Question: I am puzzled about divine guidance. I am facing a major decision in life and I would like to know how God leads His people. Some of my Christian friends have told me of their experiences that seem almost unbelievable. They tell me I need to "put out fleece" and believe. What do you think?
Answer: God still leads His people, but we have to be very careful about some of the methods that are advocated by certain groups. I've heard some testimonies that are really quite dramatic, but intensity of experience is no guarantee that the experience is from God.
Michael Ray had an intense religious experience when a practitioner of Eastern mysticism ran a peacock feather across his head. Here is Ray's story, as reported in Yoga Journal (January-February 1988), p. 52: "I saw a bolt of lightning, like a pyramid of light. I began literally bouncing off the floor and trembling. I felt tremendous energy, love, and joy. What I had experienced, I later learned, had been shaktipat, or spiritual awakening of kundalini energy inside me. . . ." We don't endorse this, but I simply refer to it to make the point: Intense religious experiences are not necessarily of God.
Our experiences must always be judged by the Word of God. The story is told of the farmer who saw two clouds in the sky. They formed the letters "PC." The farmer thought about these letters for a while and concluded that this must have been some kind of a sign from the Lord that he was to "preach Christ."
The farmer was determined that he would follow what he thought was "guidance from God." The farmer sold his farm, enrolled in a Bible college and, upon graduating, started to preach Christ. It soon became obvious to all that this was not his calling. His preaching was so terrible that after hearing him preach for a few minutes, most of the congregation would get up, shake their heads, and leave the building.
The ex-farmer was greatly disheartened. "I can't understand it," he said to a friend. "The Lord showed me the letters 'PC,' and I thought that He was telling me to preach Christ. I've done what the Lord has told me to do, but things just aren't working out."
His friend looked at him for a moment and said, "Do you think 'PC' might mean 'plant corn'?"
Some of the methods of guidance that are proposed are often subjective and sometimes misleading. Putting out fleece is the practice of expecting God's providential operation to direct the believer through some previously agreed-on sign. The practice is recorded in Judges 6:36-40, where we read of Gideon putting out fleece.
Gideon's example, however, is a bad one. Putting out fleece was not an act of faith on Gideon's part, but a demonstration of his unbelief. Gideon already knew the Lord's will (vs. 37). He was not trying to find God's will but was seeking confirmation of guidance that he had already received.
Putting out fleece in order to know God's will may actually obscure God's will by limiting the possibilities. If a young man puts out fleece to determine whether he should marry Betty or Mary Lou the Lord's answer could very well be: "Neither." Since putting out the fleece limits the answer to either "Betty" or "Mary Lou," the young man would completely miss the will of God.
How then are we to discern the will of God? First, be completely familiar with what God has revealed in the Bible. God will never lead you contrary to His Word. Secondly, seek godly counsel. Beware of taking any counsel, however, that glorifies man.