Useful or Necessary?
I always loved to hear the stories my parents told about when they were growing up. I loved hearing about what their lives were like and about the unique experiences they had. Hearing their stories helped create a sense of momentum in me, while at the same time giving my siblings and me a chance to laugh at some of their funny stories. My dad was a great athlete. He was injured playing high school football and required a shot before every game to numb the pain in his ankle. I think his coach was a bit frustrated with the care necessary to keep him playing, and one day he said to my dad, “Johnson, you’re useful, but not necessary!”
What is the role of the Church in our cities? Are we useful, but not necessary? Our potential is obvious to us all, but we need to acknowledge the reality that we are not always viewed as necessary. We must ask ourselves what changes we need to make in order to become necessary.
Consider Isaiah 62: 7 (NASB): “And give Him no rest until He establishes and makes Jerusalem a praise in the earth.”
What would it look like for us as the community of the redeemed to become a praise in the earth? One of the great stories about this in the Bible involves the time when Joseph and his family lived in Egypt. The story illustrates how it can affect a nation when someone who is considered an outsider has such impact that the nation considers him necessary. This is also one of the Bible’s greatest stories on forgiveness and reconciliation. Although Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery, they benefited from Joseph’s gift, integrity and vision.
To make a long story short, Joseph’s entire family ended up residing in Egypt, living in favored status because of Joseph. Their family was highly regarded by Pharaoh himself. This regard, of course, trickled down throughout the whole nation. It was as though this world leader took it upon himself to give honor to Joseph’s family for the gift he had been to this nation. Joseph’s father, Jacob, had been renamed Israel by God. The time came when Israel died, and Joseph naturally wept over this huge loss. Israel had been the one person in Joseph’s family who had remained supportive of him throughout his life. Scripture describes the loss:
Then Joseph fell on his father’s face, and wept over him and kissed him. Joseph commanded his servants the physicians to embalm his father. So the physicians embalmed Israel. Now forty days were required for it, for such is the period required for embalming. And the Egyptians wept for him seventy days. Genesis 50: 1– 3 NASB
The most remarkable part of this story for me is Pharaoh’s response to Joseph’s loss. Not only did Joseph and his family mourn the loss of their patriarch, but so did the entire nation of Egypt. And this they did for seventy days! How is it possible for a nation to respond so deeply to the loss of an outsider that they mourn for seventy days? Because Jacob, Joseph and the family had become necessary to the nation.
When the days of mourning for him were past, Joseph spoke to the household of Pharaoh, saying, “If now I have found favor in your sight, please speak to Pharaoh, saying, ‘My father made me swear, saying, “Behold, I am about to die; in my grave which I dug for myself in the land of Canaan, there you shall bury me.” Now therefore, please let me go up and bury my father; then I will return.’” Pharaoh said, “Go up and bury your father, as he made you swear.” So Joseph went up to bury his father, and with him went up all the servants of Pharaoh, the elders of his household and all the elders of the land of Egypt, and all the household of Joseph and his brothers and his father’s household; they left only their little ones and their flocks and their herds in the land of Goshen. Genesis 50: 4– 8 NASB, emphasis added
Joseph promised to bury his dad in his homeland, not in Egypt. Pharaoh not only honored Joseph’s promise; he sent all his servants, all the elders of his house and all the elders of the land of Egypt to accompany Joseph in his mournful journey. Pharaoh did not want him to be alone. How astonishing to see a world leader send his entire staff and leadership team to accompany Joseph as he kept his promise to his dad. This is a beautiful story of the impact of Joseph’s wisdom upon a heathen leader and his entire nation.
The value Pharaoh placed on Jacob is legendary, and is extremely unusual throughout history. It is time to see it again, and I believe it is possible to see it in our lifetime. This should be the type of sentiment shared by those in the world when someone who has had significant impact on their lives goes home to be with the Lord. When we become those who serve well and who demonstrate the wisdom of God, we help create an appetite for God Himself.