On Monday night last week, during the 250th episode of Passion Times’ show for Christians, there was a heated debate between two of its presenters over the concept of seeking signs of approval from God. Do Chan, the lead presenter argued that some Christians are asking ridiculous signs from the Lord to show approval for what the person would like to achieve – for example, asking God to rain for three days non-stop as a sign from Him – while one of his fellow presenter who represented the Catholic and Anglican church disagreed, saying that a person should be allowed to ask for such a sign and to be against it would be pretentiously blasphemous by restricting how God could show approval. As a fellow emissary from the Lord, I would like to enter into this debate.
According to Proverbs 16:9, it is said that “In their hearts human plans their course, but the Lord establishes their steps.” (NIV) For Christians, this means that in whatever we do or plan to do, we should consult God’s will on this matter through prayer and petition; for some, they hope for signs from the Lord similar to what was demonstrated in the Bible. What Do Chan argued against, is that some Christians have this rather erroneous belief that signs should be “miraculous” or awe-inspiring, instead Chan believe that while there is nothing wrong with asking for signs from the Lord, He did create in us our capacity to think and use the intelligence gifted to us. So before asking for signs, Do Chan urged people should first use their ability to reason out what it is that you want to do and hope for, and then consults God’s will on the matter through prayer, and hope for an answer from Him that is somehow in relation to what you prayed about.
This discussion came about through a quick recount of Isaac’s life in the Book of Genesis and the topic was brought up when Do Chan was recounting how Abraham’s servant went to look for a wife for Isaac upon Abraham’s orders. In Genesis 24:12-14, Abraham’s servant prayed to God that the Lord would give him a sign which woman he should ask to go with him back to Abraham to be Isaac’s wife. It was a rather ordinary request, nothing extraordinary about it, and via this example Do Chan argues that we should hope for realistic signs from the Lord and not some hocus pocus load of nonsense. Going on to recount how Abraham’s servant used his wits to outwit Laban, brother to Rebekah, Isaac’s future wife, to demonstrate that the Lord approves of those who use their wits.
Do Chan’s fellow presenter, however, begged to differ. He defended the right to hope for a miraculous sign from God, even should the sign be having the Lord cause it to rain for three consecutive days. However, as another emissary of the Lord, I have to argue against this notion and offer support to Do Chan’s argument.
As Christians we need to know God’s nature and how He does things, and to do that all we need to do is to read our Bible, for the Lord is eternal and He is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. In my own Church, our pastor have cautioned the congregation against praying for things that are against God’s nature; for example, you want to ask this woman out but she’s married, it would be wrong and stupid of you to ask God for His help because He forbids adultery. In this case, you need to look no further for a sign from God than the Bible, for He has explicitly said in His Ten Commandments that “Thou shall not covet your neighbour’s wife.”
What then about our plans and aspirations that is not so clear cut? How do we seek for the Lord’s approval? How do we tell if the Lord approves of what we prayed for? One answer is provided by Do Chan already: use your brains; for the Lord did not give us the ability to think for ourselves for nothing. However, for uncertain outcomes, again we should look to the Bible for examples to tell us what we should expect from God and our selves when we petition prayers to the Lord.
In 1 Samuel 14:1-23, Saul’s son Jonathan secretly went out of their camp with his servant to scout the nearby Philistine encampment. Jonathan asked the Lord if He would help him defeat this Philistine Camp, to which he requested that if God intends for them to win then have the Philistines ask them to come up to the camp for a beating, but if not then have the Philistine declare that they will come down and attack Jonathan and his aide. The result was that God responded as Jonathan petitioned and had the Philistines asked Jonathan to come up, the Israelite army wiped out the Philistine camp.
In this example, we see Do Chan’s argument at work, for Jonathan didn’t ask for some ridiculous sign from God on whether to attack the encampment that had nothing to do with his situation, rather Jonathan request is rather mundane but miraculous nonetheless. However, one may counter argue that there have been examples in the Bible where God responded dramatically and over the top, such as Elijah bringing down heavenly fire and brimstone during the altar battle with King Ahab’s priests of Baal (1 Kings 18, so why can’t we pray for God to show us such miracles as a sign of His approval?
First, you have to look at who called the shots in those events, while a prayer was made to petition for God’s intervention, it was the Lord Himself who chose how to respond to that prayer. It was He who decided on a flash show of His glory, not because of the one who prayed. Take Elijah’s case for instance, he didn’t act on his own but on God’s orders, who told me to confront King Ahab with an altar competition where whoever’s deity responded first is truly God. I can say for certain that Elijah has God’s approval prior to Elijah’s prayer for fire from Heaven because back in 1 Samuel 14:37 Saul prayed for a sign but the Lord chose to not respond, demonstrating that God reserved the right to respond however He wished. If anyone cares to look further into all the other miracles that had occurred in the Bible, it was God’s choice on how to present His signs of approval or disapproval, it had never been ours. In contrast, we see in Moses how God dislike people to demand how He should respond.
In Numbers 20:7-12 (NIV), the Israelites complained to Moses that they are thirsty and lay the blame on him for taking them out of Egypt to suffer in the wilderness. In 20:8, God had told Moses to lift up the rod He had given him and tell the rock to provide water for the whinging Israelites, but in 20:11 Moses instead hits the rock with the rod to bring forth water. Here Moses has in effect asked for God to respond as he would have liked instead of allow the Lord’s choice on how He would perform His miracle. For that transgression, God forbid Moses to enter the Promised Land. It was arrogance and self-important pride that offended God by telling God what to do instead, for it was said “Do not put your Lord God to the test” (Deuteronomy 6:16) and Jesus the Christ Himself had demonstrated what that meant during Satan’s temptation of Jesus. In that episode, Satan whispered to Jesus that if He was to just fall off the top of the Temple to the ground below, God will send the angels to catch Him so He would not be hurt, to which Jesus responded with Deuteronomy 6:16. In terms of our case, it means we should never dictate how God should respond to our prayers. Doing otherwise is to place ourselves before God Himself.
So Do Chan was absolutely correct in criticising certain Christians who would pray for God to give some ridiculous sign of approval. That sort of action has already been ordained by the Lord to be outright blasphemous.