Robert Jeffress - Putting Out The Fleece, Without Getting Fleeced
Hi, I am Robert Jeffress, and welcome again to Pathway to Victory. When we're struggling to make a crucial decision, finding God's perfect will can be tough. It's why many of us are tempted to ask, "God, could you just give me some sort of sign"? Well, today we'll consider whether God ever uses special circumstances and supernatural signs to guide us. My message is titled, "Putting Out The Fleece, Without Getting Fleeced," on today's edition of Pathway to Victory.
When it comes to discovering God's will for your life, reading the Bible and praying are highly overrated activities. Or so it seems. Don't look at me that way, you know what I'm talking about. I mean, you're facing a perplexing problem, you really want God's wisdom, and the pastor has just preached a message about how God speaks through his word. And so faithfully, you take the Bible, and you begin reading the book of Ephesians once a day, every day of that month, and you look through the Bible and search for an answer. But no answer's to be found in the Bible. Not even close to an answer to the particular problem you're facing. So why not try plan B, you think. After all, last time the pastor talked about prayer. God speaks through prayer, he claimed. Even the Bible says this, that any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God.
And so you begin 20 minutes a day, every morning, on your knees faithfully praying, "Lord, show me what you would have me to do". And even though that 20 minutes temporarily relieves the anxiety you're feeling, when you get up off your knees, you're still confused. You still have no direct word from God about his will for your life. Well, if Bible study doesn't do it, if prayer doesn't do it, why not ask God for a supernatural sign? After all, you look through the Bible, God does reveal himself through supernatural signs sometimes. Why not use a sign to determine God's will?
That's the line of reasoning I used some years ago, with very disappointing results, I might add. Many years ago I told the youth, when the dinosaurs roamed the earth, and I was a youth minister here, a number of years ago, I was here on the staff of this church, and I'd always known God had called me to be a pastor. I'd been here about seven years, and I was really starting to get restless. And one day a pastor of a large megachurch in our convention called and said, "Robert, I'd like you to come to our church and be the executive pastor. You can run the church, run the staff, do all of those things". And I thought, "Well, this is probably a way to get me closer to my goal of being a pastor". At least I thought.
So I flew to that city, met with a pastor, and he said, "Boy, I think this is going to work. We would like you to come. Now you go back to Dallas, and I'll be back in contact with you after I work things out with the personnel committee". Well, a few days turned into a few weeks. I heard nothing. Weeks turned into a couple of months, still no word. And one day I remember, it was a Tuesday afternoon, we were over here in our staff meeting over in the CEB building, and it was one of those particularly depressing staff meetings. And I remember being in that staff meeting. I prayed while somebody else was talking. I prayed, "Lord, I can't stand this any longer. If you want me to go to such and such church, I need a sign and I need it from you today".
Well, we finished the staff meeting. I walked through this sanctuary, over to the old Criswell building, went up to my office, and there in my message box was one pink slip, a message slip, and it was a message from that pastor. It said, "Dr. so-and-so called while you were in staff meeting and want you to call him as soon as possible". So I got into my office, dialed the number, and this is what he said. He said, "I didn't have any particular reason for calling you today, but I just felt impressed that I was supposed to call you. So I wanted to call and check up and see how things were going. I'm still working out things, but you'll hear from me soon". So I hung up. I thought, "Man, what could be more of a sign than that"? I went home ready to start packing my bags to make the move.
Well, the pastor did call back as he promised within a few days, but not with the results I expected. He said, "Robert, I need to be honest with you. We're going through some tremendous turmoil here in our church and I don't think it would be fair to bring you into this situation. In fact, I'm not sure how much longer I'm going to be able to stay as pastor of the church". In fact, within a few weeks he was gone as pastor of that church. Boy, talk about being disappointed. Not only because I was confined to my present situation longer than I thought, but I thought, "God, what kind of cruel trick are you playing on me? I had sincerely asked you for wisdom. I had asked for a sign. You apparently gave a sign, and then you pulled the rug out from under me".
And it was that experience more than 20 years ago that began me looking at the Bible to see, what does God's word say about signs and circumstances and the will of God? Well, that's what we're going to talk about today as we continue our series, "Discovering the will of God," we're going to talk about how to put out the fleece without getting fleeced. So if you have your Bibles, I want you to get ready, as we look and see what the Bible says about using signs and circumstances to determine God's will.
Now at first glance, the Bible seems to indicate that God does use supernatural signs and circumstances to determine his will. Turn over to Judges chapter six. Perhaps you've heard that expression that I used in the title of the sermon, putting out the fleece. When we use that term, we mean setting up a test or asking for a sign for God's will. Well, that phrase actually comes from this passage in Judges six. Remember, God had said to Gideon, "Gideon, I want you to take a small army of men, and I want you to attack and conquer the Midianites. And I want it to be a small group you take with you so that no one will doubt who did this great thing".
Well, before Gideon went on this suicide mission, he wanted to make sure that he was in the middle of God's will, and so he asked God for a sign. Look at Judges 6:36. "Then Gideon said to God, if thou will deliver Israel through me as thou has spoken, behold I will put a fleece of wool on the threshing floor. If there is dew on the fleece only, and it is dry on all the ground, then I will know that thou will deliver Israel through me". Verse 38, what happened? "When he arose early the next morning," verse 38, "And he squeezed the fleece, he drained the dew from the fleece a bowl full of water". Just like he had asked, God had given a sign. But Gideon wasn't content with that sign, he wanted another confirmation.
Verse 39, "Then Gideon said to God, do not let your anger burn against me that I may speak once more. Please let me make a test once more with the fleece. Let it now be dry on the fleece, and let there be dew on all the ground around it. And God did so that night, for it was dry only on the fleece, and dew was on the ground". Once again, God confirmed his will through a supernatural sign. Well, some people would say, "Pastor, wait a minute. All of these things happened before the coming of the Holy Spirit. All of these things happened before the Holy Spirit permanently indwelled believers. But now, since that time, God's spirit comes to indwell our hearts, and we don't need supernatural signs like this and we don't need supernatural circumstances to determine God's will. The Bible and the Holy Spirit are sufficient".
Now, that would be true if it weren't for acts chapter 16. Okay? Turn over to acts 16. Remember this story? Paul and the other apostles were on the second missionary journey, and they were trying to go into Ephesus and into Bithynia, and they kept having closed door after closed door. So they were in Troas, trying to discover what they were going to do. Now look at verse nine of acts 16. "And a vision appeared to Paul in the night. A certain man of Macedonia was standing and appealing to him and saying, come over to Macedonia and help us. And when he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go into Macedonia, concluding that God has called us to preach the gospel to them".
Now, here's Paul in Troas, meeting resistance about going one direction when suddenly this man appears to Paul in a vision saying, "Come over here". By the way, there was none of this still small voice going on here. This wasn't some impression Paul had. There was a vision of a man saying, "Come this way, come this way". Wouldn't you think maybe God was in that? Paul did, and he said, "God has shown us the way that we ought to go". Does he do the same thing today? I have to confess to you, I come from a tradition that says God did that in Bible times, but he doesn't do that kind of thing today anymore. Today God never speaks through special revelation. He speaks through his word and other means, but not through special revelation.
Frankly, I don't believe that. Frankly, I believe God can do whatever he chooses to do. God is not going to be put into any box we construct for him. He can speak however he chooses to speak. The question is not, can God speak through supernatural Revelation? The question is, does he do that today? And is it the most reliable way for knowing the will of God? And so today, in the few moments we have, I want us to search the scriptures, and we're going to discover six biblical principles about signs and determining the will of God for your life.
Now, I want you to keep your outlines handy and jot these down, because I think this will be a great help to you and others you counsel in this area of knowing God's will for your life. What does the Bible say about supernatural signs and the will of God? Principle number one is this. Seeking supernatural signs is generally condemned in scripture. Seeking supernatural signs is generally condemned in the Bible. Perhaps some of the harshest words about seeking signs came from the lips of Jesus himself.
We read 'em just a moment ago in Matthew 12:38. "And then some of the scribes and pharisees answered Jesus saying, teacher, we want to see a sign from you". You claim to be Messiah, we need a sign. Verse 39. "But Jesus answered and said to them an evil and an adulterous generation craves for a sign, and yet no sign shall be given but the sign of Jonah, the prophet". If you read further, what Jesus was saying was this. "Your problem, pharisees, is not a lack of information, it's a lack of obedience. I've already told you who I am. You have all the information you need. No more information is going to be given to you". And God usually condemns our seeking after a sign. Whenever we ask God for a sign, it's an attempt to force God to operate according to our terms and our timetable.
Principle number two, and this is so important, supernatural signs in the Bible were truly supernatural. Supernatural signs in the Bible were truly supernatural. So many times we say we want God's will, but we already have a pretty good idea of what we want to do anyway. And so what we do is we'll ask for a sign that we know has a good probability of coming true anyway, as a confirmation that we can do what we want to do.
Haddon Robinson tells a story about a girl in the college department in a church where he was pastoring and she said, "Dr. Robinson, I'm really praying about whether or not God wants me to go skiing over spring break, and so I'm going to put out the fleece". And he said, "Well, now exactly what fleece are you going to put out to determine God's will"? And she said, "Well, if my father sends me some money in the mail, I'll know it's God's will for me to go skiing over spring break". He said, "Well, does your father ever send you money in the mail"? She said, "Oh yeah, about three or four times a year". So he said, "Well, that wouldn't be that unusual then, would it"? She said, "Well, no, not really". He said, "Well, if you really want to follow the principle of Gideon and the fleece, why not ask God for a truly supernatural sign? Why don't you say, 'God, if you want me to go skiing, have the president of the United States write me a letter and enclose a check that will cover my ski trip'"?
Now that would be a supernatural sign. And if you really want to follow what Gideon did, don't just pray that, then ask for a second sign, and say, "God, not only have the president send me a letter, but had the Prime Minister of Great Britain send me a letter as well with a check. Then I will know it's your will". You see, that's the kind of signs the Bible talks about, truly supernatural signs. You know, when I think about my own instance, asking for that sign that that pastor would call me, that wasn't that unusual. First of all, he had already promised he was going to call me. He was a man of integrity, a pastor, so he probably was going to do it. And even though he had gone a while without calling, every day that elapsed increased the probability that he would call. It wasn't really a supernatural sign. Supernatural signs in the Bible were truly supernatural.
Number three, after Pentecost, supernatural signs were given to people who weren't looking for them. After acts, chapter two, supernatural signs were generally given to people who weren't even looking for them. Think, for example, about the story of Saul on the road to Damascus. Here was Saul going to Damascus in order to persecute Christians. Was he going there saying, "Oh Lord, show me your will, show me your will"? Not at all. He wasn't asking for any divine Revelation. But in acts 9:3, look what happened. "And it came about that as Paul journeyed, he was approaching Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him and he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, Saul, Saul why are you persecuting me? And Saul said, who art thou, Lord? And he said, I am Jesus whom you are persecuting, but rise and enter the city, and it will be told to you what you must do". God, at least after acts chapter two, gave signs to those who were not looking for them.
Number four, and this is a double star one. Signs were given as a confirmation, not a contradiction of God's will. In the Bible, signs were given as a confirmation, not a contradiction to God's will. One day a lady called me on the phone in my last church, and she said, "Pastor, my husband Tony has announced that he wants to leave our family. He wants to marry somebody else. And it's not only going to devastate me, but it's going to devastate our eight-year-old daughter. Would you please sit down with him and see if you can talk him out of his decision"?
I just love those kind of assignments. But anyway, I agreed to. I called Tony, and gratefully he said he would meet with me. So we sat down, I said, "Tony, tell me what's going on in your life". And he gave me the same thing I've heard a thousand times. Every time I hear it, I want to throw up. And he said basically, "Oh, pastor, you know, I thought I was in love with so and so, and we've had a loveless marriage for 10 years, and I'm not fulfilled, and I just know God wouldn't want me to be unhappy the rest of my life. And so in an attempt to find happiness, I'm going to leave her. And even though this may not be God's perfect will, it's his permissive will". And blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah he went.
So I let him, you know, spew out all that stuff. And so when he had finished, I said, "Tony, let me ask you a question. Have you ever asked yourself, what does God think about my decision"? Now, it's usually at this point in the conversation that the other person bows his head and shame and says, "Oh, gee, pastor, I've never thought of that before. You're right. I'm so ashamed. I won't do this. I'll stay married". That happens a lot of times, but it didn't happen this time. Instead, when I asked him, "Tony, have you ever thought what God thinks about your decision"? He said, "You know, I've been giving a lot of thought to that recently".
He said, "In fact, the other day I was driving around town praying for God to give me direction about what to do about my marriage. And I was approaching an intersection, and there was a stoplight there. And I said, God if you want me to continue going through with this divorce, let the light stay green, but if you turn it red, then I'll know I'm supposed to stop and return to my family. And guess what, pastor? It stayed green, and I know I'm in God's will". Folks, God is not schizophrenic, okay? God's not going to say one thing in his word and then tell you to do something differently. God is the same. He never contradicts his word. In the Bible, supernatural signs were given as a confirmation, not a contradiction of God's will.
Number five, in the New Testament, signs dealt with the proclamation of the gospel, not personal decisions. In the New Testament, when God gave a sign, it had to do with the proclamation of the gospel, not personal decisions. Have you heard this phrase before, open doors and closed doors? God opened this door in this area of my life but he closed this door. Did you know in the New Testament, that phrase open doors and closed doors only refers to the spreading of the gospel with evangelism? That's the only time it's ever used. It's never used in reference to personal decisions.
When you think about it, all of these supernatural signs in the New Testament had to do with God's priorities, not man's priorities. When God appeared to Paul on the road to Damascus, it was about the spreading of the gospel to the gentiles. When God revealed himself to Cornelius and to Peter, again, he was saying gentiles are no longer unclean. They can receive the gospel. God's supernatural visit to Paul about Macedonia had to do with his priority of spreading the gospel to Europe. What I'm saying is this. In the New Testament, signs that God gave never had to do with personal decisions like whom to marry or where to live or you know, what job to seek. They had to do with the proclamation of the gospel.
Number six, common sense usually trumps supernatural signs when seeking God's will. Common sense usually trumps supernatural signs when sensing to know God's will. Proverbs 4:5 says, "Acquire wisdom, acquire understanding". You know, we've got this idea about knowing God's will, that God's will must be the hardest or the most ludicrous or the most outlandish choice we must possibly could make. That only if it doesn't make sense could it be God's will. Now, it is true that sometimes God asks you to do something that doesn't make sense. But absent any special Revelation from God, what I'm saying is, asking God for a natural sign is sometimes better than asking God for a supernatural sign.
Let me explain what I mean. Let's say you've had an offer to go to a new job in another city, and the thought of this new job excites you, and you talk to your family about it, and they seem agreeable to the idea, and it seems like maybe God's in this thing. The only problem is, your new employer is offering you $10,000 less than what you feel like you need to support your family. And so you go to him and you explain the situation and you say, "You know, if I come, I'm going to need $10,000 more". And he says, "Well, let me think about it, and I'll get back to you in a couple of days".
Now, you could very legitimately pray, "Lord, if you want our family to move, have him say yes. If you don't want us to move, let him say no". That's not an outlandish sign to ask for. That is what one writer calls wisdom in the disguise of a sign. Because after all, if he comes back to you and says no, do you really want to go to work for somebody who at the outset is not that excited about your coming that he wouldn't meet your current salary? Would you really want to start out not having the needs of your family met? That's not so much a supernatural sign as it is a natural sign. It's a way of acquiring wisdom. Does God ever speak through supernatural Revelation?
He has in the past. He might in your life as well. But there are two better ways to discern the will of God in your life, two ways that we're going to look at over the next two weeks. But if there's one thought I want to leave you with today, it's this. God does have a plan for your life. And it's a plan for which he will give you just the guidance you need. Never more, nevertheless, he will tell you exactly what you need to do each step of the way. And by the way, God's plan for your life is a good plan. As God said in Jeremiah 29:11, "For I know the plans I have for you, sayeth the Lord. Plans for your welfare, not for calamity. A plan that will give you a future and a hope".