Sermon Message: Fellowship in the Light
Sermon Message: O Worship the King
"The 'Send-Me-Home' Syndrome"
Various Scripture References
(Delivered Sunday, December 1, 2002 at Bethany Bible Church. All scripture quotes, unless otherwise noted, are from the New King James Version.)
I'd like to begin, this morning, by alerting you to a dangerous spiritual malady. It's a malady that has plagued many of God's people throughout the ages; and you and I are as much at risk of falling victim to it as they. It's a malady that can fall upon a man or woman of God at a time when it seems as if they are at their very peak of usefulness. And it can strike regardless of how long they've walked with the Lord, or how knowledgeable in the Scriptures they are, or how gifted they may be. In fact, as the Bible seems to demonstrate, it's those whom we would least expect it to fall upon that prove to be the very ones that most often become victimized by it.
What is this malady? For lack of a better name, I call it the "Send-Me-Home" syndrome.
The "Send-Me-Home" syndrome is a condition of spiritual frustration and despair that strikes someone while they're in the midst of trying or demanding circumstances. It's a kind of emotional, physical and spiritual breakdown in which an otherwise sincere and strong believer comes to the end of himself or herself; and cries out from the depth of his or her being, "Oh, God; ... please just end all this misery and burden by taking my life and bringing me to heaven. Please, God; just send me home!" The joy of the Lord that once characterized such a believer seems to have disappeared - only to be replaced with a sense of purposelessness, uselessness and utter helplessness. Their only desire is to die and be freed from it all. Perhaps you know someone who has suffered from this. Perhaps you have suffered from it yourself at one time. Perhaps your time is just around the corner. It has fallen, after all, on some of the mightiest and godliest of God's servants.
I believe that no less of a servant of God than the mighty Apostle Paul became a victim of this terrible spiritual malady. I believe he described his own experience with the "Send-Me-Home" syndrome for us at the beginning of his second letter to the Corinthians when he wrote these words;
For we do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, of our trouble which came to us in Asia: that we were burdened beyond measure above strength, so that we despaired even of life (2 Cor. 1:8).
The indication that Paul suffered from the "Send-Me-Home" syndrome is shown in that he became so overburdened with the responsibilities that often attach themselves to God's work, and with the dreadful limitations and failures of his own flesh - or with the limitations and failures of others - that he longed for his life on earth to end. He literally despaired of life and longed to die. Now understand; this wasn't a matter of Paul's having become suicidal. The "Send-Me-Home" syndrome is not a suicidal wish; and Paul had no intention of taking his own life in this. Rather, it was a matter of his having such a profound longing to be relieved of the burdens and freed from the trials - burdens and trials which utterly overwhelmed him, and for which there appeared no human end in sight - that he longed that God Himself would end it all for him by taking his life. He reached the end of his human resources, gave up, and cried out, "Oh God; send me home!"
I not only want to alert you to the "Send-Me-Home" syndrome by showing you how, in the Bible, some of God's choicest of servants fell victim to it; but I also want to encourage you with the hope of God's provided deliverance. Paul, after describing his own experience with this dreadful spiritual malady, wrote of how God gave him victory over it;
"Yes, we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead, who delivered us from so great a death, and does deliver us; in whom we trust that He will still deliver us ..." (vv. 9-10).
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The examples of three great Old Testament leaders demonstrates how easy it is for any one of God's faithful servants to fall victim to the "Send-Me-Home" syndrome. And I believe that, by looking at what God did to bring them out of it, we can be encouraged with hope, and can perhaps even avoid falling victim to this terrible malady ourselves.
First, let's look Numbers 11, and at ...
1. THE EXPERIENCE OF MOSES.
His experience shows that, when we try to bear a humanly impossible burden in our own power, we can easily fall victim to the "Send-Me-Home" syndrome.
First, let's establish the context of this incident. God had powerfully delivered His chosen people from out of their bondage to Egypt through Moses - an experience that surely would stretch even the strongest man to the limit. The people had been gathered before Sinai for nearly a year - receiving instructions from God through Moses. And at long last, the time finally came for them to begin their journey through the wilderness to the land that God had promised to give them.
But they were only three days into their journey when - even though they had been eyewitnesses to the mighty power of God in their deliverance - the people began to complain about how rough things were. The Lord responded to their complaints by punishing them severely (11:1-3); and Moses interceded for them in prayer. God responded to Moses prayers and had mercy on the people. And so, Moses' prayers saved their lives; but what a frustrating and overwhelming burden he must have felt!
No sooner had God responded to Moses' prayers than the people began to complain yet again; this time, because of the food - the 'manna' that God provided for them in the wilderness. "Who will give us meat to eat?" they complained. "We remember the fish which we ate freely in Egypt, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic; but now our whole being is dried up; there being nothing at all except this manna before our eyes" (vv. 4-6).
Without doubt, Moses was already emotionally strained because of the heavy burden of leading these people; but I believe this latest round of complaining was, so to speak, the straw that broke the camel's back. When he saw the people weeping and whining at the doors of their tents for Egyptian cuisine, and when he understood how the anger of the Lord was aroused against them once again, he could endure no more. Moses cried out in utter despair to God and said,
"Why have You afflicted Your servant? And why have I not found favor in Your sight, that You have laid the burden of all these people on me? Did I conceive all these people? Did I beget them, that You should say to me, 'Carry them in your bosom as a guardian carries a nursing child, to the land which You swore to their fathers? Where am I going to get meat to give to all these people? For they weep all over me, saying, 'Give us meat, that we may eat.' I am not able to bear all these people alone, because the burden is too heavy for me" (vv. 11-14).
Imagine being in such an emotional state that you would speak to God that way! And notice what it was that put him over the edge; "I am not able to bear all these people alone, because the burden is too heavy for me." And note Moses' final words to God:
"If you treat me like this, please kill me here and now - if I have found favor in Your sight - and do not let me see my wretchedness" (v. 15).
"God," he was saying; "If you truly love me, and if I have found favor in your sight, then just kill me know! Take me away from the dreadful burden of leading these people all by myself! Send me home!" Plainly, no less a mighty man of God than Moses had fallen victim to the "Send-Me-Home" syndrome.
But please notice what God did in response to Moses' condition. God did not scold him; nor did He punish him for his harsh words of prayer. Instead, God told him,
Gather to Me seventy men of the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people and officers over them; bring them to the tabernacle of meeting, that they may stand there with you. Then I will come down and talk with you there. I will take of the Spirit that is upon you and will put the same upon them; and they shall bear the burden of the people with you, that you may not bear it yourself alone (vv. 16-17).
There's evidence in the Scriptures that Moses had the same sort of problem that many of us in positions of spiritual leadership have - the tendency to take on more than we should, and try to do all the work ourselves. His father-in-law observed this tendency in him once, and he had to gently rebuke Moses for this; saying, "The thing that you do is not good. Both you and these people who are with you will surely wear yourselves out. For this thing is too much for you; you are not able to perform it by yourself" (Ex. 18:17-18). This tendency at last caught up with Moses, and drove him to despair. And as a result, he suffered from the "Send-Me-Home" syndrome.
God promised Moses that the people would be punished for their rebellious and complaining spirit by having so much meat over the next month that they would be sick from it. But the thing to notice is that, when Moses asked how such a thing could be for nearly two-million people in the desert, God asks in response, "Has the LORD's arm been shortened? Now you shall see whether what I say will happen to you or not" (v. 23). Moses, to be sure, had no power to provide meat for such a vast multitude; but the Lord's "arm" of power is without limit. God indeed came down before the gathered people with the seventy elders present, and took of His Spirit that had been upon Moses and place the same Spirit on the seventy leaders. Thus, whereas there had been only one man bearing the burden of this great crowd of people, now there were seventy-one men bearing it together. And then, God caused a great wind to come and bring an enormous flock of quails as food for the people, just as He promised.
Like Moses, you and I may one day find ourselves suffering from the "Send-Me-Home" syndrome because of attempting to take on a humanly impossible burden by ourselves - a burden that God never meant for us to bear alone. And in such a case, God's cure is two-fold: first, He would have us delegate, and share some of the work with others; and second, He would have us trust, not in our own limited abilities and resources to accomplish the task, but in the greatness of His unlimited power.
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That's one way that the "Send-Me-Home" syndrome can strike. Next, let's turn to 1 Kings 19, and learn about another way this syndrome can fall upon us from ...
2. THE EXPERIENCE OF ELIJAH.
Perhaps you remember the context of this story, as it's found in 1 Kings 19. It's the story of one of Elijah's greatest moments of victory. He had just been used by God in the marvelous incident at Mount Carmel; where God had revealed Himself by fire, and where Elijah had gained the victory over 450 of the prophets of the false god Baal. It was 'the battle of the God's'; and the one true God dramatically demonstrated His supremacy through the faithfulness of His servant Elijah.
The king of the northern kingdom, King Ahab, was there to see it happen. His whole kingdom had been given over to the worship of Baal; and now, he had seen God demonstrate the greatness of His power, and watched as 450 of the prophets of Baal were put to death. And so, Ahab ran home and reported it to the person who really 'wore the pants' in his kingdom - his evil wife, Queen Jezebel.
Jezebel was outraged that her prophets were put to death; and so she sent this threatening message to God's prophet Elijah: "So let the gods do to me, and more so, if I do not make your life like one of them by tomorrow about this time" (v. 2). And in response to this threat, what do we find the mighty, conquering prophet Elijah doing? Did he stand up against her and proclaim the one true God? Did he call down fire before her eyes? No. Instead, he did a remarkably surprising thing - he ran away from Jezebel in fear.
Elijah ran all the way to Beersheba - that is, from the northern kingdom all the way down to the southern-most town in the southern kingdom. And then, leaving his servants in Beersheba, he ran even further - another fifteen miles south, into the wilderness. And there, he crumbled into a broken heap beneath a juniper tree and poured out his heart to God. "It is enough!" he exclaimed. "Now, LORD, take my life, for I am no better than my fathers!" (v. 4). And with that, he fell asleep in the utter exhaustion of despair. Even though God had just used him in a mighty, victorious way, Elijah felt defeated and useless. All it took was one threat from an evil woman to send him into a tailspin, make him think that he had accomplished nothing, and cause him to cry out to God to kill him. Elijah had fallen victim to the "Send-Me-Home" syndrome.
How could such a thing happen to such a mighty prophet? What happened to him that he would fall into such despair as a result of just one threat? I believe a clue is found in what happens next. We're told that God did something for Elijah that we never would have expected God to do - God made Elijah breakfast. The angel of the Lord gently shook the sleeping prophet; and when Elijah awoke, he found freshly baked bread and a jar of water sitting next to his head. He ate, then when back to sleep again; and after more sleep, he was again woken by the angel of the Lord to find yet another meal prepared for him. "Arise and eat," the angel told him, "because the journey is too great for you" (v. 7).
The Bible tells us that Elijah went on the strength of that food for forty days and forty nights; and it enabled him to run as far north as to Mount Horeb - the mountain of God, where the people under Moses had met with God after their rescue from Egypt. It was there that God further strengthened Elijah by providing him with a fresh vision of Himself (11-12), additional instructions for service (15-16a), the promise of a successor in the person of Elisha (v. 16b), and even the assurance that 7,000 people in Israel would not bow the knee to the false god Baal (v. 17).
Now; please notice in this that God did not scold poor Elijah for running away, or for falling victim to the "Send-Me-Home" syndrome. His problem was simple; he had just experienced a spiritual victory of super-human proportions, and he had become physically exhausted. All it took to push him over the edge was Jezebel giving him the 'evil eye'. And all Elijah really needed was some good, quality time of rest and refreshment.
Just like Elisha, you and I may one day find ourselves suffering from this syndrome because we failed to take care of our own spiritual and physical needs. No one can run very long with the needle close to "empty" - even in the Lord's work. Often, all it takes in such a condition is a great victory to run us dry; and then, all it takes in such a drained condition is one word of criticism or opposition to completely flatten us.
God's solution for this form of the "Send-Me-Home" syndrome is that we need to get away from it all for some rest, to eat well, and to regain perspective in His presence. And though it may not sound very spiritual, the fact is that we'll go a long way toward protecting ourselves if we maintain good patterns of regular sleep, regular times of play and exercise, and a good diet.
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Did you know that one of the first Bible characters we learn about as children also suffered from the "Send-Me-Home" syndrome? Let's turn to the fourth chapter of the book that bears his name, and learn about this syndrome from ...
3. THE EXPERIENCE OF JONAH.
First of all, let me say something about Jonah. Because he, like Elijah, was a prophet on the run, many people think of Jonah as a cowardly prophet. But I don't think he was cowardly at all. I believe that his problem was that he - if I can put it this way - became too 'patriotic' for his own good. He was more concerned for the welfare of his own nation than he was for the will of God.
He was a Jewish man who had been commanded by God to preach to the Assyrians in Nineveh. The Assyrians were an unbelievably barbaric people, destined to eventually do great harm to the nation of Israel; and Nineveh was the capital city of the Assyrian kingdom. God was sending Jonah to preach to the Ninevites, so they'd repent and be spared from destruction. And that was not Jonah's priority for them! He in no way wanted Nineveh spared from destruction! So when God called him to preach to the Ninevites, Jonah ran in the other direction in disobedience. And of course, we all know how that story 'went down'.
Jonah was, shall we say, "compelled" to preach to the Ninevites after all; and as a result, they marvelously repented. And their repentance moved God to hold off His judgment of them for another hundred years. But Jonah was deeply angry and resentful over this turn of events. He said,
"Ah, LORD, was not this what I said when I was still living in my country? Therefore I fled previously to Tarshsis; for I know that You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, One who relents from doing harm. Therefore now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live" (vv. 2-3).
The Lord asked Jonah, "Is it right for you to be angry?"; but the question was met with silence from Jonah. Jonah was so bitter and hateful toward God's act of mercy that all he wanted was for God to kill him. He was suffering from a very acute form of the "Send-Me-Home" syndrome - one that comes as a result of God not doing what we demand that He do; one that comes from God not fulfilling our personal, sinful agenda. Jonah, in his deep and pathetic resentment and anger, built a little shelter on the top of a hill; and he sat and watched the city of Nineveh from afar. "Perhaps," he thought, "God will have a change of heart. Maybe He'll see things my way ... and roast them all!"
As Jonah sat on the hill, the Lord caused a plant to miraculously grow and shade him from the heat of the sun. Jonah came to love that plant. I think that, in his resentful state of mind, he believed that the plant was his only friend and companion. He curled up under its comforting shade, and went to sleep. But by the next morning, God had sent a worm to eat the plant and kill it. Then, to make matters worse, God caused a scorching wind to roast poor Jonah! In his anguish, he begged God with all his soul to kill him. "It is better for me to die than to live", he moaned (v. 8).
God used this very teachable moment to reveal to Jonah the true nature of his condition. He again asked Jonah, "Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?" And this time, he received an answer; "It is right for me to be angry, even to death!" (v. 9).
Imagine! Talking to God in that way! This conversation reminds me of God's words to Cain in the Book of Genesis. Cain was bitter and angry because God would not accept the work of his own hands as a sacrifice; and because God accepted his brother Abel's sacrifice of a lamb instead. Cain knew what God expected from him; but he was bitter because God wouldn't conform to his wishes. God said, "Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it" (Gen. 4:6-7).
God then taught Jonah the lesson that shocked him out of his evil frame of mind. He told Jonah,
"You have had pity on the plant for which you have not labored, nor made it grow, which came up in a night and perished in a night. And should I not pity Nineveh, that great city, in which are more than one hundred and twenty thousand persons who cannot discern between their right hand and their left - and much livestock?" (vv. 10-11).
In other words, Jonah had pity on a mere plant; but was very eager to see the fire of God pour down upon the entire city of Nineveh and destroy it's entire population - including those who couldn't even tell their right hand from their left (which was probably a reference to small children). And as if he recognized that Jonah wasn't even caring for the children, God pointed out even the need to show mercy to the livestock.
Jonah was suffering because of sin. His priorities were not God's priorities. He wanted destruction; but God was intending to show mercy. Personally, I believe Jonah repented of his bitter attitude. I couldn't imagine he would have written this book if it weren't for the fact that he became right with God.
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Like Jonah, we may one day find ourselves suffering from the "Send-Me-Home" syndrome because we have embraced an improper set of priorities, and have grown to harbor sinful attitudes. We may fall into wanting - even demanding - that God to do something that God is simply not going to do. God's cure at such times is obvious: we must repent of our improper attitude, stop clinging to sinful priorities, and bow to God's will. If we do so, God will lift the dark cloud of our bitterness from us, and set us free from this particular form of the "Send-Me-Home" syndrome.
Or, if our case is like that of Elijah, we need to be sure that we are taking care of our own physical and spiritual needs. Or again, if our case is like that of Moses, we need to make sure we're not trying to assume an inhumanly great burden on ourselves, or trying to do the work of God all on our own and under our own power.
You can see from all this that this malady can take many different forms; and so we need to be good spiritual diagnosticians. But by learning from these examples, and by guarding ourselves in these areas, we will do much avoid being struck down and disabled by the "Send-Me-Home" syndrome.
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