should take the job offer, move to another area of the country, have children, buy the car, take the vacation, or start the new ministry, you don’t need fleece. You simply need faith.

God still performs miracles. God still shows His power. God still provides direction, but He doesn’t need your fleece to do it. When you think that maybe you should lay out the fleece, instead surrender in faith. God does not reveal His will by having us devise little tricks and tests to see what He will do. He is gracious and kind, but He doesn’t do stunts on demand. He guides in His own ways, on His own terms, in His own timing. That’s what sovereignty is. That’s why we can submit to God’s gracious and loving sovereignty.

Discerning God’s will isn’t voodoo or divination. We don’t need fleece, or any other techniques to figure it out. It is a matter of simple obedience and submitting to His leading, step-by-step. God is big enough to carry through without fleece, tests, or other tricks. Your “fleece” may simply be confusing you or getting in the way.

Instead of laying out the fleece or trying other techniques to figure out God’s will, merely trust and obey.

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