Can a person's lack of faith prevent someone else from becoming a Christian? And will God - prompted by faithful prayers - change the heart of a person that is not open to obeying God's word so that he will repent and turn to him? -- Donna L. Dunlap (Detroit)
A scary thought and a scary question! Look at it this way: If God automatically saved everyone we failed to reach with the Gospel, what would be the point of having us all share our faith? Something very important does depend on us. I believe it is indeed possible for someone to hurt someone else's chances, whether through low faith, rudeness, harshness, or failure to pray sincerely for him. I think this is the sort of thing Jesus had in mind in Matthew 23:13 -- Woe to you teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men's faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to. So it is possible to ruin someone else's chances. Not that they would not still bear the primary responsibility for their choices and for their sins. So God is just; yet, as we see in the New Testament, he always works through others to bring us to Christ.
As for the second aspect - whether our prayers can change someone's heart - I believe the answer is yes. We read in Acts 16:13-14 of the brothers sharing their faith in Philippi. On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there. One of those listening was a woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth from the city of Thyatira, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul's message. Since Philippi was a Roman colony lacking a synagogue, the disciples expect to find open people down at the river. As soon as they arrived they began to share their faith and Lydia became our sister! Notice Luke does not say they were praying - in fact, the opposite. They spoke to people, not God, when they arrived. Still, even though the disciples did not specifically pray at that time, Lydia's heart was opened. Before they spoke her heart must have been closed right?
Moreover 2 Timothy 2:24-26 says And the Lord's servant must not quarrel; instead he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him he must gently instruct in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.
Your question is a good one and reminds me of the kinds of question many of our "Sarah's daughters" (those whose husbands do not believe, as in 1 Peter 3) ask. Keep praying, for God is the one who can open the willing heart.
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