Spirit of Grace Ministries
Spirit of Grace Ministries
-- Feeding Jesus' sheep
-- Equipping His servants
-- Proclaiming His Gospel

People Assignments


By Dennis Pollock

As a little boy in elementary school I became very familiar with the concept of assignments. Nearly every day our teacher would tell us what our homework “assignment” was for that evening. We must complete problems 1-30 from page 54 in our math book or write out 20 sentences underlining the nouns once and the verbs twice, or list all the capitals of the fifty states… Oh, the pain of those assignments! Back in those ancient days, homework was considered virtuous and indispensable, and no self-respecting teacher would ever neglect giving it to his or her students in generous measure. We kids would grudgingly stuff our books in our backpacks, or carry them in our arms, take them home, and try to get it all done sometime that evening (never as soon as we got home, though – a guy had to have some fun!).

In time we all grew up, moved into jobs and careers, and our assignments changed. We no longer solved long division problems listed in math books, but we still had assignments. For some it was sales assignments, for others it involved repairing cars, building houses, performing surgery on patients, or an almost infinite variety of other tasks. For most of us, our lives have been a never-ending number of “to-do” lists. We may not always create a physical list, but in our minds, we typically start each day knowing of certain things that really must get done before the day is finished. There is certainly nothing wrong with this. We humans are wired to do things, to engage in projects, accomplish tasks, and achieve goals. There is a word for people who never want to do any of this, and that word is “lazy.”

Our Lord Jesus had His own assignments. We know this because in His wonderful prayer He prayed just before going to the cross, He declared to the Father, “I have glorified You on the earth. I have finished the work which You have given Me to do” (John 17:4). As He came to the end of His short life on earth, Jesus knew that all was well. Everything He had been sent to do had been done.

If we didn’t know better we might suppose that He was talking about tasks such as, “I’ve healed 15,212 people, I have raised 24 people from the dead, I have preached 525 sermons, I have cast out 2,450 demons,” and so forth. And no doubt His healings, miracles, deliverances, and teachings were a definite part of the assignments His Father in heaven had given Him. But there was something more. Beyond the actions and miracles and teachings there was another type of assignment which had to do, not with actions but with people. God had sent Jesus to the earth to raise up disciples, to mentor, love, encourage, and train men and women to be His followers and take His message to the ends of the earth. He selected the 12, but also trained many more through His teachings, sermons, and life.

“I Kept Them in Your Name”

Jesus took these “people assignments” very seriously, and He seemed to take great satisfaction in saying to the Father in that John 17 prayer:

While I was with them in the world, I kept them in Your name. Those whom You gave Me I have kept; and none of them is lost except the son of perdition, that the Scripture might be fulfilled (John 17:12).

These disciples could be frustrating, they could be thick-headed, they could be exasperating, and ever so slow to really get what Jesus was trying to teach them. But they were His assignments, and He obviously took pleasure in being able to say (to paraphrase His words a bit), “They’re all OK. They’ve learned what they needed to learn, they are still with Me, I have kept them – except for the one We knew would fail.”

Those of us who belong to Jesus recognize that we, too have assignments from the Father. We call these assignments “the will of God” for us. We recognize that we can’t do everything; we can’t reach everyone, we can’t save the whole world. But we can and must do some things; we can reach some people, we can accomplish at least a few divinely ordained tasks. But sometimes the heavenly to-do list we imagine for ourselves only consists of specific jobs: writing a book, teaching a class, singing for the Lord, being an usher in the church, and so forth. And these may very well be a part of God’s assignments for you. But we cannot forget those other assignments which are even more important – the people assignments.

Divinely Placed Assignments

And we all have them – people divinely placed in our lives that God calls us to love, nurture, encourage, sometimes financially assist, and bear with, not for a few minutes or a few days, but for years, or decades, or even a whole lifetime. Some of these people assignments we choose. When a man and a woman say “I do” at the altar, they voluntarily make that spouse their “assignment” for as long as they both live. That little woman or that brawny man has become your “job” for decades to come – far more than the office where you spend every nine to five, or your bus route or your sales calls. Your assignment is to love them, encourage them, bear with them, avail yourself to them sexually, be their best friend, put up with their insensitivity, and a thousand other things. There is a whole lot of responsibility packed in those two little words, “I do!”

And of course every child born to that union becomes another “people assignment” given by God to both mother and father. Essentially the parents are duty-bound to provide everything that child needs while he or she is being raised to adulthood. Now that doesn’t mean they must provide everything the child wants, but what they need. If you try to provide every single desire and whim of your children you will create world-class monsters. But their needs… that’s on you. As they become adolescents it will be good for them to get jobs of course and begin the process of being weaned away from your provision. But in some sense those children of yours, those little bundles of joy, which grow into somewhat cranky, rebellious teenagers are your assignment. It wasn’t the stork who gave you your children – it was God. And when you said “I do” to your spouse, you committed yourself to any and every child that would be born through your love for each other.

Most people would have little problem with what has been described so far. We all know that husbands, wives, and children need to be loved, encouraged, and provided for to the fullest extent of our ability. Normally men and women enter into marriage and have children knowing this well, and are prepared to live up to their responsibilities. These people assignments are both expected and accepted. But life not only provides us with the expected; it nearly always surprises us with the unexpected as well.

Surprise Assignments

In marriage, couples often don’t have any idea of the major flaws that lie either dormant or hidden within their spouses during the days of their courtship. Husbands may have never counted on their wife having such a painfully sharp tongue, or their tendency to keep bringing up what they consider inconsequential issues again and again and again. Wives may have been totally clueless that the attentive man who courted and wooed them could be such an insensitive guy, who demands much and gives little. And when these huge cracks appear and increase in the lives of their beloved, a terrible thought occurs and brings with it great sadness to the heart: “I am probably going to have to bear with his/her ways all the rest of our lives together.”

When we have children, we know that they will not be perfect. But we assume they’ll be at least relatively normal, and no worse than most kids. But sometimes they are not even close to normal. It may be an incredibly strong will or they may be born with a birth defect. Parents are sometimes devastated to discover that their child is deaf, or autistic, or mentally retarded. Not only will this mean that the child’s future prospects will probably be much dimmer than normal children, but that child will need far more involvement from the parents, and will need to be watched over constantly, taken to the hospital frequently, and will require far more care than an ordinary child; sometimes three, five, or ten times as much. Sometimes the parents’ entire lives must revolve around that child. This is one “people assignment” they never asked for, never expected, and never dreamed would be the case. And yet the assignment has been given them, and there is no getting around it.

Our people assignments can come from many different situations. It may be an adult child who becomes mentally ill and can no longer work, or an acquaintance who has no friends and is frequently depressed. You don’t know exactly why it is, but you sense deeply that Christ is calling you to come alongside this person, and love them, befriend them, and spend time with them in a way that no one else is willing to do.

Always a Cost

People assignments are always costly. They cost time, they often cost money, and they can be emotionally draining. But we cannot shirk our assignments. These people, for reasons only God fully knows, have become a major item on our to-do list. They are just as much our job as showing up for work on time, mowing our lawn, or taking our car for an oil change. In fact they are more so.

God understands that the price can be steep, but he gives us a very special something which makes up for the cost. He gives us a tiny drop of His immense love for that individual. A perfect example of this was the late Dr. John McQuilkin. John was an ardent follower of Christ and had been a missionary to Japan with his wife Muriel for twelve years. Later he became the president of Columbia University. During this time Muriel was stricken with Alzheimer’s disease. Over time her mental facilities diminished. In the fog that she lived in, she became more and more dependent upon John. He was her one security and certainty in what was becoming a terrifying and uncertain world for her. During his work days at the university, she would make the half-mile walk several times a day just to see him. When she was with her loving husband she felt safe; when they were apart she was terrified.

John recognized that his wife needed him desperately. Of course he could have provided a caretaker for her, but that wouldn’t be the same. He resigned from his position with Columbia University, and his speech of resignation, outlining his love for and commitment to his wife, has been read and heard by tens of thousands of people. He wrote:

It is clear to me that Muriel needs me now, full-time…My decision was made, in a way, 42 years ago when I promised to care for Muriel ‘in sickness and in health…till death do us part.’ So, as a man of my word, integrity has something to do with it. But so does fairness. She has cared for me fully and sacrificially all these years; if I cared for her for the next 40 years I would not be out of her debt.

Duty, however, can be grim and stoic. But there is more: I love Muriel. She is a delight to me—her childlike dependence and confidence in me, her warm love, occasional flashes of that wit I used to relish so, her happy spirit and tough resilience in the face of her continual distressing frustration. I don’t have to care for her. I get to! It is a high honor to care for so wonderful a person.

It is clear that John McQuilkin took his “people assignment” very, very seriously. But as powerful as his example is to us, there is Someone who is far better still in His love and commitment toward His loved ones. He is Jesus Christ, the One who gave His life for His sheep, the One who ever lives to make intercession for them, the One who is able to keep and preserve us by His grace until the end. We are His assignment, those who follow Him have been assigned to Him by the Father in heaven. And Jesus is incredibly committed and devoted to all His assignments!



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