By Michael H. Brown
Are We Allowed To Ask God For Signs — Or Is That Asking For The ‘Sign Of Jonah’?
You probably saw it the other day: preacher seeks sign, is hit by lightning. True story. It happened in Forest, Ohio, as a visiting evangelist asked God what he needed to say, kept asking, when suddenly the steeple of First Baptist Church was hit by lightning which then went through the electrical system, enveloped the preacher himself, and blew out the sound system.
Fortunately, no one was hurt, but everyone was left with questions. What did the lightning mean? Was it a sign of favor, a punctuation mark for his sermon, or an admonishment? Did the sign come from God or the devil?
In another case reported at the same time, a woman in her twenties was struck by lightning on the Greek island of Corfu. The lightning zeroed in on her lip and tongue piercings.
Signs. More signs. Are we to ask for them?
In the case of the preacher, it may have been a sign that God was with him. We really don’t know what he had been seeking; it’s seems harmless if he was simply asking for direction. But if he wanted an actual sign, that could be another matter. What about us? Do we seek supernatural indications? Do we ask for signs? And if so, are we asking for it?
Scripture can seem a bit mysterious on this. In His famous admonition, Jesus said, “An evil and adulterous generation craves for a sign; and yet no sign will be given to it but the sign of Jonah the prophet.” [Matthew 12:39:42]. Think about what happened to Jonah. The Bible seems very clear here. But before the time of Christ, we see in Isaiah 7:10: “Ask a sign for yourself from the Lord your God; make it deep as Sheol or high as heaven” and in Psalms, “Show me a sign for good, That those who hate me may see it and be ashamed, Because You, O LORD, have helped me and comforted me.”
Contradictory? For the most part, when signs are mentioned in the Bible — whichever testament — they are not something that was sought; they came at the initiation of God. This is important. Such signs are among the most powerful indications we can get (many call them “confirmations”), but they occur spontaneously and unexpectedly. They are not requested.
I know that in my own life, God has often sent signs that I did not request but that granted me direction. One time I was wondering if I should proceed with a certain book and that very hour saw the sun miracle and the clouds form a perfect cross in broad daylight. Another time I thought I “heard” a voice tell me to call a book of mine The Final Hour. I resisted the idea — thinking it too dramatic — but less than an hour later, at Mass, the reading was from 1 John: “Children, it is the final hour.” I got the hint. That’s what I ended up naming the book. I can also say that I have encountered strange, memorable claps of thunder at times when the Lord seemed to be warning of danger.
In life, when we are at a crossroads, the Lord often speaks to us through events, through other people, or through coincidences. Again: most often, such come at His invitation, in His way. When we seek a sign too ardently, we risk tempting the Lord. We risk getting a sign from the evil one. We see in 2 Thessalonians 2:8 that Satan comes “with all power and signs and false wonders.” The signs from God are prayerfulness, healing, speaking in tongues, converting others.
Is it thus dangerous or even wrong to seek confirmation? Can we not ask for a sign?
That’s something between you and the Holy Spirit. It’s certainly not wrong to ask for guidance. But the safe way seems to be to simply pray, have faith — and observe the wonders that God unexpectedly sets around you. The greatest sign that can occur is a sense of well-being. When you are wondering what to do, see what flows most easily with your spirit. Don’t seek the spectacular. Don’t think there will always be signs in the sky. The greatest sign that we are doing what the Lord desires is the feeling of His love. Seeking other forms of signs can lead to confusion and danger. No, don’t seek spectacular signs — but praise God when they come!
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