ARE WE FLEECINC
Many Christians would like a simple method that removes i but God in His infinite wisdom has chosen otherwise.
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n every decision, major or minor, the conscientious Christian seeks to please God. But in their desire to be sure they do what God wants, some believers regularly seek objective, tangible evidence of divine guidance. Such evidence takes the uncertainty and risk out of decision making. It also removes any sense of responsibility—after all, God made the choice. But just how biblical are such practices?
"Godfe Orders Send Pitcher Packing" announced the headline at the top of a Chicago Tribune sports section. After his team lost 25 to 3, a minor league baseball pitcher was summoned to the manager^ hotel room and cut from the squad.
But the player wasn't dismissed because he had played poorly; he had allowed only one earned run in the two innings he pitched. The manager said the pitcher was being released because of direct orders from God. He had made his decision in consultation with the team owner, who explained to a reporter that she had opened her Bible randomly to Ezekiel 12:3. The words "prepare thee stuff for removing" (KJV) jumped out of the page at her.
The owner said it was as if God had become a partner in the teamfe front office. She made all the important decisions about the team this way. She would pray and open her Bible, and the answer would be on the page before her.
Several days before his firing, the pitcher had demanded more money. The ownerls concern about the pitcher's attitude had motivated her to seek Godfe will.
Like this ball club owner and manager, many Christians use a pop-open-the-Bible method to determine Godls will. So many well-meaning believers seek guidance this way that anyone who dares question the approach risks being labeled unspiritual.
But this formulae popularity doesn't necessarily guarantee its soundness. Even its use by a pastor, missionary, or prominent church leader doesn't make it correct. The question is whether the Bible says or implies this is how God guides His people.
The Bible, however, never suggests that it be used in such a mechanical way. No verse in either testament tells us to find God's will by such a method.
In addition, it may even violate scriptural principles. Deuteronomy 18:10 clearly forbids divination, the practice of consulting beings or things to learn Information about the future.
Few recognize the pagan connotations of using the Bible in a mechanical way that ignores the verses' clear meaning and stresses instead a contrived coincidence of terminology. Missionaries report that one Moslem way to
Kermit Ecklebarger is associate professor of New Testament at Denver Conservative Baptist Seminary.
find Godls will is "cutting the Koran," an identical metr* except that the Koran Is used. This approach differs lit from the practice in primitive cultures of determining gi or Innocence by a test such as plunging a hand it boiling oil.
Most Christians who use this method fail to real they're using the Bible like a spiritual ouija board. Me who wouldn't think of having a ouija board because of
MOODY / NOVEMBER 1'
risks in making important decisions,
occult connections treat their Bible as if it were just such a magical toof. To trust "chance" concerning what page happens to fall open isn't an exercise of biblical faith. The object of such faith must be consistent with what God reveals in Scripture.
One of the most serious problems is that a pop-open-the-Bible system of guidance ignores the intended meaning of the verse. When read in its context, the specific
by Kermit A Ecklebarger
verse usually has nothing to do with the problem for which someone is seeking guidance.
In the case of the baseball team owner, the words through which she supposedly received her guidance, "prepare thee stuff for packing," were addressed to the prophet Ezekiel himself. If anybody should have packed her bags, it should have been the owner.
A personal command in Scripture given by God to a specific individual is just that—a command to that one person. God doesn't expect everyone who reads this passage to pack his suitcase.
The unusual thing about this passage is that Ezekiel was to pack his bags, but he wasn't supposed to go anywhere. He was to pretend to be taking a trip to show the rebellious Jews that those living in Jerusalem would be taken captive to Babylon. Nothing in the passage justifies cutting a pitcher from a baseball team.
The Bible should play an important part in decision making, but not as some spiritual device that's mechanically manipulated to find God's will. Through study to discover the eternal truths revealed there, the Bible gives principles that guide Christians in making decisions.
Another method that many have adopted for determining God's guidance is fleece laying. Those who use this for making important decisions feel justified because it is biblical. After all, God did miraculously fulfill the tests Gideon requested as proof that God would defeat the Midianites through him (Judges 6:36-40).
Encouraged by this example, many have prayed that God would arrange a particular outcome of events as tangible evidence of His will about a decision. During his teenage years, even Francis Schaeffer resorted to fleece laying in a moment of crisis when he felt a deep need to know God's will.
It was 5:30 a.m. of the day that 19-year-old Fran was to leave for college to prepare for the ministry. At his father's request Fran got up early to see him before he went to work. When Fran came down the stairs, his dad said, "I don't want a son who is a minister, and I don't want you to go."
Since Fran had first started talking about being a preacher, his relations with his parents had been strained. For six years his education had been geared toward mechanical engineering. His dad wanted a son who "would be "a good honest worker," not a "parasite."
Fran broke the awkward silence and asked permission to go to the cellar to pray. There he tearfully begged God to make it clear what to do.
In desperation he took out a coin and said, "Heads, I'll go in spite of Dad!" He flipped the coin, and it came up heads. Still crying, he pleaded, "God, be patient with me. If it comes up tails this time, I'll go." The tossed coin was
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But positive or negative examples don't prove whether fleece laying is a right or wrong way to discover divine guidance. The ultimate question is whether the Bible presents Gideonls experience as a model for believers to follow. A careful study of Judges 6:1-40 suggests otherwise. And nowhere else in the Bible does anyone mention or practice such an approach.Its also significant to realize Gideon didn't put out the fleece to discover Gods will. He already knew that.By direct revelation, God,bad already told Gideon, "Go in this your strength and deliver Israel from the hand of Midian. Have I not sent you?" (Judges 6:14).When Gideon complained that he and his tribe were too insignificant for such a task, God responded, "I will be with you, and you shall defeat Midian as one man" (v, 16).But to confirm that it was God who was communicating with him, Gideon asked for a sign. God responded to Gideonls request with fire from a rock that miraculously consumed an offering of meat, broth, and unleavened bread that Gideon had presented to God.So when he asked God to make
the fleece wet with dew and the
ground dry, and later when he asked
that the fleece be dry and the ground
wet, Gideon wasn't
asking for directions
about what to do. He
r was seeking reas-surance that God would indeed save Israel as He had said. Another important consideration is that Gideon asked for a real miracle. It wasn't something that could happen through coincidence.Far too often people ask for "signs" that dont require divine intervention. They may even tilt their fleece in favor of a positive response.Suppose a person is trying to decide whether to travel to a distant city to visit his parents. It's highly questionable to set as a test, "I'll know that God wants me to go if Mom calls before Monday," especially if Mom usually phones every weekend.
tails. A third time he begged more earnestly. "Once more, God. 1 don't want to make a mistake with Dad upstairs. Please, now let it be heads again."
After the coin came up heads, a reassured Fran mounted the cellar stairs and confidently told his dad he had to go.
The young Francis Schaeffer had faced a crucial decision that went against his parents' wishes and dreams. Reminiscent of Gideonls fleece, a thrice flipped coin brought certainty at a time of family opposition. Viewed from the perspective of Schaefferls productive life and ministry, those flips of a coin seem even more significant than they did that morning.
Who could then question the validity of fleece laying to determine Gods will? Francis Schaeffer could. In recounting this story in The Tapestry, his wife, Edith, says that he advised against confirming decisions that way, even though at the time he believed it was the right thing to do.
Others who've practiced fleece laying have had negative results. A number of years ago, an evangelical leader who faced a major career decision prayed that God would arrange a particular set of events as an indication of His will about the choice. In each test, the results "confirmed" he was to accept the new position.
Far too often
people ask for 'sign^ ifiat don't require divine intervention. They may even tilt their fleece in favor of a positive response.
He resigned from his ministry and moved across the continent, only to realize within a few months that this new role was clearly not Gods will for him. Fortunately, no replacement had been found where he had previously served. He was invited to return and had a long, successful ministry.
Because fleece laying is never specifically recommended or commanded to determine Gods will, rfe presumptuous to set up conditions through which we expect God to guide us. God never promised to aid • us in decision making this way.
It's risky business to base life-changing decisions on a practice that lacks God's endorsement and is based on an example in which God had already clearly revealed His will.
But what about the young Francis Schaeffer and the countless others who've depended on fleece laying? Was it mere chance that the flipped coin came up right each time?
God is a God of grace and infinite wisdom. He deals with us according to our spiritual maturity and understanding, and He may choose to respond to our request of simple faith.
Although God may sometimes give quidance through a fleece, there is no guarantee He will.
How then does God guide in decision making? Surprisingly, God never prescribes a specific formula for discovering His will. The Bible doesnt spell out a step-by-step procedure for receiving divine guidance.
Through the Bible, God provides all we need to know about Him, His works, and His righteous standards to make the normal decisions of life. "All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work" (2 Tim. 3:16,17). Being "equipped for every good work" certainly includes daily decision making.
A study of the biblical passages where God gave specific, direct instructions to an individual shows He used a variety of methods. Furthermore, God took the initiative.
It wasn't man seeking to find Gods will, but God in His sovereignty interrupting a persons routine with a direct disclosure of some special assignment. The responses of those people make it clear that this wasn't their usual experience. When it happened, they were surprised.
Today, as then, God expects His people to make decisions-that are consistent with His adequate Word, yet remain open and sensitive to any direct instructions He may choose to give. ■
MOODY / NOVEMBER 1984