Several years ago, during a message at the International Conference on Missions, Florence Muindi shared the story of seeking God’s will in a ministry decision. After praying about whether to stay in Africa or move to the United States, she asked God to confirm the right direction with two things: if her brother wore a green shirt to lunch the next day, and if she woke up to exactly 16 emails in her inbox, she would stay in Ethiopia. If not, she would move to the States.

The next morning her young son, aware of the terms, woke her up to announce she had 16 emails. Later that afternoon they both stared at the green shirt Florence’s brother “just felt like wearing” that day.

In Christian circles, “laying out a fleece” is not often encouraged. It’s true we aren’t to test God, and there’s a danger in constructing arbitrary circumstances and viewing them as divine intervention. But no one in the Tulsa Convention Center that Thursday night would argue Muindi was wrong to pray that prayer, or that it wasn’t conclusively answered.

How do we know when, or if, it’s okay to “bargain” with God this way? Is it a matter of sincerity? Muindi was truly torn about her decision, truly seeking God, and truly committed to obeying no matter what his answer. How many of us can claim the same thing when we ask for specific confirmation? I wonder if our desire to receive such tangible responses to prayer is actually a lack of faith which “fleeces” God of the opportunity to build our spiritual muscles.

I’ve only prayed this kind of prayer one time. Many years ago during a trip to the beach, I prayed that God would change the heart of a man I loved who didn’t love God. “If he will become a Christian and this relationship has a future, let me see a shooting star,” I prayed while walking along the sand one evening. I knew the odds of glimpsing one of these nighttime visions was rare. Not ten seconds later, seriously, I looked up to see a star shoot across the sky with a gleam of light. Inside, I beamed as bright as the star, certain God had answered my prayer with a yes.

Later that year, the guy told me he would never change his mind about Christ and we ended the relationship. Maybe I should have asked to see a green shirt instead.