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The concept of "putting out a fleece" comes from the story of Gideon, a leader in Israel, in Judges 6. When God directed him to gather the Israelite troops to defeat the Midianite invaders, Gideon ...
Speaking from my own experience, some years ago, I found myself in an untenable situation at my then place of work. There seemed to be no way out as I needed to earn a living. I put two prayers before The Lord, "fleece" if you will, that He would either give me peace about staying, or provide a way out, as jobs were scarce. Within the week, a friend phoned to let me know there was a job available at her place of work and her boss wanted to see me. I got the job! Was that not of God? I did not think it wrong or sinful to make those requests to Him. From that point on I can truly say that He has blessed my career and a finally retired after many years in His service.
One of my favorite Bible verses is the last verse in the book of John. "Jesus did many other things as well. I suppose if they were all written down, even the whole world would not hold the books!" What this verse means to me is that what was written down is important enough to "make the book". Therefore the story of Gideon is in the Bible for a reason. The process of laying out a fleece is in for a reason. What is that reason? To understand that, maybe we should look at why Gideon laid out the fleece. As I understand the story, Gideon felt like God was asking him to do something. Probably, if it was something he already wanted to do or something he himself had already thought about doing, he would have just gone ahead and done it without questioning God. I am pretty sure that most of us are guilty of that ourselves. Then he would look back and ask himself later "was this really from God or not?" If we really believe it is God asking us to do something, there is nothing wrong, I believe, in asking Him to confirm it. Now does that mean we should lay out a fleece each time? Of course not. Just a quick prayer of confirmation usually will suffice once we are listening. Or a quick look through our understanding of the Bible to see if what we believe He is asking us to do "lines up" with His Word. (Sometimes we may find it is only our imagination or ego doing the asking.) If we can get to a close enough walk that asking is not necessary then that is even better but I believe the story of Gideon shows us that asking is okay as long as we are not asking out of not wanting to do what is asked. Many times, I think the asking was just to see if we are willing with a side benefit of getting something accomplished through us. If we say no or just say to ourselves that this is probably not God asking, God can chose someone else and it is the one who hesitates or says no that really loses out. Us. We lose a chance to get closer to God and let Him know we are ready and willing to be used again. The other scenario is when God is asking us to do something unusual that we probably have not thought about ourselves. Something we probably don't want to do (but because we love and trust God are willing to do anything He ask) or maybe don't even know how to do. In this case and God has chosen you to do a specific thing, I believe some type of fleece is appropriate. But only if you are willing and ready to do as God ask. Gideon chose the fleece, I believe, because it was something that he would believe and then reversed the request to make sure there was no coincidence involved. If we place a fleece then it should be something that we know is unquestionably to us. Not to someone else, to us. And only to confirm something God has asked us to do, not something we are asking about. If it is God asking, I believe He will readily confirm it to you in a way you will know it is Him! Then equip you to carry out what He asked. We may find out that God was only asking, again, to see if we are willing. (Remember when He asked Abraham to sacrifice Isaac?) Finally, to my knowledge, there is no second story about Gideon placing another fleece. He evidently learned to recognize God's voice. The fleece became unnecessary.
It does not matter what you lay out a fleece or not. What matters is that you pray. 1 Thes 5:17 states to pray without ceasing.
Through taking the Alpha course i discovered 5 ways to discern God's will in my life (ie Is it God speaking to me?). They all use the letters CS for easy recall. It order of priority they are: 1) Commanding Scripture, 2) Compelling Spirit, 3) Counsel of the Saints, 4) Common Sense, 5) Circumstantial Signs. I think it is common for beginning Christians and those with a weak faith to reverse this order. They look for a sign from God first (a fleece) to confirm his leading and will. Even in the church today we often hear the phrase "open door" as a sign Christians are looking for to confirm God's leading. The apostle Paul even referred to this open door sign (1 Cor 16:9). As we mature as Christians i think it is natural for the ways we discern the will of God to match the order above. We get to know the bible well and understand its guidance to us. We have spent time in prayer and witnessed God's answers and leading. We develop close friendships with other godly Christians and come to depend on their counsel. I have been a Christian for 32 years and am very comfortable discerning God's will now but in the early years that was not the case. Four years into my faith I faced a big dilemma. I had developed a very successful and growing accounting practice but it was consuming a lot of my time. I wasn't fulfilling my responsibilities as a husband and father because my career was taking too much time. I prayed fervently and continuously for God to provide a solution. Then one day a client of mine came in and said they wanted to hire me in their business. I pondered whether this was God's answer to my prayer. I wasn't convinced that God wanted me to leave my practice, likely because I was enjoying it so much. I decided to throw out a fleece. I told God i would put 2 conditions to my client before i would join their business; 1) i would write my own job description, and 2) I would set my own compensation package. I told God that if there was any push back from my client i would take that as a sign that he wanted me to stay put. When we met and I put forward my conditions the only thing my client said was "when can you start?". i was blown away by God's end run around my personal agenda. My faith began growing by leaps and bounds. In response to my prayers, i saw God perform numerous signs and wonders at my new position with this business. I encourage you to read carefully and thoughtfully the story of Gideon in Judges 6:1 to 8:33. List all the ways that God revealed himself to Gideon. The fleece was not the first sign. In fact in Judges 6:34 the Spirit of the Lord came upon Gideon. Watch what happens to Gideon's faith - from an obscure Israelite to the leader of the nation. Gideon makes the faith honour role in Heb 11:32. Let's remember that God never judged or rebuked Gideon for asking for a sign. Are you at a place where you need to discern God's will for an important decision? Are you wondering whether your thoughts or ideas are from the Lord? Have you searched the scriptures. Have you prayed fervently about it? Have you discussed the matter with other godly Christians such as your pastor? Have you thought the issue through, considering the pros and cons? if you have done all these things and God's will is still not clear, then I believe it is perfectly acceptable to ask God for a sign - to throw out a fleece. But then obey what God reveals to you just like Gideon did. Then you too will be part of God's faith honour roll as God uses you to accomplish his will in the world.
God's ways are not always clear but He is always sovereign in our lives. 26 years ago I was in charge of a major pathology lab in Brisbane, Australia, and had strong research projects in the medical field which were doing really well. My mother wanted me to return to Adelaide to support her and I was at this time offered a top job in Adelaide. After much prayer, I decided to stay on in Brisbane with my wife and 3 daughters unless I heard otherwise from the Lord. Two days from ringing Adelaide to say no, my wife was diagnosed with a very aggressive cancer. I took this as a sign, like Gideon's fleece, to return to Adelaide. My wife also had close relatives in Adelaide. I had a good job in Adelaide, teaching medical students with significant research findings, but my Christian wife died 2.5 years post diagnosis. To this day I still don't know if I made the "right decision," but what I do know is God is always sovereign and can even make things work for good for those called by His name (Rom 8:25).
When asked from a heart of truly seeking God's best, asking for a fleece or confirmation is not necessarily a sign of weak faith. We were asked to make a challenging, lifelong decision to adapt a special needs baby and I needed to know if this was God's will or he extreme desire of the people who asked us. I asked for a confirmation, it was truly a miraculous answer which took me by surprise and we adapted. Through the years, we have faced many joys, but also many difficulties in raising this child. Here is God's grace through the fleece-He confirms continuously when I grow weary in well doing "You know this is my will, my fleece for you was clear." He graciously encourages me. I'm not saying a fleece is always right, but for us, the Lord used it to not only confirm a difficulty decision, but encourages us through it.
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