The story comes from the Book of Judges, Chapter Six. God calls Gideon to lead an army against the Midianites. “Sure, God,” Gideon replies, “but let me be sure about this, okay?” (Yes, I’m paraphrasing here.) So Gideon takes a hunk of wool, and prays for God to confirm his calling. “If this really is You calling me to do this, let the fleece be wet in the morning and the ground all around it be dry.”
So, in the morning, the ground is dry and Gideon wrings out a bowlful of water from the fleece. Ready to go to battle now, right?
Not quite. “God, please don’t be irritated with me and strike me dead like you sometimes do to folks when You’re irritated with them.” Then he goes on to ask for a second confirming sign with the fleece: an invert of the first request.
Next morning, the fleece is dry as a hermit’s humor and the ground is soaking wet. So, Gideon takes the original Three Hundred army and busts up the Midianites like they’ve never been busted up before.
I’ve heard and read preachers busting up on Gideon for his lack of faith and what a sorry example he is for folks today. “God speaks directly to you and then you turn around and ask for a sign?! Shame on you. Shame on you!” Then they go on, “You’ve already got God’s Word right here in the Bible; you don’t need any more messages from Him.”
Of course, every one of those preachers wouldn’t hesitate in the slightest to go out and lead an army of three hundred against a few hundred thousand enemy troops. God whispers in the night and they’re ready to go right out and conquer every mountain, face every peril, endure every affliction without so much as a clarifying comment. Me, I’m more with Gideon.
Before I go out and face an overwhelming force of swords and spears while my buds and I are armed with trumpets and flashlights, I’d really like to know for sure that I hadn’t just imagined that God had spoken to me. You see, sometimes, God does call folks to conquer, to march victoriously against overwhelming odds. And sometimes he calls them to martyrdom.
And while I agree that martyrdom is also victory, it sure changes the hero’s experience of the parade. I don’t think God would mind if once or twice during a lifetime or so, I wanted to be sure that I was doing what He wanted me to do, serving where He wanted me to serve.
And I suspect that sometimes we ponder that and pray over the fleece, asking that it be dry in the morning and hoping it’ll be wet. Before you go praying to God for direction in your life, you might want to stop and consider how you’re going to feel if His answer is for a different direction than what you wanted. If you’re just going to go ahead and do what you want to anyway, it’d probably be good to just skip the praying. It’s really hard to fool God.