How to Pray When Your Life Is on Hold

There may be no better example than that of Joseph, the dreamer, whose story is told in the Bible’s Book of Genesis.

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Posted in , Apr 17, 2020

Joseph the Dreamer from the Bible

There are times, such as these days of coronavirus and social distancing, when life slows down or comes to a halt, when your routines and plans are paused, and you feel something like an airplane in a holding pattern or a ship in dry dock. 

Such times can be frustrating and disorienting. It can be hard to know how to maintain your prayer life—or, in some cases, restart it—when your life is on hold

It may be that there is no better example to learn from at such times than that of Joseph, the dreamer, whose story is told in the last chapters of the Bible's Book of Genesis. 

Joseph was sold into slavery by his own brothers and ended up in Egypt as a servant. Framed for an offense he didn’t commit, he languished in prison for more than two years. But the Bible’s account of his prison experience can suggest the following ways to pray when it feels as if life has come to a halt.

Give thanks for the kindness and grace of God.
The account of Joseph’s prison years says, “But while Joseph was there in the prison, the Lord was with him; He showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden” (Genesis 39:20-21, NIV).

Presumably that perspective comes through Joseph himself, which suggests that at some point he recognized that, even though his life was on hold, God continued to show him kindness and grace.

So, one good way to pray in such times is to focus on the kindness of God in our travail, in our own “waiting rooms,” so to speak. In fact, the changed pace and plans we experience can actually shine a light on things we’ve long neglected or taken for granted. So, give thanks for any blessings you see, even—especially—in difficult times. 

Find new ways to be faithful in prayer.
While Joseph’s position and responsibilities changed when he went to prison, he remained faithful, and his new “boss” must have recognized that, because Joseph was put in charge of the prison (see Genesis 39:22-23). 

That turned out to be a key bend in the road of Joseph’s journey. Like Joseph, we will do well if we find new ways to be faithful, even when life is on hold. It may be that a slower pace, a stretch of solitude and other factors help us to pray at such times. 

Reach out to others.
When Pharaoh’s chief cupbearer and chief baker were imprisoned with Joseph, each had a disturbing dream. Joseph noticed a change in their demeanor: “So he asked Pharaoh’s officials who were in custody with him in his master’s house, ‘Why do you look so sad today?’” (Genesis 40:7, NIV). 

He didn’t have to ask that. He could have shrugged off their sadness. But he didn’t; he reached out to those around him, expressing genuine interest. 

We do something similar when we look beyond our own circumstances and pray for others—not just those nearby but also those who can be reached only by our prayers. 

Give glory to God.
After Joseph reached out to the chief cupbearer and chief baker, they related to him the disturbing dreams they’d had. Joseph interpreted their dreams, and over time, his interpretation proved true. 

But the cupbearer (who had returned to the service of Pharaoh) forgot Joseph—for two years!—until Pharaoh had a series of dreams that called for interpretation. The cupbearer mentioned Joseph to Pharaoh, and Joseph was called in to interpret the dreams. 

“‘I cannot do it,’ Joseph replied to Pharaoh, ‘but God will give Pharaoh the answer he desires’” (Genesis 41:16, NIV). He made sure to give glory to God rather than claiming it for himself.

Similarly, when we’re in a holding pattern, we are wise to continue to give glory to God—to praise Him in every way we can, for everything we can, at every bend in the road. 

Through it all, keep dreaming.
You probably know the rest of Joseph’s story—how he was exalted to the highest position, entrusted with great responsibility and managed to give life and hope to many—including, of course, his own family (see Genesis 42-47). 

He lived to see his (and other’s) dreams fulfilled, some of them in beautiful ways. Let that suggest to us the need to keep dreaming in prayer. Look forward to what God can do in the future, in you, for you and through you. Prayerfully make plans and nurture hopes. And pray for the good things to come out of your time “on hold".

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