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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

Who's Driving?

My neighbor Tim has a figurine on his dashboard of a “wild thing” from Maurice Sendak’s beloved children’s book Where the Wild Things Are.

Not long ago Tim was following me through traffic and made some abrupt moves to keep up. When we arrived, I asked, “Was that the ‘wild thing’ driving?”

The following Sunday I forgot my sermon notes at home. I “flew” out of the church to retrieve them, passing Tim along the way. When we met later, he joked, “Was that the wild thing driving?” We laughed, but his point hit home—I should have paid attention to the speed limit.

When the Bible describes what it means to live in a relationship with God, it encourages us to “offer every part of [ourselves]” to Him (Romans 6:13). I took Tim’s response to me that day as a gentle reminder from God to yield my “lead foot,” because I am to give all of myself to Him out of love.

The question of “who’s driving?” applies to all of life. Do we let the “wild things” of our old sin nature drive us—like worry, fear, or self-will—or do we yield to God’s loving Spirit and the grace that helps us grow?

Giving in to God is good for us. Scripture says that God’s wisdom takes us down “pleasant ways, and all her paths are peace” (Proverbs 3:17). Better to follow where He leads. 

Your Way, Not Mine

Kamil and Joelle were devastated when their eight-year-old daughter Rima was diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia. The disease led to meningitis and a stroke, and Rima lapsed into a coma. The hospital medical team counseled her parents to make arrangements for Rima’s funeral, giving her less than a 1 percent chance of survival.

Kamil and Joelle fasted and prayed for a miracle. “As we pray,” Kamil said, “we need to trust God no matter what. And pray like Jesus—not my way, Father, but Yours.” “But I want so much for God to heal her!” Joelle answered honestly. “Yes! And we should ask!” Kamil responded. “But it honors God when we give ourselves to Him even when it’s hard, because that’s what Jesus did.”

Before Jesus went to the cross, He prayed: “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42). By praying “take this cup,” Jesus asked not to go to the cross; but He submitted to the Father out of love.

Surrendering our desires to God isn’t easy, and His wisdom can be difficult to understand in challenging moments. Kamil and Joelle’s prayers were answered in a remarkable way—Rima is a healthy fifteen-year-old today.  

Jesus understands every struggle. Even when, for our sake, His request was not answered, He showed us how to trust our God in every need.

Trust Him First

“Don’t let go, Dad!”

“I won’t. I’ve got you. I promise.”   

I was a little boy terrified of the water, but my dad wanted me to learn to swim. He would purposefully take me away from the side of the pool into a depth that was over my head, where he was my only support. Then he would teach me to relax and float.

It wasn’t just a swimming lesson; it was a lesson in trust. I knew my father loved me and would never let me be harmed intentionally, but I was also afraid. I would cling tightly to his neck until he reassured me all would be well. Eventually his patience and kindness won out, and I began to swim. But I had to trust him first.

When I feel “over my head” in a difficulty, I sometimes think back on those moments. They help me call to mind the Lord’s reassurance to His people: “Even to your old age . . . I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you (Isaiah 46:4).

We may not always be able to feel God’s arms beneath us, but the Lord has promised that He would “never leave us” (Hebrews 13:5). As we rest in His care and promises, He helps us learn to trust in His faithfulness. He lifts us above our worries to discover new peace in Him.

Legacies of Love

I was paging through my great-grandmother’s Bible when a treasure fell into my lap. On a small scrap of paper, in a young child’s handwriting, were the words, “Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:3–4 kjv). Scribbled beside those verses in wobbly cursive was my mother’s signature.

My great-grandmother had a habit of teaching her grandchildren to write Scripture verses so they would learn them and take them to heart. But the story behind this verse brought tears to my eyes. My grandfather died when my mother was very young, and her little brother (my uncle) died just weeks later. It was in that tragic season that my great-grandmother pointed my mother to Jesus and the comfort only He can give.

Paul wrote Timothy, “I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also” (2 Timothy 1:5). Faith isn’t inherited, but it is shared. Timothy’s mother and grandmother shared their faith with him, and he believed.  

When we encourage those close to us to have hope in Jesus, we offer them a legacy of love. Through a simple note, my mother left evidence of my great-grandmother’s love for her Savior and her family. Oh, to share Him with those who come after us! 

Unchanging Love

When I was in high school I played on the varsity tennis team. I spent many hours of my teenage years trying to improve my skills on four concrete courts located two blocks from the home where I grew up.

The last time I visited that city one of the first things I did was drive to that location, hoping to watch others play and reminisce for a moment. But the old courts, so familiar to my memory, were nowhere to be seen. In their place was a vacant field, inhabited only by an occasional weed waving silently in the breeze.

That afternoon remains in my mind as a stark reminder of the brevity of life. One of the places where I expended some of my best youthful strength no longer existed! Reflecting on that experience later brought me to this truth, expressed by an aging King David: “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” (Psalm 103:15–17).

We grow older and the world around us may change, but God’s love doesn’t. He can always be trusted to take care of those who turn to Him.

Learning to Trust

When I was a teenager I sometimes challenged my mother when she tried to encourage me to have faith. “Trust God. He will take care of you,” she would tell me. “It’s not that simple, Mom!” I would bark back. “God helps those who help themselves!”

But those words, “God helps those who help themselves” are nowhere to be found in Scripture. Instead, God’s Word teaches us to depend on Him for our daily needs. Jesus tells us, “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” (Matthew 6:26–27).

Everything we enjoy—even the strength to earn a living and “help ourselves”—are gifts from a heavenly Father who loves us and values us beyond our ability to fathom.

As Mom neared the end of her life, Alzheimer’s disease robbed her of her creative mind and memories, but her trust in God remained. She lived in our home for a season, where I was given a “front-row seat” to observe God’s provision for her needs in unexpected ways—ways that helped me see she had been right all along. Instead of worrying, she entrusted herself to the One who promised to take care of her. And He showed Himself faithful

A Prayer to Point Us Home

One of the first prayers I learned as a little boy was “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep . . .” It was a prayer I learned from my parents, and I taught it to my son and daughter when they were little. As a child, I found great comfort in placing myself in God’s hands with those words before I fell asleep.

There’s a similar prayer neatly tucked away in the “prayer book” of the Bible, the Psalms. Some biblical scholars suggest that the phrase, “Into your hands I commit my spirit” (Psalm 31:5), was a “bedtime” prayer taught to children in Jesus’s day.

You may recognize that prayer as Jesus’s final cry from the cross. But Jesus added one more word to it: “Father” (Luke 23:46). By praying that word in the moments before His death, Jesus demonstrated His intimate relationship with the Father and pointed believers toward their home with Him (John 14:3).

 Jesus died on the cross so we could live in the wonder of a relationship with God as our heavenly Father. How comforting it is to know that because of Jesus’s sacrificial love for us, we can rest in God’s care as His children! We can close our eyes without fear, because our Father watches over us, and has promised to wake us up to life with Him (1 Thessalonians 4:14).

The Gift of Time

I headed into the post office in a big hurry. I had a number of things on my “to do” list, but as I entered I was frustrated to find a long line backing up all the way to the door. “Hurry up and wait,” I muttered, glancing at my watch.

My hand was still on the door when an elderly stranger approached me. “I can’t get this copier to work,” he said, pointing to the machine behind us. “It took my money and I don’t know what to do.” Immediately I knew what God wanted me to do. I stepped out of line and was able to fix the problem in ten minutes.

The man thanked me and then left. As I turned to get back in line, it was gone. I walked straight to the service counter.

My experience that day reminds me of Jesus’s words: “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Luke 6:38).

My wait seemed shorter because God interrupted my hurry. By turning my eyes to others’ needs and helping me give of my time, He gave me a gift. It’s a lesson I hope to remember, next time I look at my watch.

Shelter from the Storm

When I lived in Oklahoma I had a friend who “chased” tornados. John tracked the storms carefully through radio contact with other chasers and local radar, trying to keep a safe distance while observing their destructive paths so he could report sudden changes to people in harm’s way.

One day a funnel cloud changed course so abruptly John found himself in grave danger. Fortunately, he found shelter and was spared.

John’s experience that afternoon makes me think of another destructive path: sin in our lives. The Bible tells us, “Each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death” (James 1:14-15).

There’s a progression here. What may at first seem harmless can soon spin out of control and wreak havoc. But when temptation threatens, God offers us shelter from the gathering storm.

God’s Word tells us He would never tempt us, and we can blame our choices only on ourselves. But when we “are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that [we] can endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13). As we turn to Him and call on Him for help in the moment of temptation, Jesus gives us the strength we need to overcome.

Jesus is our shelter forever.

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