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Theology

One Way You Shouldn’t be Like Jesus

Jesus never wrote anything. He hung out, and talked, and healed. But if his followers had only done that, we wouldn’t know even that about him. Both-And, not Either-Or. And some people more one than the other.

– John Piper

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Life

Persevering in Prayer

Here’s the last post about petitioning God in prayer.  As promised, I will have the remainder of the TULIP series in the coming days.  These posts on prayer have seemed more important to me at the moment.

Praying with you,
james

Definition: Enduring in prayer so that I pray until I get an answer and blessings, not the ones that satisfy my selfishness, but ones that satisfy my longings to see God glorified in the outcome so that I get the most joy.

When we persevere in our prayers (or pray constantly, with endurance, or unceasingly, or always, etc) we are essentially putting our complete trust the Lord. We are going to him helplessly and presenting our requests to God. When we persevere, our faith and hope is in him. In essence, we are not losing heart. We can go to God and persevere because we know he is omniscient and omnipotent. He will not leave us out to dry. We can know, if we are a true child of God that we can say “Praise God” for a prayer request that happens and say “Praise God” for a prayer request that does not happen. Both happen because God wills and he wants to work everything together for our good (Rom. 8:28). If something doesn’t happen that we ask for, something better is in God’s mind. Something greater is on the way. For these reasons, we can persevere in prayer and pray continually.

  • Genesis 32:22-32, Jacob wrestles with God. Just as God said to Moses, “Leave me alone,” he said to Jacob, “Let me go, for the day has broken.” Jacob would not let God go. He was persistent. He persevered. He said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” Jacob was not going to give up in his pursuit of God’s blessing. He literally wrestled with God physically. How much more should we spiritually wrestle with the Lord when we have requests to ask or sins to deal with? 
  • 1 Kings 18:41-46 is also a great example of perseverance. When Elijah was praying fervently for rain, he sent his servant up the mountain to look over the sea to check if there was any rain coming. Elijah asked his servant to do this seven times! He would not take “no” for an answer. He was persistent and he persevered. This is not to say that God will do everything we want if we just keep asking him, but it does mean that if we do not see an answer (as Elijah’s servant did not regarding the rain) we can, with faith in God’s sovereignty and faithfulness, that he will tell us yes or no or (continue to) wait.
  • Luke 18:1-8 is about the parable of the persistent widow. Verse 1 says: “And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.”
  • Acts 1:14, “All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer.” The apostles and followers of Jesus were getting together to pray for guidance and for boldness. They wanted to be unified and preach the gospel. They were “devoted” to it.
  • Romans 12:12, “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant (endure) in prayer.” To persevere in prayer simply means to be constant, to not give up, or to be continually in conversation with the Lord about certain issues. Here, in Romans 12, praying is connected to rejoicing in hope and being patient in tribulation. These three are paired up possibly because when we are hoping in the Lord, we rejoice in him and communicate that, in prayer, to him. In tribulations, we must endure patiently, and communicate, in prayer, trust in the Lord that he is in control and has our best good in mind. Those things are mentioned first, as indicators of what we need to pray. “Rejoice! Be patient! Pray about these things all the time.” Hope and tribulation are two opposite things. Paul urges the Romans that even in the most plentiful and most desperate situations we must pray to the Lord and love him despite of the circumstances. 
  • Ephesians 6:18, “Praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication for all the saints.” Here we are urged to pray for the saints at all times. We should pray specific prayers for believers that we know and are close to. We should also pray sweeping prayers for the world of believer that we will never meet.
  • Colossians 4:2, “Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.” Paul urges the Colossians to unwaveringly in pray. “Don’t lose heart! Don’t give up! Be on your guard in prayer by giving thanks always, lest you become selfish and ungrateful.” We must have an attitude of thanksgiving in our prayers. It keeps us humble and the more humble we are, the more we will want to go to God in prayer. There more we will want to go to God in prayer, the more we will pray and persevere.
  • 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” This verse connects rejoicing and giving thanks with prayer. Again, we express both of these things to God in prayer. We can sing songs, yes, but those are nothing more than prayers set to music. Most of the Psalms are prayers, but when they were written, they may have been temple praise songs.
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Life

Holy Arguments in Prayer

Definition: Presenting requests fully based on Scripture and trusting God to grant requests based on his character and promises, not demanding God based on my situation.

There are so many examples of holy arguments in Scripture that we don’t have time nor space to take them all in. We will use three examples, with various verses from the Psalms as examples of things David or others said to present their requests to God. We must remember that holy argument is not about convincing God that our request is righteous; it’s about convincing ourselves by testing our requests against Scripture to see if it is righteous. We must also remember again that if the answer to our request is “No” there is nothing wrong with God. Sometimes, in his wisdom and knowledge, he chooses to not give us something because it will not be best for us (Rom. 8:28). We should thank him, instead, if the answer is no because it will keep us from danger, give us something greater, lead us to something we would have never expected, etc.

Exodus 32:7-14, God wanted to destroy the Israelites after they had built a golden calf after God gave Moses the Ten Commandments. God’s anger was burning “hot against them.” Moses offers these arguments to God for not destroying them:

  1. The Egyptians will say that God had evil intent to rescue the Israelites, just so he could kill them in the wilderness (v. 12). Why give the Egyptians fuel? God’s very character is at stake here-his motives and intentions. It wouldn’t be consistent of God to rescue the Israelites from Egypt and then destroy them in the desert.
  2. God promised the Patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) that their descendants would be great (v. 13). If God destroys the Israelites now, the Patriarchs will no longer have descendants and therefore, God would be a liar. Again, Moses argues by appealing to God’s character and shows the inconsistency that would exist if God were to destroy the Jews.

This may seem like God changed his mind-or that Moses changed God’s mind. In a sense, God is repenting (= turning) from his first desires. First Samuel 15 talks about this in a different light-not in the sphere of prayer. It says that God regretted (repented of) making Saul the king. Piper says that God still has foreknowledge because, like a father, he can ordain something (like spanking a child) and rejoice in the righteousness of that act, yet at the same time be remorseful because it is a hard thing to do. If a father who is human can have a combination of complex emotions, how much more can an infinite God have that kind of emotional construct?  In this passage, God says to Moses, “Leave me alone.” This is similar to the fight between God and Jacob when God said, “Let me go!” When God says something like that in Scripture, he doesn’t really mean it. He really means, “Stay with me. Don’t give up.”

2 Chronicles 20:5-12, King Jehoshaphat prays for God’s guidance, strength and protection against the Ammonites and the Moabites. The situation was so intense that Jehoshaphat was afraid to set his face to seek the Lord (v. 3). Perhaps, he was afraid of what the Lord might have called him to do. The holy argument comes during his prayer. He argues:

  1. “Are you not God in heaven?” (v. 6), He argued the point that God is the only all-powerful one. If they cannot count on him, who can they count on?
  2. “Did you not, our God, drive out the inhabitants of this land before your people Israel?” (v. 7), Jehoshaphat argued that God had already done something greater-driving the people out of this land to give it to the Jews.
  3. “O our God, will you not execute judgment on them? (v. 12), He pleaded with the Lord for judgment. God is a righteous, just God and he cannot handle sin. He will stand for his people and this situation is very urgent for the Israelites.

We must appeal to God’s character. These arguments are very God-centered. Notice, Jehoshaphat does not say things like: “O Lord, we need this. Do this for us because we are afraid!” “God, our people need to be comforted and things are stressful. Do this, Lord!” or “I expect you to do this God because you promised to keep us from the enemy.” Those are very man-centered, non-eternal perspective prayers. God wants us to trust in his character, love, grace, mercy, justice, and wrath in our prayers. He is the reason for everything happening-good or bad things. May we thank him no matter what the outcome.

Matthew 15:21-28, This woman is not doing what we think of as “praying,” yet she is communicating with the Lord Jesus-she is talking to him. Our discussion here about holy argument will be brief, as this passage has already been discussed (see above for how this passages relates to faith in prayer). In Ephesians 2:14, Paul writes that there was a “wall of hostility” between the Gentiles and God’s people before Christ. This episode in Matthew 15 was before Christ had died-Jesus’ first task was to preach to the Jews. This is why he said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” It was not so much that Jesus was ignoring this woman, but rather he was testing her to see what kind of blessing she wanted. If she had wanted the blessing promised to Israel, Jesus would have sent her away, like the disciples asked. Yet, she persisted with (great) faith) and said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” This reveals a few things:

  1. The woman did not expect to get the blessing that was promised to Israel. She was content to benefit from the overflow (the crumbs). “Yes, Lord, I know that I am just like a begging dog-but even a master’s dog needs to survive on the crumbs.” This shows her humility and knowledge that she deserved nothing.
  2. The woman presumed to be a dog at a master’s table-not a mutt dog on the streets digging through garbage. This shows her knowledge that she is not too far gone to be blessed. Paul warned the Colossians against this. In Colossae, people were evidently defrauding (ESV=disqualifying) themselves of worshiping God because they felt too depraved and didn’t think they could go directly to the Mediator, Jesus Christ. Instead, they prayed to angels (Col. 2:16-23) and practiced asceticism, which is the abstinence of any kind of pleasure.
  3. The women understood that it was God’s character to bless those who sought him. This woman’s argument is accepted by the Lord because it falls within the bounds of God’s will to reach the Gentiles after he reached the Jews. Why did God go to the Jews first? Only he knows, for such was “according to his gracious will” (Matt. 11:26, when Jesus rejoiced that the Father had hidden things from some and revealed them to little children). God did not only reach out to Jews throughout the history of redemption. Some of the people God used: Pharaoh’s daughter to raise Moses, Rahab when she protected the Jewish spies in Canaan, Ruth who is named in the lineage of Jesus, King Artaxerxes when he let Nehemiah and other Jews return to Jerusalem after the exile, and so many more. Even Luke, the author of Luke and Acts, was not a Jew. Timothy was not a full Jew either; he was not circumcised as a child. God purpose was to reach Jews first, but the blessings were not limited to them. She knew that if she persisted with faith, Jesus would give her some kind of extra, second blessing.

There are many verses from Psalms that gives us practical holy arguments. Here is a list of verses and a quick explanation:

  1. Psalm 4:1, “Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness! You have given me relief when I was in distress. Be gracious to me and hear my prayer!” David is pleading for God to answer him because in the past God rescued him-based on God’s past performance for David.
  2. Psalm 13:3, “Consider and answer me, O Lord, my God; light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death, lest my enemy say, ‘I have prevailed over him,’ lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.” David asks for God’s help because, otherwise, wicked men will prevail and have success; God doesn’t strive with the wicked.
  3. Psalm 35:1, “Contend, O Lord, with those who contend with me; fight against those who fight against me!” God partners with the righteous and opposes the wicked-David is asking for God to fight for him based on his character trait of his loving righteousness and hating evil.
  4. Psalm 51:1, “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.” David is asking for forgiveness. He appeals to God’s compassion and love. God is a God who forgives if we confess and repent. He cannot not forgive if we do those things.
  5. Psalm 83:1-2, “O God, do not keep silence; do not hold your peace or be still, O God! For behold, your enemies make an uproar; those who hate you have raised their heads.” Asaph is crying to God for help in the midst of fighting enemies. God will not be challenged or tested by evil men.
  6. Psalm 105:8, “He remembers his covenant forever, the word that he commanded, for a thousand generations.” God remembers what he promises. He has promised surety for those who are in him; we can ask God for that. He has promised joy for those who seek their delight in him; ask him for joy. He has promised comfort to those who are hurting; we can ask for comfort. (The entire chapter 105 of Psalm is about telling of God’s wondering works…we can tell of what God did for the Noah, Moses, David, Elijah, Daniel, Paul, and Peter.)
  7. Psalm 115:1, “Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness.” David appeals to God’s steadfast love and faithfulness to glorify himself. We can apply this to any situation. God will always glorify himself. We can ask for something, but our heart’s motive should be that God is glorified and we receive extreme joy in him. Let not just our mouths say “To Your name give glory” but let our hearts actually mean it with reverence and humility.

 

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Life

Faith in Prayer

Definition: Trusting the Lord to do wholly what I ask if it’s in his name and in his will, both for his glory and for my joy.

We must have a word of caution before we begin our discussion on faith: We need to be careful, lest we slip into the “word of faith” belief or the “name it, claim it” gospel. We never want to be demanders of God. We can only be requesters. We should pray with faith, not demanding God to grant our requests because of our great faith or because of our needs or desires, but to expect God to grant our requests based on his character, grace, mercy, compassion, and love if our requests line up with his will. And we must remember that even if our requests are pure and godly, God may still choose to not give us what we ask for. Romans 8:28 says that, “Everything works together for good for those who love God and are called according to his purpose.” In the end, we must rise and say, “God, thank you for making this happen the way you did. For such was according to your glorious will.”

With that said, the Bible makes it clear that there are degrees of faith. In Romans 12, talking about being humble, Paul says that we should do this “according to the measure of faith you have received.” God is in charge of everything — even the amount of faith we receive.

In Matthew 15:21-28, there is a woman whose daughter was demon-possessed. She makes a holy argument by saying “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” What initiated this argument, though? Verse 28 makes it clear: “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” First of all, this woman agreed with Jesus, “You are right. I’m nothing. I am a pet dog, yes. I’m not worthy, Lord, but even dogs get to eat the crumbs that fall to the ground.” Mark 7 gives us insight to this passage. Jesus said in verse 27, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” This indicates there is a first feasting. If there is a first, then there must be a second! This woman wanted the overflow of the blessings that Jesus gives. She knew she wasn’t worthy of the first servings because she was a Gentile, but she was more than willing to settle for the seconds-the crumbs that fell to the ground. Her faith that there were seconds-and that they were just as satisfying as the meal-impressed Jesus.

From Matthew 15 and Mark 7, we have seven conclusions:

  1. There are degrees of faith. As Jesus said, “Great is your faith.”
  2. Great faith initiates holy arguments. Holy arguments are the evidence of great faith.
  3. Great faith is accompanied by a humble spirit of unworthiness.
  4. Great faith asks for undeserved rewards. Given based on God’s character and goodness, not our worthiness.
  5. There is a special kind of grace (the feast) for God’s children and a general kind of grace (the crumbs) for unsaved people.
  6. The blessings that overflow (the crumbs) from God’s children to Gentiles should be all-satisfying. The crumbs should lead people to the table where the full feast is.
  7. God takes delight and marvels when people have great faith.

Matthew 17:14-21 is another example of the amount of faith having an outcome in prayer. The disciples could not cast out a demon in a young boy. A father brought his son to Jesus’ disciples and they could not heal him. Jesus said to them, “O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him here to me.” Afterward, the disciples came to Jesus and asked why they couldn’t cast it out. Jesus replied, “Because of your little faith.” This is uncomfortable. It makes it seem as if we can say, “I believe fully! Do it Lord! Heal him!” I don’t believe in faith healers, going around and casting out demons and cancer. But I do believe that God does miracles and when his people demonstrate great faith, God will do mighty things. When God’s people–not by their own manufacturing–have great faith, God will do miracles. Some manuscripts insert verse 21 in this passage, which says, “But this kind never comes out except by prayer and fasting.” This shows signs of fervency and perseverance. It shows a sign of dedication to the Lord. It is not the fact that we are fasting and praying that drives out a demon. It is the grace and mercy of God that is applied to the situation because of the faith he works in us.

Galatians 3:5 says, “Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith?” We are saved by grace through FAITH, not by works. In the same way, this passage shows this and another aspect: God supplies us with the Spirit to have faith and works miracles among us because of faith. Yet, in salvation and petitioning God, he gets the credit. “Does HE WHO SUPPLIES the Spirit to you and WORKS miracles AMONG you…” God is Sovereign in all this. If we are low on faith, we must ask for more faith. If we are doubting, we must trust the Lord to kill our unbelief and run to him to supply us with the filling of the Spirit, so we can have faith and see miracles worked among us.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus, speaking in Matthew 6:25-34 says in verse 30, “But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?” This is in the context of trusting the Lord to provide the basic necessities of life. So often, we worry about whether or not God will provide food, drink, clothes, shelter, and money for us. But, Jesus says we must have more faith-the people he was talking to had “little faith,” again showing degrees of faith. What is the point of this? It comes in verse 34, “THEREFORE, do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” For us to not be anxious about tomorrow, no matter what awaits us, is to exhibit great faith! It is to trust and rest in the sovereignty of God that he will do what will work together for our good (Rom. 8:28). With that said, it is important to have faith that “whatever you ask…it will be done for you” (John 14:13, 15:7).

  1. R.C. Sproul commentates on John 14:13:  “This does not guarantee that God will do whatever we ask if only we add to our prayer the words “in Christ’s name.” To pray in Christ’s name is to identify with the purpose of Christ to the extent that our will has become identified with the will of God (1 John 5:14). Those who do not obtain what they specifically request are often surprised by a different but better answer-and “no” is sometimes the best answer.”
  2. And from Luke 11:2 on the Lord’s Prayer, Sproul writes: “We may pray to God with fervent persistence when we bring our needs to him (Luke 11:5-13, 18:1-8), and know that He will answer our prayers. But God knows what is best in a way that we do not, and he may deny our specific requests. If he denies us, it is because he has something better for us, as when Christ refused to heal Paul’s thorn in the flesh. To say, “your will be done,” surrendering our own preference to the Father’s wisdom, as Jesus did in Gethsemane (Matt. 26:39-44), is an explicit way of expressing faith in the goodness of what God has planned.”

James 5:13-20 is about the Prayer of Faith. Verse 15 says, “The prayer of faith will save the one who is sick.” We can extrapolate three conclusions from this passage.

  1. This does not mean there is a special prayer of faith to heal people. The power of trusting and faithful prayer is accented here; the Christian community should be devoutly engaged in intercessory prayer for the sick (Sproul). After speaking about being sick, James says to confess our sins to one another. “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.”
  2. Sproul again is helpful as he comments: “A godly person who prays in faith is a just or righteous person.” You can be a godly person, a Christian, and not pray with pure motives. That, according to James, is not being righteous-it is sin. Matthew Henry said that righteousness in James, like Proverbs, is different than in Romans. In Romans, Paul writes to people who need to know what it means to be justified with God in a legal sense. That happens through faith alone in Christ. Faith in Christ justifies us and Christ’s imputation of his own righteousness is our righteousness. That is righteousness in one sense. In James, however, James writes to people who already have faith. The entire scope of the book is about how to be righteous Christians; we must have works that evidence our faith. Righteousness, in James, is not about our legal standing in Christ, but rather our actions in faith that follow our justification.
  3. Proverbs 15:29 says, “The LORD is far from the wicked, but he hears the prayer of the righteous.” We can see that our prayers in faith stem out of righteous living before the Lord. This consists of seeing the fruits of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23) in our lives. It means loving others (Rom. 12:9-21, 1 Cor. 13:1-8). It means, above all, loving God with everything we have (Deut. 6:4-5; Lev. 19:18). True faith that pleases God is only possible when we are justified in Christ legally and are demonstrating our faith by being obedient to God.
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Life

Fervency in Prayer

A while back I did a short study on prayer, specifically petitioning God.  Petitioning is simply asking God for something.  I have problems with Christians who think that God moves or changes his mind because we pray.  We pray because God moves and changes situations.  God changes us in prayer, not the other way around.  Our prayers don’t change the world.  God works through our prayers to bring about his desired changes in the world.  There are four parts to petitioning prayer: fervency, faith, holy argument, and perseverance.  I’ll be posting notes from my study in the next three days.  Today, here are some thoughts on fervency.

 

Definition: Prayer that passionately, enthusiastically, and affectionately digs deep into the soul to present your requests to God.

 

James 5:17, “Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth.”

 

In 1 Kings 18, the prophets of Baal and Elijah made a wager to see whose God was the true God. In 1 Kings 17, what James was referring to, Elijah prayed for there to be no rain on the earth. So, when the wager was being made, the deal was that the God who made the alter burn from nothing was the true God. Elijah doused his dry alter of wood with water three times. Physically, there is no way soaked wood can burn, yet he prayed “fervently,” James said, so that everyone would “know that you…are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.” Elijah prayed that God would be glorified in this matter. We can often pray that, but do we really mean it? We can say with our lips, “God, be glorified.” But do our hearts really want that, or do they want to be selfishly and fleshly satisfied? If we don’t mean that with pure intent, may we confess it to the Lord and ask for help to mean it.

Later on in that passage, the Lord sends rain after three and a half years of drought. Elijah, in 18:42, “bowed himself down on the earth and put his face between his knees.” Elijah was in great reverence of God. He was passionately, enthusiastically, and affectionately prayer to his God. He went up to the top of a mountain-a secluded place where he could be alone with God. The position of our hearts is more important than our bodies, but does it not say something about our worship if we physically lie on the ground or get into the fetal position or bury our face in our hands when we pray to God? From the truths in our hearts should our affections be moved. That means that what we know from Scripture should influence our every action, thought, and affection.

 

Luke 18:13, “But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other.”

 

Here Jesus is telling a parable about a Pharisee and a tax collector both praying in the temple. The Pharisee was loud and boisterous in the middle of the temple, acting righteous and high and might. The tax collector, on the other hand, was in a corner, repenting of his sin, groaning in his soul, “Be merciful to me! I’m a sinner!” All of his desperate and dependent affections were crying out to the living God for help. His inner spiritual realities were affecting his physical actions-he was so disgusted with his sin in his heart that he began to beat his chest in agony. We, of course, should not hurt ourselves-this man did not either-but do we have the same fervency in our confessions and requests?

  

Do we labor like that when we talk to the Lord? The man was not justified by the act of beating his chest and praying. He was justified because he confessed. The primary difference between non-believers and believers is that believers confess their sins to God. Jesus was trying to show that this man knew of his sin: arrogance, pride, selfishness, lust, greed, etc. Yet, the man knew there was a God who would have mercy if he asked for it. Because the man was justified, he was fervent in his prayers. Only God can justify; only God can give us the ability to be fervent in prayer.

 

Nehemiah 8:6, “Ezra blessed the LORD, the great God, and all the people answered, ‘Amen, Amen,’ lifting up their hands. And they bowed their heads and worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground.”

 

In this passage we again see how the people physically positioned themselves so they could be reverent to the Lord. Though Christianity is a religion of inner, spiritual realities, we must understand that our hearts dictate our actions and sometimes we must physically humble our bodies when in prayer with the Lord. In this verse, we see the passion of the Jews as they are convicted of God’s law and moved toward repentance and worship of him.

  

This example is in public worship, as a community. Why do we not have times of public repentance and prayer with our heads bowed and faces to the ground? Perhaps the reason that Christians do not know how to pray, and pray well, is that the church does not instruct or lead its people in praying often and with fervency.

  

2 Chronicles 20:18 is a cross reference to this passage. There, Jehoshaphat bowed with his head to the ground to worship God, after Jahaziel promised victory in the battle against their enemies. This passage will also be used for a holy argument.