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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

Unchanging

My wife Cari and I recently traveled to Santa Barbara, California—the city where we met and fell in love thirty-five years ago—to attend our college reunion. We planned to visit several places where we had spent some of the best hours of our youth together. But when we arrived at the location of our favorite Mexican restaurant, we found a building supply store there. A wrought iron plaque hung on the wall commemorating the restaurant and its four decades of service to the community.

I gazed on the barren but still familiar sidewalk, once dotted cheerfully with colorful tables and bright umbrellas. So much had changed around us! Yet in the midst of change, God’s faithfulness never changes. David observed poignantly: “The life of mortals is like grass, they flourish like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more. But from everlasting to everlasting the Lord’s love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children’s children” (Psalm 103:15–17). David concludes the psalm with these words: “Praise the Lord, my soul” (v. 22).

The ancient philosopher Heraclitus said, “You can never step in the same river twice.” Life is always changing around us, but God remains the same and can always be trusted to keep His promises! His faithfulness and love can be counted on from generation to generation

Surprised by Wisdom

“It seems like the older I get, the wiser you become. Sometimes when I talk to my son I even hear your words coming out of my mouth!”

My daughter’s candor made me laugh. I felt the same way about my parents and frequently found myself using their words as I raised my kids. Once I became a dad, my perspective on my parents’ wisdom changed. What I once “wrote off” as foolishness turned out to be far wiser than I had thought—I just couldn’t see it at first.

The Bible teaches that “the foolishness of God is wiser” than the cleverest human wisdom (1 Corinthians 1:25). “For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness” of the message of a suffering Savior to rescue “those who believe” (v. 21).

God always has ways of surprising us. Instead of the triumphant king the world would expect, the Son of God came as a suffering servant and died a humbling death by crucifixion—before He was raised in unsurpassable glory.

In God’s wisdom, humility is valued over pride and love shows its worth in undeserved mercy and kindness. Through the cross, our unconquerable Messiah became the ultimate victim—in order to “save completely” (Hebrews 7:25) all who place their faith in Him!

Jesus in Disguise

My son Geoff recently participated in a “homeless simulation.” He spent three days and two nights living on the streets of his city, sleeping outside in below freezing temperatures. Without food, money, or shelter, he relied on the kindness of strangers for his basic needs. On one of those days his only food was a sandwich, bought by a man who heard him asking for stale bread at a fast-food restaurant.

Geoff told me later it was one of the hardest things he’d ever done, yet it profoundly impacted his outlook on others. He spent the day after his “simulation” seeking out homeless people who had been kind to him during his time on the street, doing what he could to assist them in simple ways. They were surprised to discover he wasn’t actually homeless and were grateful he cared enough to try to see life through their eyes.

My son’s experience calls to mind Jesus’s words: “I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me. . . . Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:36, 40). Whether we give a word of encouragement or a bag of groceries, God calls us to lovingly attend to the needs of others. Our kindness to others is kindness to Him.

Out of the Trap

The Venus flytrap was first discovered in a small area of sandy wetlands not far from our home in North Carolina. These plants are fascinating to watch because they are carnivorous.

Venus flytraps release a sweet-smelling nectar into colorful traps that resemble open flowers. When an insect crawls inside, triggering sensors along the outer rim, the trap clamps shut in less than a second—capturing its victim. The trap then closes further and emits enzymes that consume its prey over time, giving the plant nutrients not provided by the sandy soil.

God’s Word tells of another trap that can capture unexpectedly. The apostle Paul warned his protégé Timothy: “Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.” And “some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs” (1 Timothy 6:9–10).

Money and material things may promise happiness, but when they take first place in our lives, we walk on dangerous ground. We avoid this trap by living with thankful, humble hearts focused on God’s goodness to us through Jesus: “godliness with contentment is great gain” (v. 6).

The transient things of this world never satisfy like God can. True, lasting contentment is found only through our relationship with Him.

Honest to God

My three-year-old grandson’s day was off to a rotten start. He couldn’t find his favorite shirt. The shoes he wanted to wear were too hot. He fussed and fumed at his grandmother and then sat down to cry.

“Why are you so upset?” I asked him. We talked for a while and after he calmed down, I gently inquired, “Have you been good for Grandma?” He looked thoughtfully at his shoes and responded, “No, I was bad. I’m sorry.”

My heart went out to him. Instead of denying what he had done, he was honest. In the following moments we asked Jesus to forgive us when we do wrong and to help us do better.

In Isaiah 1, God reasons with His people about wrongs they’ve committed. There were bribes and injustice in the courts, and orphans and widows were taken advantage of for material gain. Yet even then God responds mercifully, asking the people of Judah to confess what they’d done and turn from it: “Come now, let us settle the matter . . . Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow” (Isaiah 1:18).

God longs for us to be open with Him about our sins. He meets honesty and repentance with loving forgiveness: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Because our God is merciful, new beginnings await!

Finding Treasure

John and Mary were walking their dog on their property when they stumbled on a rusty can partially unearthed by recent rains. They took the can home and opened it, discovering a cache of gold coins over a century old! The couple returned to the spot and located seven more cans containing 1,427 coins in all. Then they protected their treasure by reburying it elsewhere.

The cache of coins (valued at $10 million) is called the Saddle Ridge Hoard, the largest find of its kind in US history. The story is strikingly reminiscent of a parable Jesus told: “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field” (Matthew 13:44).

Tales of buried treasure have captured imaginations for centuries, though such discoveries rarely happen. But Jesus tells of a treasure accessible to all who confess their sins and receive and follow Him (John 1:12).

We’ll never come to an end of that treasure. As we leave our old lives and pursue God and His purposes, we encounter His worth. Through “the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:7), God offers us treasure beyond imagination—new life as His sons and daughters, new purpose on earth, and the incomprehensible joy of eternity with Him.

Praying the Distance

Kevin wiped a tear from his eye as he held out a slip of paper for my wife, Cari, to read. He knew Cari and I were praying for our daughter to return to faith in Jesus. “This note was found in my mother’s Bible after her death, and I hope it encourages you,” he said. At the top of the note were the words, “For my son, Kevin.” Below them was a prayer for his salvation.

“I carry this with me in my own Bible today,” Kevin explained. “My mother prayed for my salvation for over thirty-five years. I was far away from God, and I’m a believer now.” He looked intently at us and smiled through his tears: “Never give up praying for your daughter—no matter how long it takes.”

His words of encouragement made me think of the introduction to a story Jesus told about prayer in the Gospel of Luke. Luke begins with the words, “Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up” (Luke 18:1, italics added).

In the story, Jesus contrasts an “unjust judge” (v. 6) who answers a request merely because he doesn’t want to be further bothered, with a perfect heavenly Father who cares deeply for us and wants us to come to Him. We can be encouraged whenever we pray to know that God hears and welcomes our prayers.

Borrowed Blessings

As we bowed our heads over lunch, my friend Jeff prayed: “Father, thank you for letting us breathe your air and eat your food.” Jeff had just been through a difficult job loss, so his heartfelt trust in God and recognition that everything belongs to the Lord profoundly moved me. I found myself asking: Do I honestly understand that even the most basic, everyday things in my life are really God’s, and He’s just letting me use them?

When King David received offerings from the people of Israel for building the temple in Jerusalem, he prayed, “But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this? Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand.” Then he added, “All of it belongs to you” (1 Chronicles 29:14, 16).

God’s Word tells us that even “the ability to produce wealth” and earn a living come from Him (Deuteronomy 8:18). Understanding that all we have is borrowed encourages us to loosen our grip on the stuff of this world and live with open hands and hearts—hands that share freely because we’re deeply thankful for the kindnesses we receive every day.

God is a generous giver—so loving that He even gave up His Son “for us all” (Romans 8:32). Because we have been given so much, may we give Him our heartfelt thanks for blessings small and large.

No Comparison

“One of these days I’m going to put it all on Facebook—not just the good stuff!

My friend Sue’s comment—made casually over lunch with her husband—caused me to laugh out loud and also to think. Social media can be a good thing, helping us stay in touch with and pray for friends across the years and miles. But if we’re not careful, it can also create an unrealistic outlook on life. When much of what we see posted is a “highlight reel” of “the good stuff,” we can be misled into thinking others’ lives are without trouble, and wonder where our own went wrong.

Comparing ourselves with others is a sure recipe for unhappiness. When the disciples compared themselves to each other (see Luke 9:46; 22:24), Jesus quickly discouraged it. Soon after His resurrection, Jesus told Peter how he would suffer for his faith. Peter then turned to John and asked, “Lord, what about him?” Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me” (John 21:21–22).

Jesus pointed Peter to the best remedy for unhealthy comparisons. When our minds are focused on God and all He has done for us, self-focused thoughts fall gently away and we long to follow Him. In place of the world’s competitive strain and stress, He gives us His loving presence and peace. Nothing can compare with Him.

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