When Jesus turned water into wine at the wedding in Cana, he was responding to his mother’s pointed words to him: “they have no wine”.
Given the fact that he chose to rectify the situation, his apparent rebuff doesn’t seem to make sense:
“Woman” sounds rude to us, but the Gospels demonstrate that it was Jesus’ usual way of speaking to women, including (again) his mother when, from the cross, he commends her to the care of the beloved disciple. Even the angels address Mary Magdalene as “woman”. It is a perfectly respectful term.
Nonetheless, Jesus seems to be saying a pretty clear No to any suggestion that he should do something about the situation. His mind, and his concern, are elsewhere – focused on the climax of his ministry at the cross.
But Mary doesn’t take this No for an answer. She turns to the servants and instructs them to do whatever Jesus tells them. She assumes that her request has been properly heard and will be properly acted upon. To translate this into our terms, she believes that her prayer is heard and will make a difference.
Making a difference is important. Mary’s “intercession” with Jesus on behalf of the bride and groom makes a difference to the wedding celebration. If Mary had not brought the need to Jesus, it would have gone unmet. More than that, without her intercession the miracle would (presumably) never have taken place and Jesus’ glory (see John 2.11) would not at that stage have been revealed. Her prayers changed things.
Douglas Gresham is the stepson of C. S. Lewis. After his American parents divorced, his mother moved to England with Douglas and her other son and embarked on a relationship with Lewis which would culminate in marriage.
Sent home from boarding school, Douglas found his mother dying of cancer. For a ten-year-old boy the cumulative effect of all this was overwhelming. He turned to God. Walking into the churchyard of Holy Trinity Headington, he found himself surrounded by the powerful presence of God, a presence which he sensed to be grieving, both for his mother and for him. The Presence told him that, if he could not face life without his mother, she could go on living – he only had to ask.
He went into the church, knelt at the altar and prayed fervently that his mother should be allowed to live. That night, she went into a remission which lasted for four years.
Then she became ill again; it was clear that she was dying, and everybody knew she was dying. Douglas went again to the churchyard of Holy Trinity, not expecting that anything particular would happen, but he experienced the same presence of God, telling him the same thing as last time: if he really couldn’t live without his mother, she could go on living. But this time he decided that at the age of fourteen he was much stronger than at the age of ten, he had Lewis and his brother as friends and supporters, he could cope if his mother died. He prayed that God’s will be done and left the churchyard. Three days later his mother died.
Our prayers make a difference. God has made space in his dealings with us and in his plans for the world for a variety of outcomes. He has left us room to choose; he invites us to make requests, to make choices, and to shape events. Our prayers even have a part to play in revealing his glory.
 See Gresham’s account in The Church of England Newspaper, 27th June 2008.