Question about Prayer and Sovereignty

I will “seed” this open guitar case [Please see AskRob at the top and/or right and hover your pointer over the the button/link to see what that category is for] with a few bucks here by uploading some question dialogs that I have had as of late with some mates from the class I teach. Here is one:

Howdy Rob,

Thanks for sending the extra notes, I’ve been slowing reading through them and it’s been great!  These came at a perfect time because I’ve been wanting something new to read/study in the morning and this has been very structured & challenging which I like.

As for my questions, I hope I can word them in a way that makes sense.  Also, if you’ve already answered them in class, I apologize, sometimes when I’m taking in a lot of new info, I don’t absorb everything right away. So here goes…(oh and please no rush on these, I realize you are very busy!)

(1) After learning about the attributes of God, I felt confused about the purpose of prayer, or whether it is ok to pray for things (like for someone who is sick, or for help with finances, etc).  To clarify, what I mean: Is the purpose of prayer to help open our eyes to the path God has laid out for us and open our hearts to align to His will as opposed for asking for things to change?  I know it is always good to praise/thank God, and I often pray that He would guide my steps & show me what is true because I want to do what is right.  Or if I am angry I tell God about it and ask for help to process it correctly, or if I really want something (want not need), I might mention it in prayer and then pray that God would show me what He wants in that area and change my heart to match His.

But for example this week, [my daughter] is sick for the first time (horrible!!!) & I have been praying for peaceful sleep for her & quick healing.  I don’t know how to explain my question about this type of prayer, but basically I’m wondering if this is the right way to pray about the situation and if not, what is?  Is it ever ok to ask specifically for something that is wanted (like her getting well or for us to be able to afford for me to continue to stay home)?  And if not, how do we pray about these kinds of things?  Likewise, I am not even sure about praying for someones salvation in light of election. Which leads to my next question.

(2) I’ve always avoided any conversations about election or predestination because they often become divisive.  But what I’ve always wondered is if election matches the definition I found in the NET bible notes (http://net.bible.org/strong.php?id=1589) then why do we (a) pray for other’s salvation or (b) how does missionary work fit in with this?  I just feel very confused about this topic in general.  For my entire childhood we prayed for my Jewish grandmother to accept Christ as her Savior and she finally did a month before she died; as a child I saw this as an answer to prayer.  But is she was always “chosen” were our prayers necessary?  Or when I was able to go on various mission trips and share the gospel, those were some of the best times of my life; it felt completely right to go out & share the gospel with others.  But if some are already chosen, then technically does it matter?  Or is it just an issue of obedience?

(3) This last questions is one of those that a lot of non-Christians use argumentatively, but I really do wonder about it (and I may have mis-understood you when you went over this briefly).  What happens to people who have never heard the gospel?  I often wondered this as a child, and was always told (mostly in Southern Baptist churches) that if people sought God or Truth, then God would bring the gospel to them.  This was reinforced by various stories of missionaries coming across jungle tribes that already knew about Jesus through a vision or something like that.  Or individual stories about someone in a foreign country being brought up under a false religion seeking truth and being brought into contact with a Christian who share the gospel with them.  So now I guess I’m wondering if this was just wishful thinking, but if it was, that confuses me because I was always taught everyone would at least get a chance to say yes or no to Jesus.  I’m realizing now that maybe that was human teaching & not biblical teaching, but if this is so, I think I feel bummed out about it.  And in relation to this question what about babies that die?  I was always taught they went to heaven because they had not reached the age of accountability.  I am actually really hoping this is true, but if it is, what is this “age of accountability” and where are its biblical references?

Thanks!