I have never tried to shift my TC without the shifter so I am unaware of how much effort is required to do so.
Why don't you simply tighten the bolt that's on the bracket onto the rod. If there is no bolt, check your spare parts container. Without looking at mine, it's probably a 5/16" X 3/4"USS bolt. It may have been loosened for a reason or it could have simply come loose from lack of maintenance.
As the new owner of an old Jeep, you will find a whole lot of great and not so great suggestions here. Do what seems most reasonable to you.
My suggestion is to change all the fluids. That way you have a baseline for future service and you will become more familiar with your Jeep.
By all fluids, I mean:
1)- Motor oil & filter
2)- Transmission & Transfer case
3)- both differentials
4)- Brake and clutch fluids.
Grease the Zerks and check suspension for any worn parts.
New cap, plugs, rotor & wires
After all the above there will still be plenty for you to do to maintain and upgrade your new toy.
Things will be much easier for you if you have access to a Factory Service Manual. If you don't have one ask how to get one.
Welcome to the forum and Good Luck, L.M.
1987 YJ-4.2L-Standard Shift- Re-manufactured Carter Carb-2" body Lift-31X10.5X15 BFG KOs-188K Miles
HEI distributor with computer and all related relays and wiring removed.
No back seat.
12K Badlands winch with dual batteries.