(excerpt from Warfare Witness: Contending with Spiritual Opposition in Everyday Evangelism, Chapter 7, “The Weapon of Prayer”)
Seeing how God acts in daily existence helps us to see the place of prayer. God works in two ways, immediately and mediately. When He acts immediately, God directly acts to do something. For example, when Jesus turned the water into wine He did so immediately, without an intermediary such as grapes or fermentation. When God acts mediately, He uses means. An illustration of this would be when he parted the Red Sea at the time of the Exodus from Egypt. God did not just instantly part the sea and dry a pathway for the escape of His people. Rather, He caused a wind to blow throughout the night to cause the separation. That wind was a means, showing God’s control over elements of nature to effect His purposes. Even God’s use of means carried His intention to work in the hearts of all involved and to set the stage for His purposes for which all things work together.
Here’s where the nitty meets the gritty when it comes to our prayer for the advancement of God’s kingdom and the accomplishment of His mission. Prayer is a means by which God enfolds us into the outworking of His eternal plan. Prayer is God’s means for God’s ends. God executes His plan and accomplishes His purposes through the mediation of our prayers as His people. Prayer is intended by God to engage us in the accomplishment of His purposes for His own glory and goals.
We can put it this way: in the majesty and scope of God’s design, in praying we can expect God to do something He would not have done had we not prayed. That statement seems to verge on blasphemy. God dependent on me? May it never be! God waits on no man. God’s hands are not tied by my prayerlessness. God cannot be limited. Plus, didn’t we say that His sovereignty is absolute and unaffected, i.e., not contingent on anything outside of Himself?
We can say that in praying we can expect God to do something He would not have done had we not prayed, not to limit God but to exalt the glory of His unfathomable providence that governs all causes, mediate and immediate. In other words, to suggest God waits on our prayers does not make God smaller. It makes Him bigger than we could ever possibly fathom. Who is like God, governing means and ends, including the acts and prayers of His creatures, without violating their free agency and still maintaining their responsibility and culpability? Yet that is exactly the way God works and the way He shows us He works both in history and in His use of prayer—our prayers. We can take it even a step further: God’s sovereign plan not only does not invalidate responsible action, it establishes it because that is the way God has designed things. Prayer does work, not as an outside influence but in purposed congruence in God’s eternal plan.