On Assignment: How Do We Respond When God Calls?

By Lee Ann Zanon, Adjunct Professor, Women’s Ministries

B-6. N-32. I-19. Bingo!  Smiles brighten the faces of the nursing home residents seated in wheelchairs around me, and we all cheer.  Scanning the circle, I see friendly competition and laughter, despite severe physical limitations. I think to myself, “Only God could have put me here.”

Just a few months earlier, I couldn’t have imagined such a scene.  Due to my mother-in-law’s recent health crisis, however, I have become a regular visitor at various health care facilities.  Since my husband and I are the only immediate family members in the area, and he works out of state, I am best suited to oversee the situation. At the time, I have no idea it will span nearly 16 weeks.

In my opinion, I am absolutely wrong for this assignment.  The medical realm has never been my favorite, and I avoid it whenever possible. Just walking the halls of a hospital makes me feel queasy. I repeatedly question God about what He is asking of me. My prayers for help are fervent and frequent.  Yet as I pore over Scripture, desperate for encouragement, I notice a pattern. The Lord consistently assigns tasks to people who feel ill-equipped, or who even want to refuse His requests.  In other words … my weak stomach is no excuse.

Questions and Objections

In Exodus chapters 3 and 4, when God speaks to Moses from a burning bush and tells him about his assignment to lead the Israelites out of Egypt, questions begin immediately. Moses asks, “Who am I, that I should go to Pharoah, and that I should bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” (3:11) “What if they do not believe me or listen to me?” (4:1)

In 4:10, Moses is quick to explain why he is not the right man for the job. He says, “O Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue.” Freeing the Israelites will likely involve intense conversations with Pharaoh, and Moses views himself as inherently unqualified.

Like me, he is full of excuses. He dreads embarrassment and failure, based upon both reality and fear. When it comes to reality, God doesn’t try to change Moses’ mind, nor does He deny the facts of the situation. Instead, the Lord states His side of the equation. “I will be with you.” (3:12) “I AM who I AM.” (3:14) Related to Moses’ concern about his speech, God asks His own questions, “ ‘Who gave man his mouth? Who makes him deaf or mute?… Is it not I, the Lord? Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.’ ” (4:11-12) Author Charles Swindoll says, “Now that’s divine speech therapy!”[1]

To calm Moses’ fears about whether people will believe he is God’s representative (4:1), the Lord performs two miracles. First, He has Moses throw down a staff, and it turns into a serpent.  When Moses grasps the serpent by the tail, it once again becomes a staff. Next, the Lord asks Moses to put his hand into his cloak. Scripture says, “When he took it out, it was leprous, like snow.”  Then He (God) said, “‘Now put it back into your cloak.’ So Moses put his hand back into his cloak, and when he took it out, it was restored, like the rest of his flesh.” (4:6-7) Rather than reprimand Moses for his doubts, God demonstrates the mighty power that would enable and sustain him.

A Common Theme

While the scope of Moses’ assignment is immeasurably more expansive than mine, I find comfort in our shared experiences.  I believe feelings of inadequacy and fear span time and culture.  They are part of what it means to be human.  Author Paula Rinehart says, “We are afraid—not of evil, but of making fools of ourselves, of being less liked by others, of looking like a dolt. When we give in to this kind of fear and let it run our lives, we get stuck in a shrunken form of the life we are meant to have.”[2]

Swindoll observes, “Moses shows how deeply he fears ridicule. More than anything else, perhaps, he is deathly afraid of appearing as a silly old man.”[3]

In my case, I am scared of missing an important detail, or simply not knowing what to do. What if I prove to be incapable? What if I let someone down?  I know the whole family trusts me to do the right thing. And, due to the complexity of the situation, there are many opportunities to make mistakes.

My “assignment” includes staying current on my mother-in-law’s multi-faceted health care issues, coordinating financial planning, dismantling her household, and transitioning her to full-time care. Some days, the details seem endless. And, since she lives 45 minutes down the freeway from my home, I make the trip many times a week for visits and appointments.

There are also issues of the heart—the sadness of watching her rapid decline, and coming to terms with dramatic changes in our family dynamics. I repeatedly console and reassure her as she grieves, at age 82, the loss of her home and independence. Many nights I find myself sitting on the couch at 3 a.m., searching the Scriptures to soothe my soul.  Ultimately, I have to lay aside my personal desires in favor of a different agenda, to an extent far beyond my norm.  While this process is exhausting and overwhelming, I experience God’s love and faithfulness more deeply than I have in years.

Author F.B. Meyer says, “So long as we are quietly at rest amid favorable and undisturbed surroundings, faith sleeps as an undeveloped sinew within us; a thread, a germ, an idea. But when we are pushed out from all these surroundings, with nothing but God to look to, then faith grows suddenly into a cable, a monarch oak, a master principle of life.”[4]

It is daunting to consider some of the assignments God has given His people through the centuries. A quick glance at Hebrews 11 reveals the examples of Noah, Abraham and Sarah, Joseph, David, and others. In the Gospels, Mary the mother of Jesus readily accepts the Lord’s profound yet perplexing plans. For the New Testament church, Peter and Paul are called to roles of great risk and responsibility. In recent history, Amy Carmichael, Corrie ten Boom, Joni Eareckson Tada and Billy Graham embraced callings of significant sacrifice. Today, the persecuted church shines as believers carry out divine assignments amid danger and difficulty.

In each of these scenarios, the faith and action required by God is humanly impossible.  He calls His people to tasks only He can accomplish, for His purpose and glory. Swindoll notes,

“At very unique junctures of our lives, God says to us, ‘Now My child, I have this in mind for you…Now go. I’m sending you, and I will be with you.’ Why did Moses resist? … I believe Moses thought God intended him to be the deliverer of Israel, and that blew all his circuit breakers. But God didn’t tell him that! God told him that he would be an instrument in the deliverance, but God Himself would be the deliverer. Huge difference. In God’s calling, He has a plan; but He never expects you to carry out that plan. He’s going to pull it off. He simply wants you to be the instrument of action…All He asks is that you give yourself to Him as a tool He can pick up and use. That’s all.”[5]

He Is There

My assignment allowed me to experience God’s goodness in specific answers to prayer and many surprise gifts. He graciously guided us through a web of health care and insurance details, and opened an excellent care facility placement at just the right time, after four solid months of looking. He enabled us to sell a 1978 vintage mobile home in just four days, and disperse its considerable contents to a variety of people and charities. Daily blessings included unexpected visits from friends, pertinent Scriptures brought to mind, and just the right songs on the radio. God often showed me His tangible love, and reminded me that my weakness was the perfect place to showcase His strength (2 Cor. 12:9).

As Paula Rinehart notes, “The case can be made that you don’t really get to know God except by wading into your fear and discovering Him there.”[6]

As believers, we never know when or what our next assignment will be.  It could be as simple as visiting a neighbor, as intimidating as reconciling a relationship, or as extensive as starting a new career. It will likely require us to step into unfamiliar realms—mentally, physically, spiritually, or all three. But one aspect is sure, as the Lord spoke to Moses from the burning bush, “Certainly, I will be with you.”  (Exodus 3:12)  In that reality, we can find the courage to say yes, to whatever God asks of us.


[1] Charles Swindoll, Moses (Nashville: W Publishing Group, 1999), p. 123.

[2] Paula Rinehart, Strong Women, Soft Hearts (Nashville: W Publishing Group, 2001), p. 165.

[3] Swindoll, p. 118

[4] F.B. Meyer, Pulpit Legends: Patriarchs of the Faith p. 13, as quoted in Cynthia Heald, Becoming a Woman of Faith (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2000), p. 83.

[5] Swindoll, p. 113

[6] Rinehart, p. 168.

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