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James Banks

James Banks

Dr. James Banks and his wife have two adult children and live in Durham, North Carolina, where he is the pastor of Peace Church. He is the author of The Lost Art of Praying Together, Praying the Prayers of the Bible, Prayers for Prodigals, and Prayers for Your Children. Find books by James Banks

Articles by James Banks

The Last Will Be First

Recently I was among the last in line to board a large passenger jet with unassigned seating. I located a middle seat beside the wing, but the only spot for my bag was the overhead compartment by the very last row. This meant I had to wait for everyone to leave before I could go back and retrieve it.

I laughed as I settled into my seat and a thought occurred that seemed to be from the Lord: “It really won’t hurt you to wait. It will actually do you good.” So I resolved to enjoy the extra time, helping other passengers lower their luggage after we landed and assisting a flight attendant with cleaning. By the time I was able to retrieve my bag, I laughed again when someone thought I worked for the airline.

That day’s experience made me ponder Jesus’s words to His disciples: "If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all" (Mark 9:35).

I waited because I had to, but in Jesus’s “upside down” Kingdom, there’s a place of honor for those who voluntarily set themselves aside to attend to others’ needs.

Jesus came into our hurried, me-first world not “to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28). We serve Him best by serving others. The lower we bend, the closer we are to Him.

Hide and Seek

“You can’t see me!”

When small children play “hide and seek,” they sometimes believe they’re hiding just by covering their eyes. If they can’t see you, they assume you can’t see them.

Naïve as that may seem to adults, we sometimes do something similar with God. When we find ourselves desiring to do something we know is wrong, our tendency may be to “shut God out” as we willfully go our own way.

The prophet Ezekiel discovered this truth in the vision God gave him for his people, exiled in Babylon. The Lord told him, “Have you seen what the elders of Israel are doing in the darkness, each at the shrine of his own idol? They say, ‘The LORD does not see us’” (Ezek. 8:12)

But God misses nothing, and Ezekiel’s vision was proof of it. Yet even though they had sinned, God offered His repentant people hope through a new promise: “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you” (36:26). 

For us, God met the brokenness and rebellion of sin with His tender mercy at the cross, paying the ultimate penalty for it. Through Jesus Christ, God not only offers us a new beginning, but He also works within us to change our hearts as we follow Him. How good is God! When we were lost and hiding in our sinfulness, God drew near through Jesus, who “came to seek and save” us (Luke 19:10; Rom. 5:8).

Our Prayers, God’s Timing

Sometimes God takes His time in answering our prayers, and that isn’t always easy for us to understand.

That was the situation for Zechariah, a priest whom the angel Gabriel appeared to one day near an altar in the temple in Jerusalem. Gabriel told him, "Do not be afraid, Zechariah, your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John” (Luke 1:13, italics added).

But Zechariah had probably asked God for a child years before, and he struggled with Gabriel’s message because Elizabeth was now well beyond the expected age for childbirth. Still, God answered his prayer.

God’s memory is perfect. He is able to remember our prayers not only for years but also for generations beyond our lifetime. He never forgets them, and may move in response long after we have forgotten what we asked for. Sometimes his answer is “no,” other times it is “wait”—but His response is always measured with love. God’s ways are beyond us, but we can trust that they are good.

Zechariah learned this. He asked for a son, but God gave him even more. His son John would grow up to be the very prophet who would announce the arrival of the Messiah. 

Zechariah’s experience demonstrates a vital truth that should also encourage us as we pray: God’s timing is rarely our own, but it is always worth waiting for.

When Beauty Never Ends

1 The Lord is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid?

2 When the wicked advance against me to devour me, it is my enemies and my foes who will stumble and fall. 3 Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear;
though war break out against me, even then I will be confident.

4 One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple.

The Perfect Prayer Partner

Few sounds are as beautiful as hearing someone who loves you pray for you. When you hear a friend pray for you with compassion and God-given insight, it’s a little like heaven touching earth.

How good it is to know that because of God’s kindness to us our prayers can also touch heaven. Sometimes when we pray we may struggle with words and feelings of inadequacy, but Jesus taught his followers that we “should always pray and not give up” (Luke 18:1). God’s Word shows us that one of the reasons we can do this is that Jesus himself “is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us” (Rom. 8:34).

We never pray alone, because Jesus is praying for us. He hears us as we pray, and speaks to the Father on our behalf. We don’t have to worry about the eloquence of our words, because no one understands us like Jesus. He helps us in every way, presenting our needs before God. He also knows when the answers we ask for would not be good for us, handling every request or concern with perfect wisdom and love.

 Jesus is the perfect prayer partner—the friend who intercedes for us with immeasurable kindness. His prayers for us are beautiful beyond words, and should encourage us to always pray with thankfulness.

Fresh Faith

When our son was struggling with heroin addiction, if you had told me God would one day use our experience to encourage other families who face these kinds of battles, I would have had trouble believing it. God has a way of bringing good out of difficult circumstances that isn’t always easy to see when you are going through them. 

The apostle Thomas also didn’t expect God to bring good out of the greatest challenge of his faith—Jesus’s crucifixion. Thomas wasn’t with the other disciples when Jesus came to them after the resurrection, and in his deep grief he insisted, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were… I will not believe” (John 20:24). But later, when Jesus appeared to all the disciples together, out of the dust of Thomas’ doubts God’s Spirit would inspire a striking statement of faith. When Thomas exclaimed, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28), he was grasping the truth that Jesus was actually God in the flesh, standing right in front of him. It was a bold confession of faith that would encourage and inspire believers in every century that followed.

Our God is able to inspire fresh faith in our hearts, even in moments when we least expect it.  We can always look forward to His faithfulness. Nothing is too hard for Him!

Prayers to Say Thank You

Where would you be without Jesus? Take a moment to really think about it. The words of Ephesians 2:12 sum it up well: “without God and without hope.” Without Jesus, we would be hopelessly, eternally lost.

We can never thank God enough and praying the “thank you prayers” of the Bible cultivates gratitude in us and opens our eyes to…

Prayers for Guidance and Direction

Scripture tells of God guiding His people through all kinds of circumstances. He went ahead of Israel through the wilderness, leading them with a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night (Exod. 13:21). He sent angels to lead Lot and his family out of Sodom (Gen. 19:16) and Peter out of prison (Acts 12:7). Both…

Prayers About Everyday Needs

Sometimes I rush into heaven’s throne room with a list. Though God’s Word encourages us to “come boldly to the throne of our gracious God” (Heb. 4:16), there are moments when I wonder if I’m a little too bold. When my mind is filled with the things of this earth, I can only imagine what it looks like in heaven...…