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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

Loving Others with Our Prayers

“Are people still praying for me?”

That was one of the first questions a missionary asked his wife whenever she was allowed to visit him in prison. He had been falsely accused and incarcerated for his faith for two years. His life was frequently in danger because of the conditions and hostility in the prison, and Christians around the world were earnestly praying for him. He wanted to be assured they wouldn’t stop, because he believed God was using their prayers in a powerful way.

Our prayers for others—especially those who are persecuted for their faith—are a vital gift. Paul made this clear when he wrote the believers in Corinth about hardships he faced during his missionary journey. He “was under great pressure,” so much that he “despaired of life itself” (2 Corinthians 1:8). But then he told them God had delivered him and described the tool He’d used to do it: “We have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers” (vv. 10–11, emphasis added).

God moves through our prayers to accomplish great good in the lives of His people. One of the best ways to love others is to pray for them, because through our prayers we open the door to the help only God can provide. When we pray for others, we love them in His strength. There is none greater or more loving than He.

The Ultimate Wave

People love doing “the wave.” At sporting events and concerts around the world, it begins when a few people stand and raise their hands. A moment later, those seated beside them do the same. The goal is to have one sequential flowing movement work its way around an entire stadium. Once it reaches the end, those who started it smile and cheer—and keep the movement going.

The first recorded incident of “the wave” occurred at a professional baseball game between the Oakland Athletics and the New York Yankees in 1981. I love joining in “the wave” because it’s fun. But it’s also occurred to me that the happiness and togetherness we experience while doing it is reminiscent of the gospel—the good news of salvation in Jesus that unites believers everywhere in praise and hope. This “ultimate wave” started over twenty centuries ago in Jerusalem. Writing to the members of the church in Colossae, Paul described it this way: “the gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world—just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it.” The natural result of this good news is “faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for [us] in heaven” (Colossians 1:5–6). 

As believers in Jesus, we’re part of the greatest wave in history. Keep it going! Once it’s done, we’ll see the smile of the One who started it all.

Living on Purpose

“We’re going on vacation!” my wife enthusiastically told our three-year-old grandson Austin as we pulled out of the driveway on the first leg of our trip. Little Austin looked at her thoughtfully and responded, “I’m not going on vacation. I’m going on a mission!”

We’re not sure where our grandson picked up the concept of going “on a mission,” but his comment gave me something to ponder as we drove to the airport: “As I leave on this vacation and take a break for a few days, am I keeping in mind that I’m still ‘on a mission’ to live each moment with and for God? Am I remembering to serve Him in everything I do?”

The apostle Paul encouraged the believers living in Rome, the capital city of the Roman Empire, to “never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord” (Romans 12:11). His point was that the Christian faith is meant to be lived intentionally and with enthusiasm. Even the most mundane moments gain new meaning as we look expectantly to God and live for His purposes.

As we settled into our seats on the plane, I prayed, “Lord, I’m yours. Whatever you have for me to do on this trip, please help me not to miss it.”

Every day is a mission of eternal significance with Him!

Plod On!

God loves to use people the world might overlook. William Carey was raised in a tiny village in the 1700s and had little formal education. He had limited success in his chosen trade and lived in poverty. But God gave him a passion for sharing the good news and called him to be a missionary. Carey learned Greek, Hebrew, and Latin and eventually translated the first New Testament into the Bengali language. Today he is regarded as a “father of modern missions,” but in a letter to his nephew he offered this humble assessment of his abilities: “I can plod. I can persevere.”

When God calls us to a task, He also gives us strength to accomplish it regardless of our limitations. In Judges 6:12 the angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon and said, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.” The angel then told him to rescue Israel from the Midianites who were raiding their towns and crops. But Gideon, who hadn’t earned the title of “mighty warrior,” humbly responded, “How can I save Israel? . . . I am the least in my family” (v. 15). Still, God used Gideon to set His people free.

The key to Gideon’s success was in the words, “the Lord is with you.” As we humbly walk with our Savior and rely on His strength, He will empower us to accomplish what’s only possible through Him.

A Friend in Failure

 

 

On November 27, 1939, three treasure hunters accompanied by film crews dug through the asphalt outside of the Hollywood Bowl amphitheater in Southern California. They were looking for the Cahuenga Pass treasure, consisting of gold, diamonds, and pearls rumored to have been buried there seventy-five years earlier.

They never found it. After twenty-four days of digging, they struck a boulder and stopped. All they accomplished was a nine-foot-wide, forty-two-foot-deep hole in the ground. They walked away dejected.

To err is human—we all fail sometimes. God’s Word tells us that young Mark walked away from Paul and Barnabas on a missionary trip “and had not continued with them in the work.” Because of this, “Paul did not think it wise to take him” on his next trip (Acts 15:37–38), which resulted in a strong disagreement with Barnabas. But in spite of his initial failings, Mark shows up years later in surprising ways. When Paul was lonely and in prison toward the end of his life, he asked for Mark and called him “helpful to me in my ministry” (2 Timothy 4:11). God even inspired Mark to write the gospel that bears his name.

Mark’s life shows us that God won’t leave us to face our errors and failures alone. We have a Friend who’s greater than every mistake. As we follow our Savior, He’ll provide the help and strength we need.  

       

Redemption’s Hope

The man seemed beyond redemption. His crimes included eight shootings (killing six) and starting nearly 1,500 fires that terrorized New York City in the 1970s. He left letters at his crime scenes taunting the police, and he was eventually apprehended and given consecutive sentences of twenty-five years to life for each murder.
Yet God reached down to this man. Today he is a believer in Christ who spends time daily in God’s Word, has expressed deep regret to his victims’ families, and continues to pray for them. Although imprisoned for more than four decades, this man who seemed beyond redemption finds hope in God and His Word and claims, “My freedom is found in one word: Jesus.”

Scripture tells of another unlikely conversion. Before he met the risen Lord on the road to Damascus, Saul (who later became the apostle Paul) was “breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples” (Acts 9:1). Yet Paul’s heart and life were transformed by Christ (vv. 17–18), and he became one of the most powerful witnesses for Him in history. The man who once plotted Christians’ deaths devoted his life to spreading the hope of the gospel.

Redemption is always a miraculous work of God. Some stories are more dramatic, but the underlying truth remains the same: None of us deserve His forgiveness, yet Jesus is a powerful Savior! He is perfectly able to “save completely those who come to God through him” (Hebrews 7:25).

Keepers of the Light

They call them “Keepers of the Light.”

At the lighthouse on the cape of Hatteras Island just off the North Carolina coast of the United States, there’s a memorial to those who’ve tended the light stations there since 1803. Shortly after the existing structure was moved inland because of shoreline erosion, the names of the keepers were etched on the old foundation stones and arranged into an amphitheater shape facing the new site. That way—as a placard explains—today’s visitors can follow in the historical keepers’ footsteps and “watch over” the lighthouse as well.

Jesus is the ultimate light-giver. He said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). That’s a radical thing for anyone to claim. But Jesus said it to affirm His relationship with His heavenly Father, the Creator of light and life who sent Him.

When we look to Jesus for salvation and follow His teaching, we are restored in relationship with God, and He gives us new power and purpose. His transforming life and love—“the light of all mankind” (1:4)—shines in us and through us, and out to a dark and sometimes dangerous world.

As followers of Jesus, we become “keepers of the light.” May others see His light shine from us and discover the life and hope He alone can give!

The One Who Sees

“Oh no!” My wife’s voice rang out when she stepped into the kitchen. The moment she did, our ninety-pound Labrador retriever “Max” bolted from the room.

Gone was the leg of lamb that had been sitting too close to the edge of the counter. Max had consumed it, leaving only an empty pan. He tried to hide under a bed. But only his head and shoulders fit. His uncovered rump and tail betrayed his whereabouts when I went to track him down.

“Oh, Max,” I murmured, “Your ‘sin’ will find you out.” The phrase was borrowed from Moses, when he admonished two tribes of Israel to be obedient to God and keep their promises. He told them: “But if you fail to do this, you will be sinning against the LORD; and you may be sure that your sin will find you out” (Numbers 32:23).

Sin may feel good for a moment, but it causes the ultimate pain of separation from God. Moses was reminding his people that God misses nothing. As one biblical writer put it, “Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account” (Hebrews 4:13).

Though seeing all, our holy God lovingly draws us to confess our sin, repent of it (turn from it) and walk rightly with Him (1 John 1:9). May we follow Him in love today.

The One Who Saves

He was called “one of the bravest persons alive,” but he wasn’t what others expected. Desmond was a soldier who declined to carry a gun. Serving as a medic, in one battle he single-handedly rescued seventy-five injured soldiers from harm, including some who once called him a coward and ridiculed him for his faith. Running into heavy gunfire, Desmond prayed continually, “Lord, please help me get one more.” He was awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroism.

            God’s Word tells us that Jesus was even more misunderstood. On a day foretold by the prophet Zechariah (Zechariah 9:9), Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey and the crowd waved branches, shouting “Hosanna!” (an exclamation of praise meaning “Save!”). Reenacting Psalm 118:26, they cried: “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” (John 12:13). But the very next verse in that psalm refers to bringing a sacrifice “with boughs in hand” (118:27). While the crowd anticipated an earthly king to save them from Rome, Jesus was much more. He was King of Kings and sacrifice—God in the flesh, walking willingly toward the cross to save us from our sins—a purpose prophesied centuries earlier.

“At first his disciples did not understand all this,” John writes. Only later “did they realize that these things had been written about him” (John 12:16). Illumined by His Word, God’s eternal purposes became clear. He loves us enough to send a mighty Savior!

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