12 reasons God is not like a genie
Prerequisites for answered prayers
According to fairytales, a genie lives in a brass oil lamp or a bottle. When you rub the lamp or bottle, the genie is released and offers to grant your wishes. Does God grant our wishes when we pray? When we ask God to give us this and that and expect the answers to be delivered immediately, we treat God like a genie.
Scriptures that seem to imply that Christians receive whatever they ask
At first appearance, the following scriptures seem to imply that God will give Christians whatever they ask for in prayer.
- In the sermon on the mount given to the disciples, Jesus said, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Mt. 7:7-8; Lk. 11:9-10NIV).
- When the disciples couldn’t heal a demon-possessed boy, Jesus said that they lacked faith. “Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” (Mt. 17:20). And Jesus told the boy’s father, “Everything is possible for one who believes” (Mk. 9:23).
- When a fig tree withered at Jesus’ command, the disciples asked how did this happen. Jesus replied, “Truly I tell you, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and it will be done. If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer” (Mt. 21:21-22).
In a parallel text Jesus says, “Have faith in God … Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours” (Mark 11:22-24).
- Jesus told the disciples that after He returned to heaven, they could bring their requests to God in prayer, “And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it (Jn. 14:13-14).
- In the context of remaining in fellowship, Jesus told His disciples, “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you” (Jn. 15:7).
- In the context of the command to love each other, Jesus told His disciples, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you” (Jn. 15:16).
- Jesus told the disciples that after He returned to heaven, they could bring their requests to God in prayer, “In that day you will no longer ask me anything. Very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete” (Jn. 16:23-24).
- In the context of a believer with a clear conscience, John says, “Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from Him anything we ask, because we keep His commands and do what pleases Him” (1 Jn. 3:21-22).
These passages in the Bible speak about prayer and receiving by believing in a sense that you can ask anything of the Lord and He will give it to you no matter what it is just as long as you keep asking or by increasing in faith. Is this a blanket promise? If you have enough faith and you pray enough, will anything you ask be given to you? That is the promise of the prosperity gospel and the Word of Faith movement, who believe that the Bible promises health and wealth.
But some of these verses indicate that this is not sufficient for answered prayer when they say:
– Have faith (belief) and do not doubt.
– Pray in Christ’s name.
– Remain in fellowship with Christ.
– Christ’s words remain in you.
– Keep God’s commands.
– Do what pleases God.
– Have a clear conscience.
We should never take any verse in isolation; instead, we are to read it in its context and in light of what the rest of the Bible has to say as well. When we do this, we will see that God is not like a genie (where as long as we pray and have enough faith, we will receive whatever we wish). Instead, there are God-given conditions for answered prayer. And failure to comply with these conditions will hinder our prayers. They are listed below as either general conditions or particular conditions.
General conditions for answered prayer
- Christian faith. God has no obligation to listen to the prayer of unbelievers (Mt. 7:21). But He has promised to answer the prayer of salvation (Rom. 10:9).
- Obeying God’s commands (1 Jn. 3:21-22). This pleases God. God answers the prayers of those who know, and obey His commands. We must not be living a life of sin. We can’t refuse to listen to God, and then expect Him to answer all our prayers.
- Confessing and repenting of sin keeps us in fellowship with God (Ps. 66:17-19; Lk. 15:18, 21; Acts 8:22). Sin separates us from God (Rom. 6:23). Repentance for sin is turning back to God, to restore communication. So all known sin needs to be confessed. This gives a clear conscience. When necessary, there must be confession to one another (Mt. 5:23-24; Jas. 5:16).
- Forgiving others also keeps us in fellowship with God (Mt. 6:14-15; Mk. 11:25-26).
- Humility – Being humble like the Tax Collector and not proud like the Pharisee (Lk. 18:9-14. This means not being self-centered.
- Harmony between husband and wife. In particular, a husband must honor his wife (1 Pt. 3:7).
Particular conditions for answered prayer
- Belief (faith) that God will do what He promised He would do or what He commanded (Mt. 17:20; 21:21-22; Jas. 1:6).
- Right motives and not selfishness (Jas. 4:2-3). And with sincerity and genuineness (Mt. 6:5, 7). Don’t pray just to be seen by others. Don’t try to manipulate God by excess repetition.
- That it is accordance with God’s will (Lk. 22:41-42; 1 Jn. 5:14-15). This means that it is good in God’s view (Mt. 7:11). For example, God’s will is expressed in His promises given in the Bible.
- That it is in Christ’s name (Jn. 14:13-14; Eph. 5:20). This means in the authority of Jesus Christ and according to what Jesus would want. We have access to God through Christ’s work of salvation. And Christ intercedes for us (Rom. 8:34; Heb. 7:25). He is our mediator (1 Tim. 2:5; Heb. 9:15).
- That it is in the Spirit (Eph. 5:18; Jude 20). We pray in the Spirit, through the merits of Christ, to God the Father.
- Persevering in prayer. Persistent prayer as illustrated by the parable of the friend requesting bread at midnight and the parable of the persistent widow. (Lk. 11:5-10; 18:1-8). Always keep on praying (Eph.6:18).
These conditions show that there is a way to live that hinders our prayers and a way to live that helps our prayers. Which way are you living? Can you expect God to answer your prayers?
When the conditions for prayer are met, a Christian can be confident that God will hear and answer. If a prayer request is not granted, the answer is “no” or “wait”. Paul was told “no” when he prayed for physical healing (2 Cor. 12:7-10). God answers prayers in His own time. As parents “give good gifts” to their children, God will also “give good gifts” to His spiritual children (Mt. 7:9-11). Matthew 7:7-8 and Luke 11:9-10 promise that when we pray, God always gives us what we ask or He gives us something better. A “no” answer means that He knows our request would not be the best answer. God always answers prayer according to His will, not according to our desire.
In World War 2, large numbers of Allied soldiers were cut off and surrounded by German troops in northern France. It seemed they were about to perish or be captured. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill called this “a colossal military disaster”. A special church service attended by King George VI was held in Westminster Abbey on 26 May 1940, which was declared a national day of prayer. Prior to the evacuation, Hitler committed one of the biggest blunders of the war. The Germans halted for three days and eight hours when they could have easily taken Dunkirk. This gave the Allies time to prepare vital defences for an evacuation. It was one of the major German mistakes on the Western Front and one of the great turning points of the war. Between 27 May and 4 June 1940, 338,226 troops were evacuated from Dunkirk to England. 861 ships were used in the evacuation and 243 of these were sunk by the Germans. Soldiers were bombed by German aircraft while awaiting transport. On 4 June, Winston Churchill hailed this rescue as a “miracle of deliverance”. It was a major moral victory for the British. The Dunkirk evacuation, which is also known as the “Miracle of Dunkirk”, is an example of answered prayer.
God doesn’t answer prayer like a genie, but He is ready to hear our prayer and answer according to His will if we are mindful of these conditions for answered prayer.
Let’s pray to God in accordance with the conditions given in the Bible so that “your [God’s] will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Mt. 6:10).
Written, September 2021