When the LORD had finished speaking with Abraham, he left, and Abraham returned home.Genesis 18:33
This verse does not say,
The Lord went his way when Abraham had finished speaking to Him. It says,
When He had finished speaking to Abraham. In other words, Abraham did not quit here, God did. The verse suggests that God initiated this whole conversation with Abraham and led him along all through it, and when he had responded in fullness as God desired, God terminated the dialogue and went His way. So Abraham was not asking God to do something for him; it was God who prayed in Abraham and set the limits of the conversation.
This agrees fully with what we read in the New Testament about prayer. In Romans Paul says,
We do not know what we ought to pray for (Romans 8:26b). Do you know what to pray for about yourself or anyone else? No, you do not.
But, he says,
the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit (Romans 8:26c-27).
Admittedly, in talking about prayer, we are treading at the edge of mystery, but through the mists, certain things are clear from this account of Abraham's prayer: Prayer makes possible, first of all, the joy of partnership. Did you ever see a little boy come into the house and say to his mother,
I'm going to help Daddy!? He is filled with pride about it, and he goes out and passes up nails and holds the boards and pounds his fingers. Daddy could have done the job better by himself, but he loves to have his son help him. And the son loves it, too. There is a sense of partnership there. This is what prayer does. Through true prayer, God never moves entirely on His own. He loves to gather us in and have us help pound the nails. If we pound our fingers a little bit, He is there to soothe us.
Prayer also enables us to appropriate the character of God. Abraham is never more like God than at the moment he is praying for Sodom. His prayer did not save the city, and it was never intended to do so, but it did make Abraham manifest in his own life the mercy and the compassion of God. This is why God asks us to pray, that we might take upon ourselves something of His own character.
The third consideration: Prayer focuses the power of God on an individual place or person. Although Abraham had never mentioned Lot by name, God remembered Abraham and saved Lot (19:29). I don't know why prayer makes such a difference, but I know it does. You can plan a program, think through all the details, set up all the committees, get all the things you need, instruct everybody, and rehearse it, and at the final presentation it may fall totally flat. But if you involve others in the ministry of prayer concerning the program, though the preparations may be similar, the difference in the presentation is that it comes with power, with impact, and with full strength, and lives are changed.
Father, I see that prayer is not a means by which I dictate to You or summon You to do what my will is, but rather it is the means by which I put my shoulder to the wheel to which Your shoulder is put and am enlisted in a partnership with You in Your great endeavors on earth.
Do we think of our prayers as opportunity to summon God to our agenda? Are we learning that true prayer is our response to God's summons to partner with Him?