Keith’s reasons for potentially leaving the church seemed understandable to me. He then, however, proceeded to tell me something that I didn’t understand so well.
“I should know within the month whether I will leave the church or not,” he said.
“Why’s that?” I inquired.
Sighing, Keith answered, “I am doing what I always do. I put out a fleece for God to respond to. I told Him that I needed to see something specific happen. And if it happens, I’m leaving the church. If not, I’ll be staying put.”
Apparently, Keith was deeply inspired by the story of Gideon in Judges 6:36-39 and decided to make “fleecing God” a spiritual discipline in his own life. From what I understand, “putting a fleece out to God” entails thinking up an arbitrary circumstance and expecting God to make it happen (or not). God’s response (or lack thereof) to that fleece is used to figure out what His specific will is for you. For example, Jake was once a kid in my youth group who was so excited to tell me that he finally was able to decide on which college to attend. I was thrilled to hear the news…until he told me how he came to that decision. Jake told me that, during worship, he prayed something like this: “God, if I know the next two worship songs, but don’t know the third one, but know the fourth one….then I know you want me to go to this college.” And that’s how worship panned out that morning.
You know what? Jake went on to that college and found great fulfillment there—and even graduated with honors. So, for him, it seemed to work like it did for Gideon, for Abraham’s servant (Genesis 24) and for the disciples when they cast lots to identify Judas’ successor (Acts 1). But I think I’m more OK with Jake’s fleecing than I am with Keith’s. Why? Well, Jake was a 17 year old kid who’d been following Jesus for barely a year. Keith, on the other hand, has been in the faith for over four decades. To me, Keith is acting like a young Christian punk, who has yet to put some childish things behind him.
Now it’s been a long time since I did any study on how to discover the will of God, but I’m starting to hear about more and more Christians that regularly seek God’s will for their lives by “pulling a Gideon.” To me, it seems lazy in its approach and dangerous in its ramifications. I’m reminded of Jesus’ words to Satan in John 4: “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.” I don’t know if that directly applies to putting out a fleece, but it most certainly applies indirectly. After all, whenever we, as followers of Jesus, set the agenda, paint the boundaries, call the shots and give God ultimatums—and expect God to respond to us on our terms—that’s just not consistent with life in the Spirit. On the contrary, it seems like a convenient method of testing our Maker.
Now I’m not saying that God can’t or doesn’t reveal His will to people in these ways from time to time. After all, He is known for meeting His people where they’re at. But what I’m against is the Christian acceptance of the fleece as a legitimized practice of seeking God’s will. Maybe there’s a reason that the practice of casting lots was no longer mentioned after Acts 1. With the coming of the Spirit to the Church in Acts 2, just maybe we were meant to seek God’s will together in community as the Holy Spirit illuminates and transforms our minds…as He tames and coaxes our wills.
I’ll admit, it is often tempting to stay childish and want to take control of discovering God’s will. I mean, who among us wouldn’t want to have a quick-fix, self-directed process of discernment—and that without having to be bothered with the messiness of community or submission to the wisdom of counselors that might just tell us something we don’t want to hear? What’s more, we could avoid all of that intimacy with God and inner transformation that often accompanies seeking Him through honest, persistent prayer. Heck, it can be as easy as shaking the Magic 8 Ball.
Wow, maybe Keith is on to something here. I might just and apologize to him for writing this blogpost after all…