36 Gideon said to God, “If you will save Israel by my hand as you have promised - 37 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.” 38 And that is what happened. Gideon rose early the next day; he squeezed the fleece and wrung out the dew - a bowlful of water. 39 Then Gideon said to God, “Do not be angry with me. Let me make just one more request. Allow me one more test with the fleece, but this time make the fleece dry and let the ground be covered with dew.” 40 That night God did so. Only the fleece was dry; all the ground was covered with dew. Judges 6:36-40
Before we dive into what this story does and does not tell us about prayer, it’s important to know what’s going on in the life of Gideon at this moment. At the beginning of Chapter 6, we find Israel in dire straights: the Midianites have conquered the Israelites. The Israelites, in order to not be captured or killed, are hiding in caves in the wilderness rather than their homes. Whenever they plant crops to feed themselves and their families, the Midianites come through and destroy all their food leaving them even more desperate. The Lord calls to Gideon as he’s threshing wheat (making bread) while hiding in a winepress (a big bowl in the ground). He’s doing his best not to be spotted, so that he can make food. Talk about tough circumstances.
God tells him that he, Gideon, the one hiding in the winepress, is going to overthrow the Midianites. Gideon is a little intimidated to say the least. He’s not a warrior, he’s not a soldier, he’s not a leader. He’s not even the most important person in his family, according to him. But God sees his potential. God sees what he was made to do, and puts him on the path to discovering his true purpose.
The scripture above happens as Gideon is gearing up to take on the Midianites. He’s feeling fearful, anxious, uncertain, and needs God to give him confidence. This is why he prays. He knows what God is asking him to do, he just needs help getting behind it. He wants to do God’s will, he’s just afraid and needs to be comforted.
This scripture is often used to defend approaching God like a medium or fortune teller. “If you want me to do A, then have the Tigers win the football game. If you want me to do B, then have the Eagles win the football game. Then I’ll know what your will is.” This is bad exegesis (critical/contextual interpretation of scripture) and leads us to a place where we are no longer proactively seeking to do the will of God, but waiting for God to somehow “make clear” what it is we are to do.
If we are to apply Gideon’s prayer to our lives, it needs to start with his honesty. How much do you like to admit when you’re afraid? How much do you like to tell God you’re not sure you can go through with something? Admitting weakness is like taking a bullet to our egos, but that’s exactly what Gideon did. He wasn’t worried about how it would make him look. He was honest about where he was at, and God honored him by giving him exactly what he needed.
When you pray, don’t put on a false sense of confidence where there isn’t one. Only when we lay it all out there and tell God what’s really going on will He speak into our hearts in the way we need him to. Much like going to a doctor, he can’t make us better until we tell him what’s really going on. Don’t be afraid to admit weakness, because it’s there that God is able to be honored and glorified the most.