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Can prayer change things?. The Heresy of Selective Salvation Does God alter His plans to accommodate our requests? Can our sincere petitions prompt a response from God? If everything is already set in stone, there is nothing we can do to change the course of events. .

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Can prayer change things?

The Heresy of Selective Salvation

Does God alter His plans to accommodate our requests?

Can our sincere petitions prompt a response from God?

If everything is already set in stone,

there is nothing we can do to change the course of events.

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Following are some things Selective Salvationists have said about prayer:

  • "Prayer does not change things, nor does prayer change God or His mind." (David West, The Baptist Examiner, Feb. 18, 1989, p.5)

  • “What God has predestined to be will always come to pass as He has purposed, and all the praying one can muster will not change that. No, prayer does not change things; it does change us. (Dan Phillips, The Baptist Examiner, Feb. 18, 1989, p.5)

  • "No man can believe in the glorious, Biblical doctrine of absolute predestination, and believe that prayer changes things. The two are incompatible. They do not go together. If one is true, the other is false. Since predestination is true, it follows, as night follows day, that prayer does not change things." (Wilson, The Baptist Examiner, June 8, 1991, p. 8)

  • "It is difficult to reconcile prayer and the unchanging will of God." (James Wilmoth, The Baptist Examiner, Feb. 18, 1989, p.5)

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The Bible says prayer is answered. about prayer:

James 5:16 says,

"The fervent prayer of a righteous person is very powerful."

  • The Bible provides scores of examples of prayers being answered.

  • Hezekiah, Moses, Joshua, David, Hannah, and Paul received specific answers to their prayers.

  • Even the great leaders in the Bible believed God answers prayers.

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Following are a few examples of prayers answered. about prayer:

  • 1 Chron. 5:20 God responded to Manasseh’s prayers

  • 1 Kings 9:3 God responded to their prayers

  • 1 Samuel 1:9-23 God answered Hannah’s prayer and she gave birth to Samuel

  • 2 Chron. 1:11 God gave gracious favors in answer to people’s prayers

  • 2 Chron. 32:20 God answered Hezekiah’s prayer while in battle

  • 2 Chron. 33:19 God was moved by Manasseh’s prayers

  • 2 Chron. 7:12 God responded to their prayers

  • 2 Kings 20:5 God responded to Hezekiah’s prayers

  • 2 Samuel 21:14 God answered prayer on behalf of the land.

  • 2 Samuel 21:25 God answered prayer on behalf of the land

  • Acts 10:31 Cornelius’ prayers were answered

  • Acts 10:4,5 Cornelius’ prayers were answered

  • Acts 28:8-10 Paul healed people through his prayers

  • Deut. 9:18, 20 Aaron’s golden calf greatly angered the Lord. As a result of Moses’ prayer, God didn’t destroy a large number of people.

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More Examples of Prayer answered about prayer:

  • Ezra 8:23 God answered Ezra’s prayers

  • Genesis 25:21 The Lord answered Isaac’s prayers

  • Isaiah 38:4,5 God added 15 years to Hezekiah’s life in response to his prayers

  • Job 42:8, 9 God accepted Job’s prayers for his friends

  • Joshua 10:12-14 Joshua prayed and the sun stopped moving

  • Luke 1:13 Elizabeth became pregnant (with John the Baptist) because of Zechariah’s prayers

  • Mark 11:24 We will receive whatever we ask for in prayer

  • Mark 9:29 Certain kinds of demons can only be cast out with prayer

  • Matthew 21:22 We will receive whatever we ask for in prayer

  • Proverbs 15:8 Prayers of the upright please God

  • Psalm 102:17 God will respond to the prayers of the destitute

  • Psalm 6:9 God accepted David’s prayers

  • James 5:15 The prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well

  • James 5:16 The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective

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Divine Attribute of Immutability about prayer:

In God "there is no alteration or or shadow caused by change"

(James 1:17);

"They [i.e. "the works of your hands"] will perish, but you will continue:

and they will all grow old as a garment.

And as a garment you will change them,

and they will be changed:

but you are the never changing

and your years will not fail"

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Divine Immutability in Scripture about prayer:

These are some of the Scriptural texts which clearly teach Divine immutability or unchangeableness

(Heb., 1:10-12, Ps. 102: 26-28. Cf. Mal, 3: 6; Heb. 13: 8).

This attribute is likewise emphasized in church teaching

By the Council of Nicaea against the Arians,

who attributed mutability to the Logos

By the First Vatican Council in its famous definition:

“That the Divine nature is essentially immutable,

or incapable of any internal change,

is an obvious corollary from Divine infinity.

Changeableness implies the capacity for increase

or diminution of perfection,

that is, it implies finiteness and imperfection.

But God is infinitely perfect and is necessarily what He is.”

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Divine Attributes of a Contingent Nature about prayer:

Some attributes by which certain aspects of Divine perfection are described are hypothetical or relative,

in the sense that they presuppose the contingent fact of creation:

  • omnipresence, for example, presupposes the actual existence of spatial beings.

    The mutability implied in this belongs to creatures, and not to the Creator

    It is a strange confusion of thought that has led some modern Theists

    -- even professing Christians –

    to maintain that such attributes can be laid aside by God, and that the Logos in becoming incarnate actually did lay them aside, or at least ceased from their active exercise.

    Creation itself did not affect the immutability of God, so neither did the incarnation of a Divine Person;

    Whatever change was involved in either case took place solely in the created nature.

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Divine Knowledge about prayer:

Description of the Divine Knowledge

That God is omniscient or possesses the most perfect knowledge of all things,

follows from His infinite perfection.

  • In the first place He knows and comprehends Himself fully and adequately

  • And in the next place He knows all created objects and comprehends their finite and contingent mode of being.

    Hence He:

  • knows them individually or singularly in their finite multiplicity,

  • knows everything possible as well as actual;

  • knows what is bad as well as what is good.

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It is further to be observed that it is on Himself alone that God depends for His knowledge.

Everything which to our finite minds signifies perfection and completeness of knowledge may be predicated of Divine omniscience

To make Him in any way dependent on creatures for knowledge of created objects would destroy His infinite perfection and supremacy.

Hence it is in His

eternal, unchangeable, comprehensive knowledge of Himself

or of His own infinite being

that God knows creatures and their acts,

whether there is question of what is actual or merely possible.

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Distinctions in the Divine Knowledge that God depends for His knowledge.

In classifying the objects of Divine omniscience the most obvious and fundamental distinction is between things that actually exist at any time, and those that are merely possible.

And it is in reference to these two classes of objects that the distinction is made between

knowledge "of vision" and "of simple intelligence";

the former referring to things actual, and the latter to the merely possible.

This distinction might appear at first sight to be absolutely comprehensive and adequate to the purpose for which we introduce distinctions at all, but some difficulty is felt once the question is raised of God's knowledge of the acts of creatures endowed with free will.

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God knows it from eternity. that God depends for His knowledge.

God knows infallibly and from eternity what, for example, a certain man, in the exercise of free will, will do or actually does in any given circumstances, and what he might or would actually have done in different circumstances

being a corollary from the eternal actuality of Divine knowledge.

God does not have to wait on the contingent and temporal event of the man's free choice

to know what the latter's action will be

But the difficulty is:

How, from our finite point of view, to interpret and explain the mysterious manner of God's knowledge of such events without at the same time sacrificing the free will of the creature.

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The Dominican and Jesuit Debate that God depends for His knowledge.

Dominicans defend the view that the distinction between knowledge of "vision" and of "simple intelligence" is the only one we need or ought to employ in our effort to conceive and describe Divine omniscience, even in relation to the free acts of intelligent creatures.

These acts, if they ever take place, are known or foreknown by God as if they were eternally actual

This is admitted by all;

otherwise they remain in the category of the merely possible

Jesuits deny this, pointing for example to statements such as that of Christ regarding the people of Tyre and Sidon, who would have done penance had they received the same graces as the Jews (Matt. 11:21).

Jesuits maintain that to the actual as such and the purely possible we must add another category of objects: hypothetical facts that may never become actual, but would become actual were certain conditions realized.

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The Hypothetical Truth that God depends for His knowledge.

Is more than mere possibility, yet less than actuality; and since God knows such facts in their hypothetical character there is good reason for introducing a distinction to cover them.

It is clear that even acts that take place and as such fall finally under the knowledge of vision may be conceived as falling first under the knowledge of simple intelligence and then under the hypothetical

The progressive formula would be:

  • First, it is possible Peter would do so and so;

  • Second, Peter would do so and so, given certain conditions;

  • Third, Peter will do or does so and so.

    Now, were it not for the differences that lie behind there would probably be no objection raised to the hypothetical, but the distinction itself is only the prelude to the real problem.

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How Or In What Way Does God Have Knowledge? that God depends for His knowledge.

Admitting that God knows from eternity the future free acts of creatures the question is how or in what way He knows them or rather how we are to conceive and explain by analogy the manner of the divine foreknowledge, which in itself is beyond our powers of comprehension?

It is admitted that God knows them first as objects of the knowledge of simple intelligence;

but does he know them also as objects of the hypothetical,

i.e. hypothetically and independently of any decree of His will, determining their actuality,

or does He know them only in and through such decrees?

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The Dominican Contention that God depends for His knowledge.

is that God's knowledge of future free acts depends on the decrees of His free will which predetermine their actuality by means of the actual conditions.

God knows, for example, that Peter will do so and so, because He has decreed from eternity so to move Peter's free will that the latter will infallibly, although freely, cooperate with, or consent to, the Divine premonition.

In the case of good acts there is a physical and intrinsic connection between the motion given by God and the consent of Peter's will, while as regards morally bad acts, the immorality as such

-- which is a privation and not a positive entity –

comes entirely from the created will.

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The Jesuit Contention that God depends for His knowledge.

using the hypothetical maintains that we ought to conceive God's knowledge of future free acts not as being dependent and consequent upon decrees of His will, but in its character as hypothetical knowledge or being antecedent to them.

God knows in the hypothetical what Peter would do if in given circumstances he were to receive a certain aid, and this before any absolute decree to give that aid is supposed.

Thus there is no predetermination by the Divine of what the human will freely chooses;

It is not because God foreknows (having foredecreed) a certain free act that that act takes place, but God foreknows it in the first instance because as a matter of fact it is going to take place

He knows it as a hypothetical objective fact before it becomes an object of the possible

or rather this is how, in order to safeguard human liberty, we must conceive Him as knowing it.

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From eternity He knows, but does not predetermine the creature's choice.

But one must be careful to avoid implying that God's knowledge is in any way dependent on creatures, as if He had, so to speak, to await the actual event in time before knowing infallibly what a free creature may choose to do.

And if it be asked how we can conceive this knowledge to exist antecedently to and independently of some act of the Divine will, on which all things contingent depend, we can only say that the objective truth expressed by the hypothetical facts in question is somehow reflected in the Divine Essence, which is the mirror of all truth, and that in knowing Himself God knows these things also.

Whichever way we turn we are bound ultimate]y to encounter a mystery, and, when there is a question of choosing between a theory which refers the mystery to God Himself and one which only saves the truth of human freedom by making free-will itself a mystery, most theologians naturally prefer the former alternative.

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The Divine Will creature's choice.

Description of the Divine Will

The highest perfections of creatures are reducible to functions of intellect and will

These perfections are realized analogically in God

We naturally pass from considering Divine knowledge or intelligence to the study of Divine exercise of will (volition).

The object of intellect as such is the true;

the object of will as such, the good.

In the case of God it is evident that His own infinite goodness is the primary and necessary object of His will, created goodness being but a secondary and contingent object.

This is what the inspired writer means when he says:

"The Lord hath made all things for himself"

(Prov. 16:4:4).

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The Divine Will creature's choice.

Just as the Divine intellect cannot be dependent on created objects for its knowledge of them, neither can the Divine will be so dependent for its volition.

Had no creature ever been created, God would have been the same self-sufficient being that He is, the Divine will as an appetitive faculty being satisfied with the infinite goodness of the Divine Essence itself.

This is what the First Vatican Council means by speaking of God as

"most happy in and by Himself"

Not that He does not truly wish and love the goodness of creatures, which is a participation of His own, but that He has no need of creatures and is in no way dependent on them for His bliss.

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It follows that God possesses the perfection of free will in an infinitely eminent degree.

Without any change in Himself or in His eternal act of volition, He freely chooses whether or not creatures shall exist and what manner of existence shall be theirs, and this choice or determination is an exercise of that dominion which free will (liberty of indifference) essentially expresses.

In itself free will is an absolute and positive perfection, and as such is most fully realized in God.

Yet we are obliged to describe Divine liberty as we have done relatively to its effects in creation, and, by way of negation, we must exclude the imperfections associated with free will in creatures.

These imperfections may be reduced to two:

  • potentiality and mutability as opposed to immutable pure act,

  • And the power of choosing what is evil.

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When a free creature chooses what is evil, an infinitely eminent degree.he does not choose it formally as such, but only sub specie boni

What his will really embraces is some aspect of goodness which he truly or falsely believes to be discoverable in the evil act.

Moral evil ultimately consists in choosing some such fancied good which is known more or less clearly to be opposed to the Supreme Good, and it is obvious that only a finite being can be capable of such a choice.

God necessarily loves Himself, who is the Supreme Good, and cannot wish anything that would be opposed to Himself.

Yet He permits the sins of creatures, and it has always been considered one of the gravest problems of theism to explain why this is so.

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Intellect and Will an infinitely eminent degree.(Providence, Predestination, and Reprobation)

Providence may be defined as

the scheme in the Divine mind by which all things treated are ordered and guided efficiently to a common end or purpose.

It includes an act of intellect and an act of will, in other words knowledge and power.

That there exists Divine Providence by which the entire universe is ruled clearly follows from the fact that God is the author of all things and that order and purpose must characterize the action of an intelligent creator.

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"But your providence, O Father, governs it", an infinitely eminent degree.

What the author of Wisdom (14:3) says of a particular thing is applicable to the universe as a whole

No more beautiful illustration of the same truth has ever been given than that given by Christ Himself when He instances God's care for the birds of the air and the lilies of the field

(Matt. 6:25 sq.).

But to rational creatures God's providential care is extended in a very special way, yet not so as to do away with the utility and efficacy of prayer, whether for temporal or spiritual favors, nor to disturb or override the efficiency of secondary causes.

(Matt. 7:8)

It is in and through secondary causes that providence ordinarily works, and no miracle, as a rule, is to be expected in answer to prayer

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Intellect and Will an infinitely eminent degree.(Providence, Predestination, and Reprobation)

All Catholic theologians are agreed that God foresees from eternity and permits the final defection of some

But the decree of His will destining them to eternal damnation is not antecedent to but consequent upon foreknowledge of their sin and their death in the state of sin.

Catholic teaching on this point reechoes II Peter 3:9, according to which God does not wish that any should perish but that all should return to penance

It is the teaching implied in Christ's own description of the sentence that is to be pronounced on the damned, condemnation being grounded not on the antecedent will of God, but on the actual demerits of men themselves (e.g. Matt. 25:41).

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The Immutability of Divine Providence does not bar the Utility of Prayer

AS the immutability of divine providence does not impose necessity on things foreseen, so neither does it bar the utility of prayer.

For prayer is not poured out to God that the eternal arrangement of providence may be changed,

-- that is impossible, --

but that man may gain what he desires of God.

It is fitting for God to assent to the pious desires of His rational creatures,

not that our desires move the immutability of God,

but it is an outcome of His goodness suitably to carry out what we desire.

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It is proper for friends to will the same thing. Utility of Prayer

Now God loves His creature and every creature all the more that the said creature has a share in His goodness, which is the prime and principal object of God's love.

But, of all creatures, the rational creature most perfectly partakes in the divine goodness.

God therefore wills the fulfillment of the desires of the rational creature.

And His will is effective of things.

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The goodness of the creature is derived in point of likeness from the goodness of God.

It is a point of special commendation in men,

not to deny assent to just requests:

thereupon they are called

'liberal,' 'clement,' 'merciful and kind.'

It is therefore a very great function of divine goodness,

to hear pious prayers.*

Hence it is said:

He will do the will of them that fear him, and hear their prayers and save them

Everyone that asks receives, and he that seeks finds, and the door shall be opened to him that knocks


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From what has been said it appears that prayers and pious desires are causes of some things that are done by God.

It has been shown that divine providence does not bar the working of other causes, rather it directs them in the work of imposing upon creation the order which providence in its own counsels has determined upon.

Thus secondary causes are not inconsistent with providence, but rather carry providence into effect.

Thus then prayers are efficacious with God, not however as breaking through the order of divine providence, because this very arrangement, that such a concession be made to such a petitioner, falls under the order of divine providence.

Therefore to say that we should not pray to gain any thing of God, because the order of His providence is unchangeable, is like saying that we should not walk to get to a place, nor eat to support life.

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Thus a twofold error concerning prayer is excluded. desires are causes of some things that are done by God.

Some have said that there is no fruit of prayer.

This was said as well on the part of those who denied divine providence, as the Epicureans did;

as also on the part of those who withdrew human affairs from divine providence, as some of the Peripatetics did;

as also on the part of those who thought that all things happen of necessity, as the Stoics did.

From all these tenets it would follow that prayer is fruitless, and consequently all divine worship in vain:

which error is referred to in Malachi 3:14:

You have said: he labors in vain who serves God, and what profit is it that we have kept his ordinances, and that we have walked sad before the Lord of Hosts?

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Things Are Not What They Seem desires are causes of some things that are done by God.

There were others on the contrary who said that the divine arrangement was reversible by prayer.

And the prima facie rendering of certain texts of scripture seems to favor this view.

Thus, after Isaiah by divine command had said to King Ezechias: Put your house in order, for you shall die and not live; yet upon Ezechias's prayer the word of the Lord came to Isaiah, saying: Go and tell Ezechias: I have heard your prayer, so I will add to your days fifteen years (Isa. 37:1-5).

Again it is said in the person of the Lord: I will suddenly speak against a nation and against a kingdom, to root out and pull down and destroy it. If that nation against which I have spoken shall repent of their evil, I also will repent of the evil that I have thought to do to them (Jer. 17:7, 8);

Turn to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful: who knoweth but he will turn and forgive? (Joel 2:13, 14.)

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The Will Of God Is Not Changeable desires are causes of some things that are done by God.

Against construing these texts to mean

  • that the will of God is changeable,

  • or that anything happens to God in time,

  • or that temporal events in creation are the cause of anything coming to exist in God,

    There are other authorities of Holy Writ, containing infallible and express truth.

    God is not as man, that he should die, nor as the son of man, that he should change. Has he said then and shall not do? Has he spoken and shall not fulfill? (Num. 23:19):

    The victorious one in Israel will not spare, and will not be moved to repentance: for he is not a man that he should repent (1 Kings 15:29):

    I am the Lord and change not (Malachi 3:6).

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God Is Both In And Outside The System desires are causes of some things that are done by God.

On careful consideration it will appear that all mistakes in this matter arise from failing to note the difference between the system of the universe and any particular system.

There is nothing to hinder any particular system being changed, whether by prayer or by any other means; for there is that existing beyond the bounds of the system which is capable of changing it.

But beyond the system that embraces all things nothing can be posited whereby such system could possibly be changed, depending as it does on the universal cause.

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Suppose Prayer Is Included in The System desires are causes of some things that are done by God.

Therefore the Stoics laid it down that the system established by God could nowise be changed.

But they failed in a right appreciation of this general system in supposing that prayers were useless,

which was taking for granted that the wills of men, and their desires whence their prayers proceed, are not comprehended in that general system.

For when they say that the same effect follows whether prayers are put up or not,

-- follows, that is, as part of the universal system of things, --

they manifestly reserve and except prayers as not entering into that general system.

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Suppose Prayer Is Included in The System desires are causes of some things that are done by God.

Then effects will follow from them by divine appointment as from other causes.

One might as well exclude the effects of other every-day causes as exclude the effect of prayer.

And if the immutability of the divine plan does not withdraw the effects of other causes,

neither does it take away the efficacy of prayer.

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Prayer Is Integral To The System desires are causes of some things that are done by God.

Prayers then are effective,

not as changing a system arranged from eternity,

but as being themselves part of that system.

And there is no difficulty in the efficacy of prayer changing the particular system of some inferior cause,

by the doing of God,

who oversees all causes,

and who consequently is not bound by the necessity of any system depending on any cause

On the contrary every necessity of system dependent on any inferior cause is checked by Him,

as having been instituted by Him.

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God Sometimes Changes His Sentence desires are causes of some things that are done by God.

Inasmuch then as pious prayers avail to alter some points of the system of inferior causes that was established by God, God is said to 'turn,' or 'repent.'

Hence Gregory says that God does not change His counsel,

though He sometimes changes His sentence,

not the sentence which declares His eternal arrangements,

but the sentence which declares the order of inferior causes, according to which Ezechias was to die,

or some nation to be punished for its sins.

Such change of sentence is called in metaphorical language 'repentance,' inasmuch as God behaves like one repentant,

to whom it belongs to change what He has done.

In the same way God is said metaphorically to be 'angry,'

inasmuch as by punishing He produces the effect of anger.

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Jesus taught that we should be persistent and desires are causes of some things that are done by God.not give up hope.(Luke 18:1)

This is especially important when our prayer seeks to change someone or get them to act in some way.

God will not over ride their free will.

Instead, he can teach, encourage, cajole, even plead, but he will not force us to do something.

Therefore, we need to be patient and persistent in our prayers.

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Our job is to keep praying while God keeps trying to solve the problem.

Remember that St. Augustine's mother, a saint herself, prayed for a long time for her son before he finally heard God and changed.

I sometimes think that in the story of the persistent widow it is God who is the widow and the reluctant judge is the person we are praying for.

God keeps trying to get him to do what is right and good,

but he is stubborn.

Never-the-less God's patience and persistence can win in the end.

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God has a better sense of timing than we do. the problem.

He knows when the right moment will come.

There are bound to be factors operating that we know nothing about, negative consequences that could occur should God act at the wrong time.

This is where faith in the sense of trust in God is essential.

We must believe that He really does know what He is doing (or not doing).

  • St. Paul teaches us to rejoice always, pray without ceasing , and give thanks under all circumstances. 1 Thes 5:16-18.

  • Paul also says we must not return evil for evil (1 Thes 5:15),

  • And Jesus commands us to pray for our enemies (Matt 5:44).