Have you been Fleeced?

Have you ever been faced with an imminent decision but you’re not sure what it is that God wants you to do? If so, then you may have been tempted to swallow some rather bizarre methods of obtaining divine guidance. For example, when a prophet rolled through town, you skipped your own church to go and sit in the front row of St. Dingalings, beaming at the speaker, hoping to “get a word”. Or maybe you called the TV preacher and told him about the dream you had about your aunt turning into a newt, in the hope that he might give you the interpretation. Or worse still, maybe you “put out a fleece”…

In case you have never heard of this, “putting out a fleece” loosely comes from Judges 6:36-40, where Gideon places his fleece on the threshing floor and asks God for two miracles. The first is that his fleece will become wet with dew over night while the ground around is dry; and the second is for the fleece to remain bone dry, while the ground is saturated wet. God graciously obliges him and works these two miracles, which in turn guides Gideon that his intended cause of action (in this case, to attack the Midianites) is correct.

Of course, I don’t know any men today who put their sweaters out in the back garden to test the divine plan (at least, not any that are married). The nearest I got to this was when the washing line broke. But a modern form of this test is extremely common among Christians. The scenario might go something like this: “I am not sure if God wants me to go to Bible School or not,” says perplexed charismatic Joan, “but if Bible School gets mentioned in the sermon at church today, then I’ll know that this is what God wants me to do.” Although very popular, I want to suggest that this technique of discerning God’s will is at best invalid and often very dangerous. Here are some reasons why:

First of all, the story is not about guidance. It is about God’s gracious mercy upon a doubting servant. Gideon had already been told what it is he had to do back in verse sixteen of the chapter. All this fleecing around was a sign of his fear and unbelief, not his faith.

Secondly, this passage is a piece of narrative, not a piece of advice. It was never supposed to be interpreted as a shining example of how to hear from heaven. Hopefully, no-one reads the story of Baalam’s talking donkey (Numbers 22:28) and thinks to themselves “Now I know how to hear from God – where is the nearest animal sanctuary? I must have a chat with Carrots the donkey”. When Simon Peter denied Jesus, God used a chicken to crow against him. I wouldn’t allow a donkey or a chicken to prophesy at the midweek prayer meeting and a fleece shouldn’t be talking to the congregation either.

Thirdly, Gideon asked God to perform two “Grade A” miracles. What happened was amazing and only God could have done it. Most contemporary fleeces don’t need miracles and often have a fairly good chance of coming to pass whether God is involved or not. For example, I heard of a girl who said that if her father sent her some money for Christmas then she would feel that it was the Lord’s will for her to make a certain trip. But when questioned, the girl admitted that her father “normally” sent her money at that time anyway. It needed no miracle. It is not a “miraculous sign” if the man or woman you have your eye on in church sits next to you!

Finally, putting out a fleece is an extremely dangerous game to play with your destiny. Many have suffered terribly from doing something that God wasn’t in, and giving God the blame for their misery too. A man I knew was in desperate need to know if he should propose to his girlfriend or not. “Lord please tell me: Yes or No?” he prayed in church one Sunday. At that very moment, he opened his eyes and saw the word “YES” written on the wall in huge black letters. Don’t get too excited. It was part of the scripture from Hebrews 13:8 which hung on the church wall “Yesterday, Today and Forever”. The man didn’t marry her though. You see, we’re not supposed to live by “signs” but to make godly decisions through our close relationship with the Spirit. God was not in the fire, wind or quake. Not then, and not now.

Don’t get fleeced, get smart. Yes, our God is a God who speaks. Make no mistake. But chance happenings and codes are not His speciality. Much better to walk with Father and to seek the wisdom of His Word, and the counsel of mature believers around you too, who have made all the mistakes they don’t want you to make. Don’t ever swap courageous, godly decision-making for the folly of the fleece.

Originally published in JOY Magazine, October 2007

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