Some people would like prayer with no conditions. They wish God to be a celestial genie who, when summoned by prayer, must grant any request they make. They find a measure of encouragement in the fable of Aladdin and his lamp, aspiring to that level of control over God’s power in their prayer life. But the biblical fact is that prayer has conditions. It’s true that Jesus said, “If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer” (Matthew 21:22). But, even in that statement, we have one condition to prayer: faith. As we examine the Bible, we find that there are other conditions to prayer, as well.
Here are ten biblical instructions concerning prayer that imply conditions to prayer:
1) Pray to the Heavenly Father (see Matthew 6:9). This condition to prayer might seem obvious, but it’s important. We don’t pray to false gods, to ourselves, to angels, to Buddha, or to the Virgin Mary. We pray to the God of the Bible, who revealed Himself in Jesus Christ and whose Spirit indwells us. Coming to Him as our “Father” implies that we are first His children—made so by faith in Christ (see John 1:12).
2) Pray for good things (see Matthew 7:11). We don’t always understand or recognize what is good, but God knows, and He is eager to give His children what is best for them. Paul prayed three times to be healed of an affliction, and each time God said, “No.” Why would a loving God refuse to heal Paul? Because God had something better for him, namely, a life lived by grace. Paul stopped praying for healing and began to rejoice in his weakness (2 Corinthians 12:7–10).
3) Pray for needful things (see Philippians 4:19). Placing a priority on God’s kingdom is one of the conditions to prayer (Matthew 6:33). The promise is that God will supply all our needs, not all our wants. There is a difference.
4) Pray from a righteous heart (see James 5:16). The Bible speaks of having a clean conscience as a condition to answered prayer (Hebrews 10:22). It is important that we keep our sins confessed to the Lord. “If I regard wickedness in my heart, The Lord will not hear” (Psalm 66:18, NAS).
5) Pray from a grateful heart (see Philippians 4:6). Part of prayer is an attitude of thanksgiving.
6) Pray according to the will of God (see 1 John 5:14). An important condition to prayer is that it is prayed within the will of God. Jesus prayed this way all the time, even in Gethsemane: “Not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42). We can pray all we want, with great sincerity and faith, for XYZ, but, if God’s will is ABC, we pray amiss.
7) Pray in the authority of Jesus Christ (see John 16:24). Jesus is the reason we are able to approach the throne of grace (Hebrews 10:19–22), and He is our mediator (1 Timothy 2:5). A condition to prayer is that we pray in His name.
8) Pray persistently (see Luke 18:1). In fact, pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17). One of the conditions to effective prayer is that we don’t give up.
9) Pray unselfishly (see James 4:3). Our motives are important.
10) Pray in faith (see James 1:6). Without faith, it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6), who alone can do the impossible (Luke 1:37). Without faith, why pray?
Joshua’s prayer for the sun to stand still, as audacious as that request was, met all these conditions of prayer (Joshua 10:12–14). Elijah’s prayer for rain to be withheld—and his later prayer that rain would fall—met all of these conditions (James 5:17–18). Jesus’ prayer as He stood before the tomb of Lazarus met all of these conditions (John 11:41). They all prayed to God, according to His will, for good and necessary things, in faith.
The examples of Joshua, Elijah, and Jesus teach us that, when our prayers line up with God’s sovereign will, wonderful things will happen. There’s no need to be abashed by mountains, for they can move (Mark 11:23). The struggle we face is in getting our prayers lined up with God’s will, having our desires match His. Congruency between God’s will and our own is the goal. We want exactly what He wants; nothing more, nothing less. And we don’t want anything that He doesn’t want.
Godly, effective prayer has conditions, and God invites us to pray. When can we pray big? When we believe God wants something big. When can we pray audaciously? When we believe God wants something audacious. When should we pray? All the time.