In the sixth chapter of Judges we read about Gideon looking for a sign that he will be successful in leading the Israelites against their enemies, the Midianites. God has chosen him for this purpose but Gideon wants to make sure that he has understood things correctly before he takes action. He places a piece of fleece on the ground and says that, if there is dew on the fleece the next morning but not on the ground, he will take that as a sign that he is to lead the people into battle. The next morning he finds it just that way with the fleece wet with dew, the ground around it dry. But he asks for another sign for the next day just to be certain. This time he says that, if there is dew on the ground around the fleece but not on the fleece itself, he will know his mission. The next morning he finds the ground wet and the fleece dry. The sign of the fleece has been given and now Gideon moves forward. He will engage the battle and the Israelites will defeat the Midianites.
Is Gideon looking for a sign of encouragement or is he looking for a way out of a responsibility that has been given to him? Maybe a little of both. It is, after all, a daunting task assigned to him and he wants to make sure he has understood the voice of God properly before he endangers thousands of lives. Maybe he’s being a little cowardly in buying some time. Or maybe there’s wisdom in his delaying tactics.
Most decisions take a little while to make. Two days doesn’t seem overly long in the case of Gideon. Sometimes decisions have to be made right there in the moment but, generally speaking, we need to sleep on the bigger decisions for a couple of nights at least before we jump into the battle. How many decisions have you made too quickly? Probably more than you have made too slowly. Most times waiting and listening are wiser than rushing ahead.
What is helpful about Gideon’s thought process is that he is looking for guidance rather than just putting off the inevitable. Certainly we would do well to act similarly. As we make difficult decisions, we can connect to God in prayer, we can examine the feedback of our intuition and our trusted guides in life. We can ask ourselves if this course of action is truly wise. We can, in this way, face our decisions with wisdom and faith instead of hiding from them in denial.
Life gives us many opportunities to make choices. We can face reality or we can hide from it. We can pay attention to all the signs around us. We can open our hearts to the strength God so freely gives. We can step gingerly through treacherous times. We can humbly ask for God’s help as we take each of those steps. Or we can plunge ahead with no thought given to the havoc we are wreaking. We can make the decision all about forcing our own will. As long as we are genuinely seeking God’s will, life has a way of protecting and encouraging us. When we are simply seeking our own will, things generally turn out pretty awful.
As the story of Gideon moves forward, he amasses huge troops for battle. As he continues to pay attention, God instructs him to reduce the number of his troops. Rather than thousands of warriors, Gideon hears that he is to take just 300 into battle. Though outmatched in terms of numbers, Gideon is successful and knows full well that it is not simply the might of his troops which has led to victory. The hand of God is seen clearly as the determining factor. The point is made further that seeking God’s will works better than forcing our own. We are not called to win the battles in life so much as we are called to be faithful and to listen for God’s guidance. With that approach all things work together for good. Good, we come to see, is not just getting our own way. True good is becoming content with what God is bringing about in and around us.
We become more attuned to the signs God offers by practicing. If we are only listening and watching when pressing decisions are to be made, we are being more willful than faithful. We tend to use God when we need something from him. Faithfulness is allowing God to use us and attuning our wills to his.
Learn to listen for that peaceful guidance God offers daily instead of just turning to him for a sign when battle is imminent. As we come to know the grace of Christ Jesus in the calm, we can take it into the storms when they come.
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.