Do you remember those moments in school when, in the last five minutes before the bell signaled the end of class, the teacher said, “Here’s your assignment for tomorrow”? Plans to explore the nearby creek disappear. Leisurely phone conversations with best friends now have limits. On to the assignment.
I wonder how Jesus gave his disciples their “assignments” for the day? Morning sun was their alarm clock; instead of iPad® alarms, long-practiced rituals determined their prayer times and visits to the synagogue. During a fruitful time early in Jesus’ ministry in the southern part of the country, opposition began taking shape, and the first hint of schism was breaking out with some of John’s disciples. Did Jesus simply announce one morning that they would be making a trip north to Galilee and, “oh by the way, we’re taking the western route through Samaria. There’s a confused and sad woman living there who needs the Messiah’s touch.” Or did he—perhaps with a twinkle of amusement in his eyes—just say, “C’mon. guys. It’s time to go up to Cana where we had that great wedding,” and then watch their amazement while leading them toward the feared, dangerous, despised path. As one commentator writes, “…although Samaria was the direct route between Judea and Galilee, the Jews always took the long way around. They would cross the Jordan River and take the (longer) route. To them, the extra hours on the road were worth not having to set foot on Samaritan soil or have contact with Samaritan people.”
Assignments came to mind one recent morning after reading the assigned Psalm 144 for the week. As is my habit, I read it several times in two or three versions, then sat quietly asking God to make it real for me. Several thoughts surfaced and a variety of people and circumstances came to mind. I had already thanked God for the way he has faithfully “trained me for war.” How through study of and meditation on the Word, encouragement from the community of believers, growing trust, all have prepared me for the both large and small battles (verses 1 and 2). I identified with David’s awe as he wondered how in the world God deigned to love, work through and stick with us indecisive, frail beings (verses 3 and 4). And yes, I pleaded with God to intervene in situations of evil where it seems only God’s smoke, lightning and arrows can rout the enemy (verses 5 and 6). Now I asked God to give me an “assignment” for my day out of the psalm.
“But, today, Lord. What is my assignment for today?” And out of the blue (out of the heavens, or as some Jewish friends might say, “from God’s mouth to my ear”!) came this thought: “Pray today—all day—for the Christians, especially the children, in Syria.” This was not a totally rare thought as several of us recently have been on our knees for those peoples; but today it was my assignment.
And so, throughout that day, at stoplights, while reading a book, while writing letters, while working in the kitchen, I talked with God about the people of Syria. I asked God to give them strength, endurance, love for the enemy. I prayed that whatever material goods they have would stretch to cover their needs. I determined to give more of my money through my church to bring relief to my Syrian brothers and sisters. I prayed that the children would miraculously live long enough to see how God could bring good out of the enemy’s evil, that they would one day say along with Joseph, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Genesis 50:20). At the end of that day, though I couldn’t personally see the results of my part in the assignment given by God, I was assured that that I had listened and acted.
Mrs. Houk, my eighth-grade teacher was regal in bearing though only about five feet in height. She was new to the school and perhaps hadn’t been warned that in this group of some thirty students were several boys who had early on determined their goal: just get through this one last year (making this last classroom a living hell!) and flee school forever. A handful of girls also thought school a necessary evil but they dreamed daily of let’s-get-on-to-high-school-where-we-can-date-city-boys. On the first September day of school, Mrs. Houk announced in what can only be described as a tone slightly above a whisper, “This is as loud as I speak. If you don’t listen carefully, you’ll miss some delightfully good things.”
Some of those boys, already at or near the cut-off age of sixteen, did leave school at the end of the year. A few of those girls realized their dating dreams. But a cadre of other students listened to the assignments, worked hard and have made a difference in the world as successful teachers, administrators, parents and lawyers.
Listen to God’s whispered assignments. He promised, “I will show you great and mysterious things which you still do not know about.” He might take you to and through your own “Samaria” along a feared and dangerous path, but you also might see miracles along the way. Don’t miss today’s assignment.