The word ‘preventing’ in contemporary American English means to keep something from happening. When it comes to God, we human beings, I most especially, do practically everything to keep God at a far distance, to prevent him from doing or saying anything. As Paul writes, “No one seeks God” (Rom 3:10). Seeking God would mean finding him, and that would be catastrophic. And so, rather than seeking, we prevent him.
But preventing used to mean to go before. It was the word Christian thinkers used to describe God’s work of regeneration, the changing of stubborn, hardened, grumbling stone cold hearts into slightly less stubborn and moderately less grumbly hearts of flesh. This Preventing Grace is how the Father draws sinners to repentance and faith in his Son Jesus. And it is also how God continues to carry us throughout our lives, preventing us by grace, so that we, despite our efforts to prevent him, remain with him to the last day.
“Prevent us, O Lord, in all our doings with thy most gracious favor, and further us with thy continual help; that in all our works, begun, continued, and ended in thee, we may glorify thy holy name, and finally by thy mercy obtain everlasting life; through Jesus Christ Our Lord.” (Book of Common Prayer 1662)