learning in flux

Wednesday, October 24, 2007


For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding.
And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. Colossians 1:9-12 NIV

I don't know about you, but change is very difficult for me. I call it "flux" and I HATE flux. You're not where you were, but you're not where you will be - and you don't even know where you will be. When you combine that with God's will and all the current emphasis on God's "individual will" for your life in contemporary Christian writing these days , it can be paralyzing. I've been going through that for a few years now (my husband calls it my mid-life crisis) and am just coming to peace with it. (Not all the way there yet.) I've spent so much time in my life focused on gaining knowledge and achievement, that it's a very new place for me to realize I'm now more interested in significance. I love Loretta Lynn's quote: "I'm just goin through life, trying to matter."


If you're like me, you seek knowledge in decision making. And for me, that always means books first. I've found a few recently that have really made me think. One is written by Garry Friesen, called Decision Making and the Will of God. It's not light reading. It's a very big book. I got it at the beginning of my search for significance.


Throughout my life, I've often abdicated "big" decision making to God, thinking I was seeking and submitting to his will. Often, I would pray and "lay a fleece." Now this is weird. When I took a moment to look up "lay a fleece" on the internet so I could better explain it, this is what I found first - an example from Decision Making and the Will of God by Garry Friesen:

"We all know this one. Heck, we've probably all done this one in some way or another. When we "lay out a fleece" before God, what we are doing, essentially, is seeking to know God's will in a matter by asking him to arrange circumstances to indicate his answer to our question. In his book Decision Making and the Will of God, Garry Friesen uses the humourous example of the "phone fleece": Suppose you want to ask Gladys out, but you don't know whether it is God's will that you do so. You decide that you will call her up. If the phone rings and someone answers (and you hope it's Gladys), then God is telling you to ask her out. On the other hand, if you get a busy signal, God is telling you that Gladys is not for you. (She might be accepting a date from someone else.) If there is no answer, then you will try again later. Now, be honest: This is silly. Yet you've tried something like this in the past, haven't you? I have.

The idea of a "fleece" comes from the story of Gideon, which involved a literal fleece:

And Gideon said unto God, If thou wilt save Israel by mine hand, as thou hast said, Behold, I will put a fleece of wool in the floor; and if the dew be on the fleece only, and it be dry upon all the earth beside, then shall I know that thou wilt save Israel by mine hand, as thou hast said. And it was so: for he rose up early on the morrow, and thrust the fleece together, and wringed the dew out of the fleece, a bowl full of water. And Gideon said unto God, Let not thine anger be hot against me, and I will speak but this once: let me prove, I pray thee, but this once with the fleece; let it now be dry only upon the fleece, and upon all the ground let there be dew. And God did so that night: for it was dry upon the fleece only, and there was dew on all the ground. (Judg. 6:36-40)

And so, we are told, once Gideon received the sign from God that he and his army would surely save Israel, he went out and did so. We too display Gideon's exemplary faith when we follow his example. It sounds so pious, so spiritual, so faithful. But is it? Is this story about Gideon intended to authorize the practice of laying out fleeces to determine God's will? I think not. Here is why the context of this story militates against the practice of laying out fleeces:

1. Gideon already knew what God's will was. In fact, God had even sent an angel to tell him that he was God's chosen instrument to defeat the Midianites (Judg. 56:13-16). In fact, when Gideon requested the sign of the fleece, he acknowledged this: "And Gideon said unto God, If thou wilt save Israel by mine hand, as thou hast said . . ." (Judg. 6:36, emphasis added). He wasn't trying to find God's will, he was trying to find a way out of it.


2. Gideon's fleece was motivated by doubt, not faith. Already knowing what God expected of him, Gideon apparently didn't believe it though the message came directly from an angel. So he requested a sign. Then he requested a second sign (Judg. 6:39), perhaps realizing that the first sign was rather stupid (there is nothing remotely miraculous about wool remaining wet after the ground has dried, after all).


3. Gideon must have realized he was trying God's patience. He pleads with the Lord not to be angry with him for making yet another request for confirmation (Judg. 6:39).


4. Gideon still wasn't convinced. In fact, after explicit instructions from an angel and two confirming signs, Gideon still needed to hear from the mouths of the Midianites themselves that they feared him (Judg. 7:9-15). Spying in the bushes accomplished what three supernatural events couldn't.


In short, this idea that Judges teaches us to lay out fleeces before God to know his will turns the meaning of the text around 180 . This is a classic example of misappropriation. The point is not that we should seek God's will by praying for signs. It is that God, in his grace, can use even his weakest people to accomplish his plan. Laying out fleeces in fact comes dangerously close to the pagan practice of augury - telling the future through signs and omens - which Scripture forbids."


http://mcclare.blogspot.com/2004/08/fleece-peace-and-still-small-voice.html

So there's an example of what I was doing - right from Garry Friesen's Decision Making and the Will of God. I read the first part of the book and got completely depressed, realizing the way I'd been handling decision making was . . . not supported by scripture. Unfortunately, I abandoned the book, mid read. After months of not making any "big" decisions because I felt my process was flawed, I finally went back to the book to find out how Friesen interpreted the process of biblical decision making. The short answer is wisdom. Gaining and applying biblical wisdom. Which takes time. I'm still learning how to do it. It feels like I will never get it.

Another book I'm reading is Goal Free Living by Stephen Shapiro. He talks about living life following a compass instead of a map. Decisions aren't necessarily "wrong" or "bad" they are just decisions and the outcome of those decisions lead us to the next ones. If a decision leads to negative consequences, we learn from that and use the experience to make different (we might say better) decisions in the future. Shapiro doesn't profess Christianity, but filtering his words through my perspective as a Christian, I can see how biblical wisdom can be applied in this process. As a Christian, I would say that within the moral will of God decisions aren't necessarily wrong or bad.


My poor son (and husband), I'm always inflicting my learning upon them when I've read something which impacts me. In trying to explain it to my son (and truthfully, myself in the process) I used an example (I think it's from Friesen): We (my husband and I) haven't decided what you (my son) should be when you grow up. There isn't one specific thing you are destined to do. We pray that you grow to be a god fearing, faith filled, honorable man who makes choices based on biblical wisdom. Within the moral will of God, whatever you decided to do, will be equally pleasing to us, as your parents. And equally pleasing to God.


It has been so liberating to come to this understanding. Whatever I choose to do - choose to do, will be equally pleasing to God. I get to choose!


I have to choose.


And again, with the "it takes time."


I'm also reading Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert, The Bookseller of Kabul by Asne Seierstad, Captivating by John and Staci Eldredge, Ten Minutes from Normal by Karen Hughes, and about 10 others, so basically, I'm A.D.D. bibliophile. But it works for me.

"I am learning all the time. The tombstone will be my diploma."
Eartha Kitt

Posted by Julie Stiles Mills at 10/24/2007 09:20:00 AM  

2 comments:

Thanks for sharing such a lengthy quote from that book. A friend recommended it to me some months back, but I haven't bought it yet. Great stuff to ponder here!

Leslie said...
Thursday, January 24, 2008 6:10:00 PM  

WOW!! I found you from Carnival Of Christian Women and I really needed what you had to say today! I was actually in the process of "laying out a fleece"! Can you believe that? I was acting on doubt instead of faith!! Thanks so much for showing that to me! Now I know what I am supposed to do.I will be back to visit often for your words of wisdom!
Love and Blessings,
Starr

Starr LaPradd said...
Sunday, February 03, 2008 11:03:00 AM  

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