5 And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.
There are two main concepts in these verses:
1) That prayer should be private;
2) That prayer should be focused.
The first concept is nearly identical to the counsel given regarding the giving of alms in the preceding verses - and I wrote about that aspect of private giving last month. ("Do Not Your Alms Before Men") Therefore, I will not repeat regarding prayer what I have written already regarding alms. Rather, I want to focus on the second concept, since I previously have not stopped and analyzed "vain repetitions" quite like I did in preparing to write this post.
Throughout our entire canon, the phrase "vain repetitions" is found only twice - in the Sermon on the Mount in the verses quotes above and in the repeat of the Sermon on the Mount given to the Nephites in the Book of Mormon. That is fascinating in and of itself, since there is NO other scriptural commentary on the concept.
I have heard many explanations in my life about the phrase, "vain repetitions". I have heard it dissected in numerous ways, but I haven't taken a step back and analyzed it SOLELY based on what the actual words in these verses say - parsing those words and only those words. The result of doing so for this post surprised me, and I hope it helps those who read this. With that in mind, the exact words immediately following the admonition to "use not vain repetitions" are:
for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.
Those words are followed by the following explanation as to why "much speaking" is not required:
That is fascinating, and it recasts "vain repetitions" for me in an empowering and simplifying way. In fact, what I want to express most clearly here is that I believe I have over-analyzed and over-complicated this concept all my life.
The central concept in this passage is simple and straightforward, and I am going to re-order the words in order to make my point. For myself, the counsel became:
Heavenly Father knows what you need, so don't bother saying long, complicated, fancy or showy prayers. Don't speak much. Focus on what you really want to say, then say it.
The underlying message of the "keep it secret" request is that prayer is NOT for others; it's for you and God - and only for you and God. (There can be a collective "you" when praying as a representative of a group, but the concept is identical.) If it's not for others, prayer should be natural and straightforward and no longer than necessary. There's no need to repeat anything; there's no need to complicate anything; there is need ONLY to communicate your needs to your Father.
He won't "hear" words said in order to please or impress others; He will "hear" words said directly and personally to Him. So, KISS - "Keep it simple, stupid". Know what you want to say before you start ("Study it out in your mind."), then simply say it. He knows what you need anyway, so use prayer as a way to figure it out for yourself - then share that with Him, concisely and precisely, sincerely and privately.
He will hear and answer that - with either silent acceptance or with active input. That is up to Him.