“Use Not Vain Repetitions”

D. Kelly Ogden, Andrew C. Skinner

As with almsgiving, so with praying. No ostentation. If we pray in order to parade our piety, we are revealing our lack of the same. Those who “sound a trumpet” (3 Nephi 13:2) or give alms to be seen of men are being hypocritical.

As with other religious acts, prayer should be done privately and quietly. “Enter into thy closet” (compare Alma 33:7) may indeed mean our bedrooms and their closets, or—as the New Testament Greek term connotes—our “places of privacy,” whether in our houses, our offices, or our “wilderness” (Alma 34:26).

We are warned against “vain repetitions.” There is nothing wrong with repetition itself. In fact, God teaches us more often than not through repetition. He continually teaches and reteaches, iterates and reiterates, all through the scriptures. And in the holiest classroom on earth, in the house of God, the main method used is repetition. “Vain” repetition is what we are encouraged to avoid.

Are Latter-day Saints guilty of using vain repetitions? Consider the following standard clichés used in Latter-day Saints’ prayers:

“We’re thankful for this day.”

“We’re thankful for the building we have to meet in.”

“We’re grateful for all our many blessings.”

“Bless those who aren’t here this week that they’ll be here next week.”

“Bless the sick and afflicted.”

“Bless us that no harm or accident will befall us.”

“Bless us with all the blessings we stand in need of.”

“Bless the missionaries that they’ll be guided to the honest in heart.”

“Bless us that we’ll strive to incorporate these things into our daily lives.”

“Take us all home in peace and safety.”

Is there anything inherently wrong with any of these phrases? Absolutely not, as long as voicing them is sincere, genuine,and heartfelt. If we will, we can pray, even a long prayer, without multiplying words (3 Nephi 19:24). Heavenly Father knows what we are grateful for and what we need before we ever kneel down. He does not necessarily need to hear it, but we need to say it. We need to express ourselves to him verbally—frequently and regularly.

One day in the Holy Land, Brother Ogden learned an unforgettable lesson about sincere prayer. When his daughter Sara was four years old, he took her on an overnight campout and fishing trip with the Jerusalem Branch Boy Scouts to the northeastern corner of the Sea of Galilee, near the site of ancient Bethsaida, where the Jordan River enters the lake and which from 1948 to 1967 was the border between Israel and Syria. While the boys were out fishing, pulling in some big catfish and maybe a St. Peter’s fish or two, Sara and her father went for a walk about a quarter of a mile west from the camp to find the precise place where the Jordan River flows into the lake.

After some time spent fighting their way through the thick jungle of reeds and tangled undergrowth, knowing that they must be very close to the river, they found it simply impossible to move forward. They were stuck in the middle of the tall thickets of reeds, about eight to ten feet high, unable to see in any direction and hardly able to move.

Brother Ogden was carrying Sara on his shoulders and had by then grown tired, out of energy, and perplexed. Sara suggested, “Daddy, why don’t we pray?”

They folded their arms and prayed, asking Heavenly Father to help them find their way safely out of the thick tangle of vegetation.

They forged on in the general direction of the camp until they came to a barbed-wire fence. Having maneuvered their way over the fence, they looked back. Hanging on the fence was the international triangular sign for a minefield. They had just made their way through a minefield!

Needless to say, Brother Ogden was thankful for a daughter who suggested they pray and to a Father in Heaven who answered their prayer.

The scriptures say this world is a field. These days it is a minefield. How do we avoid stepping in the wrong places, risking getting tangled up in the world’s thick undergrowth or blown to bits by hidden weapons? We make sure we are staying morally clean, avoiding improper reading material and films, studying the scriptures, worshipping in the temple, fasting, keeping the Sabbath Day holy, serving others, and especially praying—frequently and regularly. If we are not doing all those things, we can be sure that we will be stepping into dangerous situations. If we are doing all those things, then we will be “worthy to stand.”

Verse by Verse: The Book of Mormon: Vol. 2