I’ve known some people who use this verse to support the mindset that we don’t need to pray during worship, at dinner tables, etc. The important thing to understand with this scripture, and all scripture for that matter, is that taken out of context you only get half the story.
This verse is in the middle of Jesus teaching how to properly behave as the people of God. We are not so much to “only pray in private,” but rather, when we pray it should be GENUINE.
In Jesus’ day (and still today!) many would pray in public, using fancy words and trying to outdo one another with their oratory skills... as if God would like them more if they prayed a certain way. I gotta tell you, There’s no secret password with God. No magical formula, or word combination, to pray “properly”.
This direction to pray “privately” is to enable and train us to pray earnestly, or honestly, and without much ado. You see, with God our prayer is about what lay beneath any such fancy words... God sees right into our hearts.
One should never pray to show off... but always to show God what is troubling them, what they’re struggling with, or giving thanks for what brings them joy.
Sorry to tell you, but you’re not exactly off the hook for praying in public — especially when in fellowship with other believers. And, when you pray, don’t try and sound too fancy, after all, remember that God hears you before you ever speak a word.
PRAYER: God, help me to focus more on you, and less on impressing others. You are the only one who needs to hear my prayer, and no matter what words I use, they are good enough for you because you love to hear what’s going on in my life. Help me to remember that yours is the only opinion that matters, and forgive me when I forget. Amen.