6/49, putting out the Fleece, getting guidance
Back in the mid ’80’s I was struggling with the work/family/kingdom imbalance in my life. I was itching to move to something less demanding at work or as work, something that would give me more time for my family and to do God’s work. I was involved with the youth leadership at our church, and I was a deacon. In the summer of one of those years two separate customers in the flower business had said to me, out of the blue, that I’d make a good pastor. When church people said it, I ignored it. When non-church people said it, I was more ready to hear a calling take shape. My wife and I discussed it on a weekend away, and my memory is that she said “maybe you need to go back to school.”
But I have a hard time making decisions. And this was a huge one. We had three small children. We had just bought and moved into a home we planed to live in for a long time. I had a good job, taxing as it was in some ways. My wife was ready to start up a daycare with someone in our neighbourhood. So I wanted to be SURE of what I did. I wanted a clear sign from God. I was not confortable with this vague ‘sense’ that I should be doing something different. Now this was a time when in our denomination all non-business gambling, particluarly lottery type, was verboten. But my character was such that in young peoples and other study groups I was the guy who speculated out loud what would happen if one bought a lottery ticket and put it in the offering plate. As I mused about this weighty decision, as I read the story of Gideon putting out the fleece regularly, along with other stories of God leading people clearly, as I wondered if that kind of thing still worked, I heard a radio talk show on the lottery, particularly the 6/49. And a devious but brilliant plan began to take shape. I read up on how it worked, and I learned that you had to pick 6 numbers between 1 and 49, and prizes were awarded on the basis of how many matched. The more matches, the more you’d win. Six options came to mind for my/our future. And I devised a scheme by which I would pick six numbers for the next lottery draw, and I would — prayerfully, or as prayerfully as I knew how at the time — attribute a future step to each number of matches. So, no matching numbers would mean change nothing, keep going as you were. One matching number would be a sign from God I was to get more involved in youth ministry and cut back my hours at work. And so on, in an escalating value. Night school training in ministry was in there, with a few other things, right up to if I got six matching numbers then God was making it clear that I was to drop everything and get into Seminary as soon as possible.
It was beautiful in it’s brilliance. It was beautiful in that there was no way not to get an answer, no way to not get guidance. I had God by the tail in this. I savoured the plan for weeks, refining it, pondering it, looking for possible flaws, and I could not think of one. One refinement I made was that I realized my original plan of just arbitrarily picking 6 numbers and writing them down and then coming after the draw and claiming God had spoken to me through those numbers in my handwriting, well, that would be suspect. So I concluded, gulp, that to do it right and in a believeable way, I needed to actually buy a ticket, and I decided I would let the machine pick the numbers for me.
Finally, on a Friday, it was time to no longer delay. Another draw was coming, and decisions needed to be made. I knew my last customer of the day, Maplewood Market in North Van, had a 6/49 terminal, and so I decided that would be where it happened. I went there, finished the flower business, locked up the truck, and went around to the front of the store with my paper dollar in hand. I got in line behind one other person at the lottery terminal. As I was standing there I was nervous in positive anticipation, enjoying and yet fearing the result I would get, but desperately wanting the clarity it would bring. Oh, to have a clear indication from God as to what to do. It would be awesome, and powerful. Significant. As I was standing there waiting, the sign on the machine caught my eye. It was one of those in which a one line stream of words and numbers appeared to move across the screen. This one started showing “This draw’s Grand Prize… … … is 13 MILLION DOLLARS!!! In the instant I saw that number I realized a flaw existed, not in the plan, not in the guidance, but in me. I instananeously KNEW that this fellow, should he get a clear sign from God that he was to drop everything and go to Seminary ASAP, would have an even bigger problem of choices than his current one. I knew that having such clear guidance along with 13 million would be agony, and that I probably would want to choose to buy a Carribean Island instead of obey. In the instant that all of this processed and fell into place in my brain, I believe I could hear, very gently, in the background, God smiling, and saying, “Pete, you just have to trust, and follow, and step through the doors I open for you in faith.” At that moment I realized the person in front of me had left, and I said to the lady at the counter, “Sorry, I’ve decided not to” and I went home, and began in earnest to take small steps of trust in God’s leading of my sense of being called into ministry.
This is a harder path in some ways. We/I don’t like uncertainty. But I believe God taught me in that experience and subsequent ones, that we are not always to know. Knowing eliminates faith from the equation. So, I try to hear properly, and obey and risk and live with the fear and uncertainty.