The Bible says pray. Jesus said to come to God every day.
Sometimes, though, we treat God less like our Heavenly Father and more like our personal wish-grantor.
We are to pray, and the Bible is full of examples of people asking things of God. However, whether accidental or deliberate, we sometimes approach God as if he’s a genie.
In this article I want to outline three ways we sometimes treat God like a genie.
1. When we ask selfishly, we treat God like a genie
Sometimes we ask for things out of greed, selfish desires, pride, or other sinful motives. We want something for ourselves in order to please ourselves, so we add it to our list of prayer requests. James, the brother of Jesus, says it best:
You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.
– James 4:3
When we ask God for something, it should not be motivated by ego, pride, or greed. Instead, we should have the right motives in our prayers. That can be hard to do sometimes. So, James tells us how to ensure our motives are, in fact, holy:
Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.
– James 4:7-8
By nature, we are selfish creatures. As we submit to God and draw near to him, he will transform our natures and desires to be more aligned with his. This will help us not be selfish in our prayers.
2. When we treat Jesus’ name like a magic word, we treat God like a genie
I was taught as a child to end each prayer with the phrase, “in Jesus’ name,” and I still do to this day. It’s not uncommon to hear people proclaim, “in Jesus’ name” when a request is made during group prayer.
The idea of saying this phrase stems from passages such as John 14:13-14:
Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.
Sadly, though, I’ve heard this phrase be used as if it’s some magic word like “abracadabra,” “alakazam,” or “Shazam!” Just because we say Jesus’ name doesn’t mean our requests (or wishes or demands, more on that in a bit) will be granted.
To pray or ask in Jesus’ name means to ask in accordance with Jesus’ person, nature, and mission. Jesus was all about one thing: proclaiming, serving, and glorifying God the Father; he submitted to the will and wishes of God in all he did (cf. Luke 22:42; John 6:38).
When we say, “in Jesus’ name,” we’re not using a magic phrase that will make things happen just because we uttered a powerful, magical word (sorry, War Room, cf. mugging scene). Rather, we are submitting to God the Father’s will and work.
3. When we declare what must happen, we treat God like a genie
Ever heard people say, “I speak over _____” or “I declare _____”? Yeah, I’ve heard these phrases quite often from Christians. When people say this, they often think that whatever they say will, in fact, happen.
Interestingly, they’ll often add “in Jesus’ name” to make doubly-sure, I suppose, that God does what they declared.
When we declare something must happen and expect God to abide by our declarations, then we are treating him like a genie. We are putting ourselves in command and making God our servant, bound to do whatever we say.
Many point to Jesus’ teaching in Mark:
Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, “Be taken up and thrown into the sea,” and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him.
– Mark 11:23
However, this verse does not teach that we can make declarations that God must fulfill, nor does it teach that we have the power of God inside us as if we’re little deities. Check out the context.
In verse 24, Jesus talks about asking of God. Not demanding. Asking. In fact, this whole chapter is about two things: (1) Jesus’ identity and authority as Messiah and (2) our submission to him. When he talked about moving the mountain, Jesus was teaching us about our faith in him as Lord and Messiah, not telling us that whatever we declare will happen.
As Han said, “That’s now how the Force works.”
So, let’s bring this home.
Bringing It Home
God is not our genie. He is not our serf. God is God.
He is our creator, Lord, master, Father, judge, and rule-giver. He does not submit to us; we submit to him.
The Bible teaches us to pray and ask things of God. It does not, however, give us the right to treat God like a heavenly genie who is here to do our bidding and grant our wishes.
When we selfishly ask for things in prayer, God is not obligated to grant them. Speaking the name of Jesus doesn’t ensure that what we want will come true. And we have no right to declare things and expect God to act accordingly.
If we’re honest with ourselves, each one of us as some point (or many points) are guilty of treating God like our personal genie. When we do, we should repent and surrender fully to God’s person, will, and purposes.
It’s okay to ask of God; just remember that he is God.