Have you ever heard someone say, “Yeah, I recently put my fleece out before the Lord…” If you are not fluent in Christianese, you may think they are referring to some spiritualized form of dry cleaning. But, they are not.
“Putting a fleece out” is…
…an approach to prayer reminiscent of Gideon’s request to God found in Judges 6:36-40. An angel appeared to the Israelite warrior explaining that God was about to use him to defeat the Midianites. Being uncertain about this, Gideon asked God for a sign.
Gideon laid a fleece, or a wool blanket, on the threshing floor. On the first night, he said, “If the fleece is wet with dew and the ground is dry, I will know that God’s word is true.” The next morning, Gideon found things exactly that way. On the very next night, still unsure, he asked God to prove Himself again by reversing it. Again, God did so. Thus, Gideon found his answer and, soon, his courage to go to war.
This encounter between Gideon and God is thought, by some, to be an example for how we should pray today. Such Gideon-esque “fleece prayers” present God with the opportunity for a binary, yes/no response to our tailor-made conditions. This usually comes with an “if/then” set of results. For instance, I remember, in Little League, hoping for a hit and praying, “Dear God, if you will just let me get on first base, I will be a missionary to Africa.” Guess what happened? I did get on first base. But I did not get a hit; rather, I got hit by the pitch. (My coach thought I was upset because I was beamed by the ball, but really, I just didn’t want to go to Africa!)
Particularly, “fleece prayers” can be heard at moments of big decision. This kind of prayer seems to be regarded as an end-all way to get a sure-fire answer from God, an act just shy of fasting in terms of its effectiveness. Often, fleece prayers seek to answer such questions as: Who should I marry or which job should I take? With such big decisions looming, a “fleecer” might pray, “If I see that redhead at lunch today, then I will take it as a sign from God that I’m supposed to marry her.” Thus, God’s will is determined according to our rather strict and subjective criteria.
Given how important these situations are, it’s understandable why a believer would want to make the most godly decision about marriage or a job. Those who pray this way often do so with sincerity and right motives. They truly want to depend on God. I not only affirm and admire these traits, I am a bit envious of them, wishing that I always had such faith. Still, I want to show why this approach is not for us today.
1. There is very little worth emulating in the book of Judges.
Many great books of the Bible present us with godly examples to follow. Generally speaking, however, the book of Judges is not one of them. Israel, and its leadership, were in moral, spiritual, and civil decline. Judges shows just how far God’s people had drifted away from Him. As such, we should be careful about what principles we draw from a book that is summarized by the words:
” everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” (Judges 21:25)
Granted, there are certain redeeming virtues found within Judges; such as Ehud’s courage, Deborah’s worship and Samson’s repentance. Nevertheless, the historical context of this book should make us very cautious about how we apply its stories and events to our own lives.
2. The fleece episode demonstrated a lack of faith, not a display of faith.
Many of those who pray “fleece prayers” do so in earnest and with genuine faith. As I said, I appreciate and support that. They believe God. They trust Him. For the most part, however, Gideon did not. Even though the angel had plainly told him, prior to the fleece episode, that God was with Him (6:12, 16) and that he must fight (6:14, 16), Gideon still doubted God’s Word. His asking for the fleece sign was not an admirable exercise of some secret, spiritual discipline, rather, it was a sign of his distrust in God’s word.
True, Gideon is mentioned in the Hebrews 11 “Hall of Faith”, however, it seems that his faith-act was going up against countless men in battle with only 300 torch and clay-pot armed soldiers. That was a display of real faith in God.
3. “Fleece prayers” can border on “testing the Lord your God.”
Be careful about setting forth demands that presume upon God. The devil tempted Jesus to do this. In Matthew 4, quoting from the Old Testament, the devil encouraged Jesus to daringly leap from the temple and assume that God would rescue Him. To which Jesus answered,
“You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.”
In other words, Jesus said that it is wrong to presume upon God. Are not fleece prayers a simplified version of this? Are they not manmade tests by which God either passes or fails? Futhermore, though this is not always true, this kind of praying is sometimes used as an excuse for lazy Christianity. It’s much easier waiting for God to reveal Himself in our sanctified version of a crystal ball rather than living by faith.
4. Remember, Gideon did not have a single page of the Bible to rely upon.
Our guide, for living and decision-making, is not a subjective experience, but rather the objective Word of God. Just as a hiker has a compass, God’s people have His perfect Word to lead us in both righteousness and wisdom. Often fleece prayers are an attempt to make God prove Himself to us. How quickly we have forgotten that the Bible is the record of God proving Himself to us time and time again!
Sometimes people think, “If God would just speak to me from the clouds, I would be certain about what to do.” Did you know that Peter did hear the voice of God from the clouds? Do you know what He said about this? Peter wrote,
“The prophetic word (i.e. the Bible) is more sure [than the voice I heard from heaven], to which you do well to pay attention…” (2 Peter 2:-19)
Listen to the Bible. Let it be the “lamp unto your feet and the light unto your path.”
Ok, if we shouldn’t go about “fleecing out” our prayers, what, then should we do when big decisions come along?
Here are five very brief suggestions:
1. Pray for wisdom.
2. Seek godly counselors (and listen carefully to them).
3. Investigate the Scriptures.
4. Maintain biblical priorities (i.e. family, church, etc.).
5. Make a Matthew 6:33-shaped decision.