“The posture of standing [in the public prayer of the church] has been objected to by some…as fatiguing to the feeble and inform. But if the officiating minister be tolerably discreet in the length of his prayers, this objection can have little or no force to those who are in ordinary health. It will, surely, rather be a relief than otherwise to stand up ten, or at most, twelve minutes when the sitting posture is to be maintained during almost the entire remainder of the time allotted to the public services.”
-Samuel Miller, Thoughts on Public Prayer (page 127).
Sometimes I wonder if I pray too long in church (and sometimes my congregants tell me I do) but by Miller’s standards I have been excessively discreet.
Prayer by its nature acknowledges the supernatural dimension of creation. There is a God who transcends and upholds the universe, yet is also so immanent as to hear the cries of creation. Prayer presupposes that the transcendent God is not only capable of controlling and altering the mechanics of the universe, but actually does providentially intervene in response to prayer. This is why God’s people can, in confidence, petition him to heal those who are sick. We understand that even if the normal means of healing are ineffective, he can still act and provide restoration to the broken.
But we do not pray for severed arms to regrow. Why not? At first glance this case seems similar to other medical conditions, like terminal cancer: there is an aspect of creation, someone’s body, that is broken and in need of healing, and the available medical resources are inadequate to repair the damage. God can intervene and heal, right? But we don’t pray for the regeneration of a lost limb, and tend to scoff at those who do as acting in futility. It is here that atheists reject prayer as a foolish superstition. It cannot seem to follow its own rules when it matters most and falls into special pleading…