“What does it mean to ‘multiply words’ in our prayers?” Ensign, Mar. 1980, 42
We have been counseled not to “multiply words” in our prayers. What exactly does that mean?
Keith L. Sellers, coordinator, Department of Religion, Ricks College To multiply means to increase or add to. To multiply words means to unnecessarily add words to words. The counsel that we not multiply words in our prayers suggests that we speak sincerely with our Father in Heaven, avoiding empty, padding words and phrases used only to impress listeners or to lengthen the prayer. It means to avoid vain repetitions.
Elder Bruce R. McConkie has explained that public prayers (those offered by a person acting as mouth for a group or congregation) “should be short and ordinarily should contain no expressions except those which pertain to the needs and circumstances surrounding the particular meeting then involved. They are not sermons or occasions to disclose the oratorical or linguistic abilities of the one acting as mouth.” (Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed., Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1966, p. 582) President Francis M. Lyman said: “We ought to take into account the occasion, and let the prayer be suited exactly to it. Sometimes our habits may control us more strongly than the Spirit of the Lord. … Offer short prayers, and avoid vain repetitions.” (Quoted in McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, p. 583) In general, this is an excellent guideline for not multiplying words in public prayer.
However, I understand that, within reason, there should be no time limit on private prayers. How, then, can an individual pray privately for long periods of time without “multiplying” words? And during a fast, how can one pray for a particular blessing several times throughout the day without repeating words? How can we follow the Savior’s injunction to avoid vain repetitions (see Matt. 6:7) when we are told to pray both individually and as a family at least every night and morning?
The ideal situation is described in the Book of Mormon account of Christ’s ministry among the Nephites. When his disciples prayed, “they did not multiply many words, for it was given unto them what they should pray, and they were filled with desire.” (3 Ne. 19:24) Inspired by the Spirit of the Lord, and “filled with desire,” the disciples prayed with real intent. Their words were vehicles for their thoughts and feelings, not decorations for them. Instead of thinking about the words they were using, they simply allowed the thoughts of their hearts to flow forth.
If we realize that our Father in Heaven is actually listening, and if we are actually thinking about and feeling what we are saying, we will be less likely to needlessly multiply or repeat empty words and phrases. We, too, will then allow the Spirit to inspire us as we pray, and every thought will be meaningful.
Other suggestions on how we can pray effectively include—
1. Preparing ourselves spiritually. Sometimes this will involve fasting or counseling with a priesthood leader. Meditation, reading the scriptures, and pondering the significance of prayer are helpful.
2. Asking for specific, not general, blessings. Our Father knows what is best for us, but he also desires that we ask him for it. He has promised that we will receive if we ask. (See D&C 88:63.)
3. Being as specific in expressing gratitude as in asking for blessings. Sincere gratitude will make it impossible for us to pray without thinking. “And in nothing doth man offend God, or against none is his wrath kindled, save those who confess not his hand in all things, and obey not his commandments.” (D&C 59:21)
4. Living as we covenant to live in prayer. It is extremely difficult to pray sincerely when we have not lived sincerely.