It is a commonly held belief among Christians that one of the most perplexing problems we experience is knowing what the will of God is for our lives. The reason for this is not hard to find. For one thing, we are most sensitive to this question in times of stress, when the stakes are high and our emotions are perturbed. We want a clear path to appear in front of us – we want to know what our heavenly Father would have us do. In these situations we turn to God and pray for guidance. But frequently we discover that the help does not come to us when and how we think it should, and we begin to wonder if there is some secret key to the will of God which we need to discover.
1. The Problem with Fleeces
Everyone is familiar with what Gideon did when he wanted absolute assurance that he was not deluded, but that the Lord truly had told him to take on the Midianites – he laid a fleece out, not once but twice (Judg. 6:36-40).
So we say to ourselves, well, if God honored Gideon’s prayer for guidance and God answered him, He may honor my request – after all, we say to ourselves, we just want to do the right thing in God’s sight. So we spread before God our fleeces, metaphorically speaking. For example, we pray,
“Father, if I am meant to go into business with this guy then let such and such happen.”
“Lord, if it is your will for me to meet the women who will be my wife then let her come and talk to me at church tonight (P.S. and let her friend who despises me be home sick or something).” We may even cite Gen. 24:12-14 to help our case!
But there are several things wrong about this procedure:
First, it tempts God in that we make stipulations that we then want God to meet. We forget that our Father is also the King.
Second, it contradicts the injunctions which tell us that we must walk by faith and not by sight (or sign).
And third, not infrequently, when our desired ‘sign’ occurs (or some semblance of it), we still feel as much in the dark about things as before.
Further, there are a few exegetical matters which need to be thought through:
First, Gideon already had been given a very clear sign from God and had been told what he must do (Judg. 6:15-23).
In the second place, Gideon had to go to war with a vastly inferior army (135,000 Midianites against his 35,000 Israelites who would be whittled down to 300 – Judg. 7:1-6). “Accordingly,” wrote Leon Wood, “Gideon felt in need of reassurance that God truly wanted him to proceed with this frightening venture.” – Leon J. Wood, The Distressing Days of the Judges, 211-212.
The extraordinary circumstances in which Gideon found himself called for a “double-check.” But they did not call for any new information. In short, Gideon had warrant for his prayer, we do not.