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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.

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Articles by James Banks

Hard Ground and Tender Mercy

When James was just six years old, his older brother David died tragically in an ice-skating accident. It was the day before David’s fourteenth birthday. In the years that followed, James tried his best to console his mother, Margaret, who in her deep grief sometimes reminded herself that her elder son would never have to face the challenges of growing up. In James Barrie’s fertile imagination, decades later that same idea would burgeon into inspiration for a much-loved children’s story character who never aged: Peter Pan. Like a flower pushing its way through pavement, good emerged even from the hard ground of unthinkable heartache.

How comforting is the thought that God, in an infinitely more creative way, is able to bring good out of our most difficult circumstances. A beautiful illustration of this occurs in the Old Testament story of Ruth. Naomi lost her two sons, leaving her without means or support. Her widowed daughter-in-law Ruth chose to remain with Naomi to help provide for her and to serve her God (Ruth 1:16). In the end, God’s provision brought them unexpected joy. Ruth remarried and had a child, “and they named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David” (Ruth 4:17). He would also be listed among the ancestors of Jesus (Matthew 1:5).

God’s tender mercy reaches beyond our ability to fathom and meets us in surprising places. Keep looking! Perhaps you will see it today.

Refuge for the Rejected

George Whitefield (1714–1770) was one of the most gifted and effective preachers in history, leading thousands to faith in Jesus. But his life wasn’t without controversy. His practice of preaching outdoors (to accommodate large crowds) was sometimes criticized by those who questioned his motives and felt he should speak only within the four walls of a church building. Whitefield’s epitaph sheds light on his response to others’ harsh words: “I am content to wait till the Day of Judgment for the clearing up of my character; and after I am dead, I desire no other epitaph than this, ‘Here lies George Whitefield—what sort of a man he was, the great day will discover.’”

In the Old Testament, when David faced harsh criticism from others, he too entrusted himself to God. When Saul falsely accused David of leading a rebellion and he was forced to hide from Saul’s approaching army in a cave, David described being “in the midst of lions,” among “men whose teeth are spears and arrows, whose tongues are sharp swords” (Psalm 57:4). But even in that difficult place, he turned to the Lord and found comfort in Him: “For great is your love, reaching to the heavens; your faithfulness reaches to the skies” (v. 10).

When others misunderstand or reject us, God is our “refuge” (v. 1). May He be forever praised for His unfailing and merciful love!

Preserved

While I was clearing out the garden in preparation for spring planting, I pulled up a large clump of winter weeds . . . and leapt into the air! A venomous copperhead snake lay hidden in the undergrowth just below my hand—an inch lower and I would have grabbed it by mistake. I saw its colorful markings as soon as I lifted the clump; the rest of it was coiled in the weeds between my feet.

When my feet hit the ground a few feet away, I thanked God I hadn’t been bitten. And I wondered how many other times He had kept me from dangers I never knew were there.

God watches over His people. Moses told the Israelites before they entered the Promised Land, “The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged” (Deuteronomy 31:8). They couldn’t see God, but He was with them nonetheless.

Sometimes difficult things happen that we may not understand, but can we also not wonder about the number of times God has preserved us without our ever being aware?

God’s Word reminds us that His perfect, providential care remains over His people every day. He is “always” with us (Matthew 28:20).

Waiting for a Blessing

A popular restaurant in Bangkok serves soup from a broth that has been cooking for forty-five years and is replenished a bit each day. The practice, called “perpetual stew,” dates back to medieval times. Just as some “leftovers” taste better a few days later, the extended cooking time blends and creates unique flavors. The restaurant has won multiple awards for the most delicious broth in Thailand.

Good things often take time, but our human nature struggles with patience. The question “How long?” occurs throughout the Bible. One poignant example is from the prophet Habakkuk, who begins his book by asking “How long, O LORD, must I call for help, but you do not listen?” (Habakkuk 1:2). Habakkuk (whose name means “grappler”) prophesied God’s judgment on his country (Judah) through the invasion of the ruthless Babylonian Empire, and he wrestled with how God could allow corrupt people to prosper as they exploited others. But God promised hope and restoration in His own time: “For the revelation [of God’s help] awaits an appointed time . . . . Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay” (2:3).

The Babylonian captivity lasted seventy years. By human reckoning that’s a long time, but God is always faithful and true to His Word.

Some of God’s best blessings may be long in coming. Though they linger, keep looking to Him! He prepares every blessing with perfect wisdom and care— and He is always worth waiting for.

 

God’s Footprints

“I know where God lives,” our four-year-old grandson told my wife, Cari. “Where is that?” she asked, her curiosity piqued. “He lives in the woods beside your house,” he answered.

When Cari told me about their conversation, she wondered what prompted his thinking. “I know,” I responded. “When we went for a walk in the woods during his last visit, I told him that even though we can’t see God, we can see the things He’s done.” “Do you see the footprints I’m making?” I had asked my grandson as we stepped through a sandy place by a river. “The animals and the trees and the river are like God’s footprints. We know that He’s been here because we can see the things He’s made.”

The writer of Psalm 104 also pointed to the evidence for God in creation, exclaiming “How many are your works, Lord! In wisdom you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures” (v. 24). The Hebrew word for wisdom found here is often used in the Bible to describe skillful craftsmanship. God’s handiwork in nature proclaims His presence and makes us want to praise Him.

Psalm 104 begins and ends with the words: “Praise the Lord” (v.1, 35). From a baby’s hand to an eagle’s eye, our Creator’s artistry all around us speaks of His consummate skill. May we take it all in with wonder today—and praise Him for it!

God of the Invisible

“Sometimes I feel as if I’m invisible. But I so want God to use me.”

 Ann was tidying up the exercise room at the hotel I was visiting when we struck up a conversation. As we talked, I discovered she had an amazing story.

 “I used to be a crack addict and prostitute living on the streets,” she said. “But I knew God wanted me to put down my pipe and walk with Him. One day years ago I knelt at Jesus’s feet, and He set me free.”

 I thanked Ann for sharing what the Lord had done for her and assured her she wasn’t invisible—God had used her in our conversation in a beautiful way to remind me of His power to transform lives.

God loves to use people others might overlook. The apostle Andrew isn’t as well-known as his brother Peter, but the Bible recounts that “the first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon [Peter] and tell him, ‘We have found the Messiah’. . . . And he brought him to Jesus” (John 1:41–42).

Peter met Jesus through Andrew. When Andrew, one of John the Baptist’s disciples, learned about Jesus from John, he followed Jesus and believed—and immediately told his brother. Andrew’s quiet faithfulness had an impact that would shake the world.

God values faithful service over fame. He can use us powerfully wherever we are—even when no one is looking.

When Peace Breaks Out

On a cold Christmas Eve in Belgium in 1914, the sound of singing floated from the trenches where soldiers were dug in. Strains of the carol “Silent Night” rang out in German and then in English. Soldiers who earlier in the day had been shooting at each other laid down their weapons and emerged from their trenches to shake hands in the “no man’s land” between them, exchanging Christmas greetings and spontaneous gifts from their rations. The ceasefire continued through the next day as the soldiers talked and laughed and even organized soccer matches together.

The Christmas Truce of 1914 that occurred along World War I’s western front offered a brief glimpse of the peace the angels proclaimed on the first Christmas Eve long ago. An angel spoke to terrified shepherds with these reassuring words: “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you” (Luke 2:10–11). Then a multitude of angels appeared, “praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests’” (vv. 13–14).

Jesus is the “Prince of Peace” who saves us from our sins (Isaiah 9:6). Through His sacrifice on the cross He offers forgiveness and peace with God to all who trust in Him.

 

Christmas Presence

“No ear may hear His coming, but in this world of sin, where meek souls will receive Him still, the dear Christ enters in.” Those words from Phillips Brooks’ much-loved hymn, “O Little Town of Bethlehem” point to the very heart of Christmas. Jesus came into our broken world to rescue us from our sin and give all who would put their faith in Him a new and vital relationship with God.

In a letter to a friend decades after he wrote the hymn, Brooks poignantly described the outcome of this relationship in his own life: “I cannot tell you how personal this grows to me. He is here. He knows me and I know Him. It is no figure of speech. It is the realest thing in the world, and every day makes it realer. And one wonders with delight what it will grow to as the years go on.”

Brooks’ calm assurance of God’s presence in his life reflects one of the names of Jesus prophesied by Isaiah: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14). The gospel of Matthew gives us the meaning of the Hebrew name Immanuel: “God with us” (1:23).

God drew near to us through Jesus so we could know Him personally and be with Him forever. His loving presence with us is the greatest gift of all.

God Hears Everything

One of the longest-recorded postal delays in history lasted eighty-nine years. In 2008 a homeowner in the UK received an invitation to a party originally mailed in 1919 to a former resident of her address. The note was placed in her mailbox via the Royal Mail, but the reason behind its long delay remains a mystery.

Even the best human efforts at communication sometimes let us down, but Scripture makes clear that God never fails to hear His faithful people. In 1 Kings 18, Elijah demonstrated the striking contrast between Baal, the fertility pagan god worshiped by many in ancient Israel, and Jehovah God. In a showdown to demonstrate who the true God was, after Baal’s prophets had prayed for hours, Elijah taunted them: “Shout louder! . . . Surely he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened” (1 Kings 18:27). Then Elijah prayed for Jehovah to answer so that His people might return to faith; and God’s power was clearly displayed.

While our prayers may not always be answered as immediately as Elijah’s was that day, we can be assured that God hears them (Psalm 34:17). The Bible reminds us that He treasures our prayers so much that He keeps them before Him in “golden bowls,” like precious incense (Revelation 5:8). God will answer every prayer in His own perfect wisdom and way. There are no lost letters in heaven.

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