Jesus warned about two ways of praying wrongly before providing a pattern of prayer for His disciples. I skipped these preparatory points in order to talk about “Our Father” when I was preaching about kids in worship. But these unsuitable practices are to be avoided.
“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)
Don’t be a hypocrite, meaning, don’t be an actor who looks like he is depending on God in prayer who is actually just stepping to the front of a stage. Don’t pretend to honor God while actually just showing off. In prayer we want something from God, but hypocrites seek acclaim from men whether or not they think they’ll get an answer from God.
Two more observations. First, this is not a prohibition from praying in public, it is a prohibition against not depending on God and instead wanting to be seen by others. Jesus prayed alone and He prayed with others around, so it can’t be sin by definition. But it is easy for sinners to take a good thing and distort it for their own glory.
Second, the result of proper praying is not being seen by God and receiving answers to our prayers, at least not according to verse 8. Jesus said “your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” There is reward that comes from God when we pray in faith, not in pretense or even based on our precision. It pleases the Father just to be asked. We’re too often concerned about managing where the drops of water will fall while He’s ready to open up the spigot.