We want God to give us assignments. After all, we are here on earth to be of service in His Kingdom—although we also know God does not need anything— least of all from us. Still, He has prepared in advance good works for us to do, so we seek and await His assignments. Often they are somewhat in line with what we expect: train for a particular service, be active in an honorable profession, share the Good News, teach and preach, help people in need, disciple, go somewhere…
But then, God also gives us assignments we do not expect. Some of them are:
–Loneliness. Many North Americans assume that loneliness is the result of a personality dysfunction, a lack of effort, or a deficiency in social skills. Sometimes they are right. But other times loneliness is not something we are doing wrong, it is just part of the current assignment. Jesus, without a doubt, must have experienced loneliness—except of course, that He was so close to His father. That might, come to think of it, be part of what a loneliness assignment is about: learning to get close to the Father.
–Boredom. Life is a balancing act: sometimes there is too much stress, sometimes there is not enough. It is pretty hard to get the balance just right for very long at a time. How a person deals with either extreme probably says a great deal about their maturity—not to mention their ability to perceive their assignments.
–Surviving Slander. We know slander and lies are out there in the world. When others experience this ugliness, we feel for them, but seldom with the outrage we experience when slander is directed at us. And when slander is from the “world”—meaning non-Christians—we try not to be shocked, realizing we are to expect persecution. When it comes from inside the house of faith, it takes more mental gymnastics to understand that responding in a godly way to slander from behind our own lines is part, as 1 Peter says, of our vocation.
–Heartache. We know this comes with life. We know God has experienced it. Our own peculiar pain or heartache, in its particularity, however, usually comes as a surprise. We didn’t expect it. We didn’t know how much it would hurt. It is not supposed to be this way—whatever it is. It takes us awhile to realize that when we stood up and sang “I Surrender All,” this was part of the “all.” Learning to endure and learn from this particular heartache is the current assignment.
–Wait. Some people, especially efficiency-conscious Westerners, think wait is a four-letter-word. But God’s people have often spent weeks, months and years waiting. Abraham and Sarah probably top the list, but then there may be cases we don’t know about. The important thing is to still be listening carefully to God and learning what we should be while waiting so that when the moment for action comes, even if it is only one moment, we are the kind of people who know how to make the most of it. It is a wise person who knows how to wait well. I suppose that God does a lot of waiting for us. We can learn from Him.
–Do nothing. Do nothing is a surprising one for our U.S. culture. We think we must be doing something; think we must be in control, taking some action. It should not come as a surprise that “do nothing” often goes with some of the above assignments: waiting, boredom, being slandered, loneliness. Perhaps especially during those assignments we should be careful to do nothing until it is very clear what God wants us to do. George MacDonald wrote: “One of the hardest demands on the obedience of faith is to do nothing; it is often so much easier to do something foolishly.”*
–Give up a Sacrifice. Our Lord may ask us to sacrifice something, and arduously, we make up our minds to do so, and adapt. But He can “change his mind,” to speak anthropomorphically. Or, from our point of view, He can reverse His demands. He is Lord. We must be careful not to make a sacrifice the making of which has become part of our identity if God, in fact, is no longer (or never was) asking for that particular sacrifice. We must not sacrifice, on the altar of pride, something He is not asking us to. “To obey is better than sacrifice.”
–Relax. Rest. Enjoy. Yes. God gives these assignments also. Perhaps much more often than we realize. Are we listening? Do we obey?
Obedience is all. And a “long obedience in the same direction”** is faithfulness, which is what God most wants from us. We never know just what assignment He might have up His sleeve: He at least, is never boring. The trick, of course, is to recognize the assignments for what they are, and lean on His strength for the task at hand, knowing He will not give us an assignment that has no purpose, and for which He will not provide all the resources necessary.
Even doing nothing.
*The Peasant Girl’s Dream, by George Macdonald, p. 154.