Should a Christian make a conditional vow, promising to do “y” if God does “x”? The story of Hannah and her prayer for a baby (1 Samuel 1) is one of many examples in the Old Testament of a conditional vow. Her action of pledging to devote the child to serve God if she conceived was common 3200 years ago, among the Hebrews and other religions of the ancient Near East. But should modern prayer continue the practice?
I caution against making a conditional vow when you are deeply distressed about some need in your life. The Gospels don’t have any examples of Jesus following this practice. His purpose in the Garden of Gethsemene was to follow the will of the Father no matter the cost. Vowing a conditional vow seems to demand of God that He perform the way we feel is best—not a good choice if He is really the Almighty God! We have a better promise in 1 John 5:14-15, that our prayers will be answered when we line up with His will. The conditional vow also runs the danger of planting a seed of bitterness against the Father if the answer is not what we wanted.
Hannah did receive her baby, who grew to be the greatest Judge and Prophet of the era. But we would be better served to not bargain with God, and instead follow Jesus, who prayed “Not my will, but yours be done.”