“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. [Matthew 6:5-6 ESV]
At first blush, this seems like an open and shut case against public prayer of any kind. But is it really? What did Jesus do? Did he ever pray in public?
*And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone [Matthew 14:23 ESV]
*In these days he went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God. [Luke 6:12 ESV]
*And after he had taken leave of them, he went up on the mountain to pray. [Mark 6:46 ESV]
*Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. [Mark 1:35]
In these verses, It seems Jesus practiced what He preached. Whenever Jesus prayed, He did so privately whenever possible. It was a one on one communion with God.
But what of the Lord’s Prayer [Matthew 6:9-13]? Didn’t He pray this in front of His disciples? Absolutely not. This was not a prayer to God. He was merely giving His disciples an example of how to pray. The Lord’s Prayer was never actually meant to be a communication with God at the time it was spoken.
So as far as public prayer is concerned, I vote, “nay”. Even in church or around like-minded individuals. “Synagogues” and “street corners” could just as easily be “churches” and “ballparks”. But if you must pray in public, do so as if no one else but God is listening.
And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. [Matthew 6:7]