I have a question regarding the idea of free will and how it affects prayer.
My understanding of free will, according to a Christian's point of view, is that God allows people to choose what they want to do. If this is the case, why do people pray for certain things, like a job, successful surgery, etc? Doesn't this require God to intervene and limit the other person's free will? For example, a successful surgery will be dependent on pretty much everyone who's involved, and will require God to make everyone perform everything accurately, thus limiting their free will. I know that this is a good thing, and is hardly worth mentioning, because who cares as long as something good is being performed, right? Well, if this is the case, why doesn't God just forcefully change the heart of the people to love what he loves and to eventually follow him since that is a good thing too? There will be no more crimes and the world will be a much more peaceful place.
This is a good question, one many have asked for centuries. The relationship between free will and God's working in our lives is a difficult one for us to understand. We obviously know of many times in Scripture where God worked in response to prayer/human request (think of all the people Jesus healed just because someone asked, or Cornelius' conversion (Acts 10), and so on), and we can see examples in our own lives as well. At the same time, we can also see examples of times when prayers were not answered, or perhaps not answered when and how we would have liked, both in Scripture (David praying for his son to not die as a punishment for his sin) and in our own lives.
Ultimately, we cannot understand exactly why God works the way he does from one moment to the next; yet we do know that God works in everything for the good of those who love him (Romans 8:28), and that God's ultimate goal in everything is for everyone to be with him in heaven (1 Timothy 2:4).
As for forcing changing people's hearts -- this would dehumanize humans. They would be automata, not humans. It seems the concomitant of free will is sin. If everything were orchestrated to bypass the possibility of sin, then in what sense would the world be good? Goodness hinges on morality; morality hinges on freedom.