Praying in public is a much debated topic. While Jesus did encourage praying in private (Matthew 6:6), he also prayed in public (Matthew 14:19).
Should we say public prayers or keep them private? Let’s turn to the Word of God and find out.
Whenever you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites, because they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by people. I assure you: They’ve got their reward! But when you pray, go into your private room, shut your door, and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. - Matthew 6:5-6
Pharisees Praying In Public
When trying to understand scripture, it is important to read it in context. Try to ignore the numbering of the chapters and verses as those exist to help you memorize passages.Jesus’ warning to pray in private comes after warning against praying for others to see. This was an action the Pharisees practiced so people would think they were closer to God.
Jesus Blesses The Food
When Jesus asks the disciples to feed the 5,000 who followed him into the wilderness, he blessed the food in public.
Then He commanded the crowds to sit down on the grass. He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, He blessed them. He broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. - Matthew 14:19
Jesus didn’t withdraw or find somewhere private to pray. He commanded everyone to sit, then looked up and asked the Father to bless the food.
Early Christians Prayed in Public
The early church written about in Acts is where most pastors will turn to for spiritual guidance. This is the closest indicator for what Jesus called the church to be.
If there is a debate within the church over how we should handle an issue and Acts mentions it, follow that advise!
In Acts, there are two places where public prayer occurs.
All these were continually united in prayer, along with the women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, and His brothers. - Acts 1:14
Then Peter came to himself and said, “Now I know for certain that the Lord has sent His angel and rescued me from Herod’s grasp and from all that the Jewish people expected.” When he realized this, he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John Mark, where many had assembled and were praying. - Acts 12:12
Paul Encourages Timothy to Pray in Public
To a less mature believer, there are times in the Bible when the writings of Paul seem to contradict the Old Testament. There are even some passages that seem to contradict the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John).
This of course is not true. Paul is usually clarifying what those scriptures say. People have been twisting scripture since it was written.
In his first letter to Timothy, Paul mentions praying without anger or quarreling. If you were only meant to pray in private, who would you be quarreling with?
Therefore, I want the men in every place to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or argument. - 1 Timothy 2:8
Motives For Prayer Matter
Whether you are praying in private or in public, Jesus’ warning is the same. It is not where or how you pray that matters, but your motives for praying.
Jesus put a big emphasis on prayer, and told his disciples that you will get what you pray for. The key point people miss when reading these passages is that Jesus qualified it with asking in His will.
Selfish prayers are not heard, nor are they answered. James was the half-brother of Jesus. In the book he wrote, he lays out how to be a mature Christian. He states that prayer should never be selfish.
You ask and don’t receive because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your evil desires. - James 4:3
My Prayer For You
Father in Heaven, I pray that the person reading this understands that if they are in Christ, they are your temple. Wherever they are, they may pray to you if they are praying for your will and not their own selfish desires. May you bless them with wisdom and encourage them to boldly profess their faith in You. Amen.