A lot of people have done it. My pastor has (and he still regrets it). Some of my fellow church members have. Pastor/author Mark Batterson has (and he talks about this in his book, Draw the Circle). I haven’t ever, but maybe you have.
But did you know that you may have been doing it wrong all this time?
What am I talking about? Putting out a prayer fleece.
Where does the idea of a prayer fleece come from?
Maybe you don’t know what I’m talking about when I mention putting out a prayer fleece. Let me take a few minutes to explain.
In Judges 6, we learn about one of Israel’s greatest judges, Gideon. Gideon started off, by all accounts, as an unlikely hero. When God calls him to lead His people, Gideon is threshing wheat in a winepress (Judges 6:11).
Why is this little detail important? Because it tells us Gideon was in hiding from his enemies. Wheat is usually threshed on the top of a hill — in view of everyone — so the chaff can blow down. Winepresses were pretty much as far down as you could get — and not nearly as visible.
From the beginning of his call, we know that Gideon was no fearless warrior; he was more of a scared little boy (although he probably was a grown man).
So, it’s particularly funny when the angel of the Lord comes to him and calls him “mighty warrior” (Judges 6:12).
And, amidst much hemming and hawing from Gideon, the angel (probably Jesus in a pre-incarnate appearance) tells Gideon what his mission is (in no uncertain terms):
“Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you? … I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites, leaving none alive.” (Judges 6:14-16, NIV)
When Gideon put out his fleece, he already knew God’s will
Many times, when we’re putting out the prayer fleece, we’re trying to determine what God’s will is. That’s not what’s happening here. Gideon knows full well what God’s will is.
Gideon said to God, “If you will save Israel by my hand as you have promised — look, I will place a wool fleece on the threshing floor. If there is dew only on the fleece and all the ground is dry, then I will know that you will save Israel by my hand, as you said.” And that is what happened. Gideon rose early the next day; he squeezed the fleece and wrung out the dew — a bowlful of water. (Judges 6:36–38, NIV)
Gideon had, however, previously put God to the test with goat meat and broth and fire coming out of a rock (Judges 6:17–24, NIV). In this way, he really did know Who he was talking to.
But nobody ever talks about putting out prayer goat meat and broth being consumed by fire out of a rock.
Prayer fleece has a much better ring to it.
In Gideon’s testing of God with the fleece (and, yes, he did it TWICE; see Judges 6:39–40), he’s not seeking to know God’s will. He’s seeking confirmation of God’s will and what his involvement in it should be.
What’s the takeaway for us? Don’t put out a fleece to determine what God’s will is — especially if He’s already told you.
Your prayer fleece should be something supernatural
If you really want to know, without a doubt, that God is behind something you feel called to do, you need to make sure you’re looking for confirmation that could only come from God.
The first time Gideon laid out the fleece, it resulted in something that probably was God’s doing, but it still could have happened naturally. There was a chance the ground could have dried up naturally before the fleece. The second time Gideon laid out the fleece, there was no doubt. That was God at work.
If you’re setting out a prayer fleece that’s either something you could do under your own power (wait until payday to start funding that ministry dream) or something that will likely happen anyway either by chance or the natural order of things (a red stop light switching over to green, or your dog wagging its tail when you come home), then you’re doing it wrong. God wants to show His power and His might; He wants to display His own glory.
If you’re setting out a prayer fleece, make sure you’re looking for supernatural results.
We have something Gideon didn’t have
Yes, Gideon came face to face with Jesus — something probably not one of us currently living can say. But we who belong to Jesus have something Gideon didn’t have.
We have the Holy Spirit living inside us.
Gideon experienced the Holy Spirit coming UPON him (Judges 6:34), but the thing about that is — if the Holy Spirit comes upon you, it can leave just as easily. If the Holy Spirit is inside you, it will never leave until you go to heaven to be with God (see 2 Corinthians 1:22 and Ephesians 1:14). And the Holy Spirit (who IS God) will clue you in to what God is doing/wants to do if you ask (see John 14:26).
We don’t need to look for signs from God, because we have the greatest of signs living inside us once we acknowledge Jesus as our personal Savior and Lord. We have God Himself, who wants to show us so many things — if only we’d be open to seeking and asking.
If you don’t currently have the Holy Spirit inside you, and you feel God is calling you to do something, maybe you do need to put out a prayer fleece to confirm that. But those of us who have the Spirit shouldn’t ever need to.
And all of us should use caution when it comes to putting out a prayer fleece. Sometimes we can become so intent on looking for the signs that we forget to look to the Sign Giver. God wants us to love, worship, and trust Him above all else. We run the risk of not doing that if we throw down a prayer fleece, as Gideon’s example also shows us. By chapter 8 of Judges, Gideon is destroying his enemies under his own power and his own initiative. He doesn’t seem to be looking to God for direction anymore at all.
Not really the example we want to follow, if we’re committed to living for God.
What about you? How do you feel about putting out a prayer fleece? Would you recommend it or not? Why?