Prayer is an important part of true worship, and we ought to pray to Jehovah regularly. But our prayers should be influenced by Jesus’ sayings in the Sermon on the Mount. He said: “When you pray, you must not be as the hypocrites; because they like to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the broad ways to be visible to men. Truly I say to you, They are having their reward in full.”—Matt. 6:5.
When praying, Jesus’ disciples were not to imitate such “hypocrites” as the self-righteous Pharisees, whose public display of piety was nothing more than a pretense. (Matt. 23:13-32) Those hypocrites liked to pray “standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the broad ways.” Why? So as to be “visible to men.” First-century Jews customarily prayed as a congregation during the time of the burnt offerings at the temple (about nine o’clock in the morning and three o’clock in the afternoon). Many residents of Jerusalem would pray along with a crowd of worshippers in the temple precincts. Outside that city, devout Jews often prayed twice a day while “standing in the synagogues.”—Compare Luke 18:11, 13.
Since most people were not near the temple or a synagogue for the prayers just mentioned, they might pray wherever they happened to be at those times. Some liked to have the times for prayer catch them while they were “on the corners of the broad ways.” They wanted to be “visible to men” who were passing through those intersections. The pious hypocrites would “for a pretext make long prayers” in order to be admired by onlookers. (Luke 20:47) That is not the attitude that we should have.
Jesus declared that such hypocrites were “having their reward in full.” They greatly desired recognition and praise from fellow humans—and that was all they would get. It would be their full reward, for Jehovah would not answer their hypocritical prayers. On the other hand, God would respond to the prayers of Christ’s true followers, as shown by Jesus’ further statement on this subject.
“You, however, when you pray, go into your private room and, after shutting your door, pray to your Father who is in secret; then your Father who looks on in secret will repay you.” (Matt. 6:6) Jesus’ admonition to pray in a private room after shutting the door did not mean that someone could not represent a congregation in prayer. This counsel was meant to discourage public prayer that was offered to call attention to the one praying and to elicit praise from others. We should remember this if we are privileged to represent God’s people in public prayer. Let us also comply with Jesus’ further admonition respecting prayer.
“When praying, do not say the same things over and over again, just as the people of the nations do, for they imagine they will get a hearing for their use of many words.” (Matt. 6:7) Jesus thus cited another abuse of prayer—repetition. He did not mean that we should never repeat heartfelt pleas and expressions of thanksgiving in prayer. In the garden of Gethsemane on the night before he died, Jesus repeatedly used “the same word” in prayer.—Mark 14:32-39.
It would be wrong for us to mimic the repetitious prayers of “people of the nations.” “Over and over again,” they repeat memorized phrases that include many unnecessary words. It did worshippers of Baal no good to call upon the name of that false god “from morning till noon, saying: ‘O Baal, answer us!’” (1 Ki. 18:26) Millions today offer wordy, repetitious prayers, thinking in vain that they “will get a hearing.” But Jesus helps us to realize that the “use of many words” in long and repetitious prayers is of no value from Jehovah’s standpoint. Jesus further said:
“So, do not make yourselves like them, for God your Father knows what things you are needing before ever you ask him.” (Matt. 6:8) Many Jewish religious leaders made themselves like the Gentiles through excessive wordiness when praying. Heartfelt prayer that includes praise, thanksgiving, and petition is an important part of true worship. (Phil. 4:6) Yet, it would be wrong for us to say the same things over and over again with the thought that repetition is necessary to tell God about our needs. When we pray, we should remember that we are addressing the One who ‘knows what we need before ever we ask him.’
Jesus’ sayings about unacceptable prayers should remind us that God is not impressed by high-sounding speech and superfluous words. We should also realize that public prayer is not an occasion to try to impress listeners or cause them to wonder how long it will be before we say “Amen.” Using prayer to make announcements or to counsel the audience would also be out of harmony with the spirit of Jesus’ sayings in the Sermon on the Mount.