The efficacy of prayer
5. Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them and ye shall have them (Mark 11: 24).
6. There are those who contest the effectiveness of prayer on the grounds that, as God knows all our needs, it is useless to enumerate them to Him. Those who think this, then add that seeing that everything in the Universe is linked together by eternal laws, then our petitions cannot change God's decrees.
Beyond all doubt there are natural and immutable laws which cannot be annulled at the caprice of each individual; but from this fact to the belief that all circumstances in life are submitted to fatality is a long step indeed. If it were like that, then Man would be a passive instrument without free-will or initiative. In this hypothesis it would only remain for Man to bow down his head in submission before all occurrences, without making any effort to avoid them, and should not try to ward off dangers. God did not grant reason and intelligence for Man not to use them, willpower for him not to desire things, nor activity for him to remain inactive. As Man is free to act one way or the other, for himself and towards others, the consequences depend on what he does or does not do. By his initiative there are events which forcibly escape fatality and yet do not destroy the harmony of the universal laws, just as the quickening or slowing down of the pendulum of a clock does not annul the law of movement upon which the mechanism is based. God then can accede to certain petitions without destroying the immunity of those laws which govern the whole, as consent is always dependant on His Will.
7. From the maxim: "Whatever you ask for through prayer will be granted," it would be illogical to conclude that one can receive just by asking, and unjust to accuse Providence if a request made is not conceded, because it is known what is best for our own good. This is what happens to a prudent father who refuses to give his son certain things which would be against his own interests. Generally, Man only sees the present moment. Meanwhile if the suffering is useful to our future happiness, then God will let us suffer, just as a surgeon allows the patient to suffer an operation which will cure him.
What God will concede if we direct ourselves to Him with confidence is courage, patience and resignation. What He will also concede are the means of resolving situations with the help of ideas suggested to us by good Spirits at God's instigation, whereby we retain the merit for the decisions taken. God helps all those who help themselves according to the maxim: "Help yourself and the Heavens will come to your aid." But He does not help those who, without using their own faculties, wait for outside assistance. Nevertheless in most cases what Man desires is to be helped by miracles, without using any effort of his own (See chapter 25, No. 1 and following items).
8. Let us take an example. A man finds himself lost in the desert. Thirst is torturing him terribly. Fainting, he falls to the ground. He asks God to help him and waits. No angels will come to give him water. However, what does happen is that a good Spirit suggests the idea of picking himself up and taking one of the paths that are before him. By pure mechanical movement, uniting what is left of his strength, he gets up, walks and discovers not far away a brook. On sighting this he gains courage. If he has faith he exclaims: "Thank you dear God, for the idea you inspired and for the strength you gave me." If he is without faith he will say: "What a good ideal had. How lucky I was to take the right-hand path and not the one on the left! Chance sometimes serves one admirably! I must congratulate myself for my courage and for not being defeated!"
But you may ask why the Spirit did not say clearly: "Follow that path and you will find what you need"? Why did the Spirit not show himself, guide him and sustain him in his disanimation? In that way the man would have been convinced of the intervention of Providence. Firstly, so as to teach him that each person must help themself and make use of their strength. Secondly, because the man doubted His existence God put the confidence he had in Him to the test, as well as testing his submission to His will. The man was in the situation of the child who falls down and because someone is with him starts to cry and waits to be picked up. If the same child saw no one he would make the effort and get up by himself. If the angel which accompanied Tobias had said: "I am sent by God to guide you on your journey and preserve you from all danger," then Tobias could claim no merit. In entrusting himself to his companion he would not even have had to think. This is why the angel only made himself known after the return.