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James Banks

James Banks

James Banks (D.Min, Gordon-Conwell) makes his home in Durham, North Carolina, with his wife, Cari, where James is the founding pastor of Peace Church. James’ desire to write goes back to reading Christian devotional books at age twelve. He loves to encourage others to draw close to God through a heartfelt relationship in prayer and a fresh understanding of Scripture. James’ books have been translated into several languages and include Prayers for Prodigals, Praying Together, Praying the Prayers of the Bible, Prayers for Your Children, Praying the Prayers of the Bible for Everyday Needs, Praying the Prayers of the Bible for Kids, and Hope Lies Ahead, which he co-wrote with his son, Geoffrey. You can find teaching from James on prayer with the Praying with Jesus and Our Daily Bread University’s Prayer Basics series. James is also the author of several magazine articles, is featured in the weekly Encouraging Prayer radio broadcast and podcast, and is a popular speaker for churches and retreats. You can find out more about what James is up to lately by visiting JamesBanks.org.

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Articles by James Banks

With Us in the Valley

As Hannah Wilberforce (aunt of British abolitionist William Wilberforce) lay dying, she wrote a letter in which she mentioned hearing about the death of a fellow believer in Jesus: “Happy is the dear man who is gone to glory, now in the presence of Jesus, whom unseen he loved. My heart seemed to jump for joy.” Then she described her own situation: “Myself, better and worse; Jesus, as good as ever.”

Her words make me think of Psalm 23, where David writes, “Even though I walk through the darkest valley [the valley of the shadow of death], I will fear no evil, for you are with me” (v. 4). Those words leap from the page because it is there, in the middle of the valley of the shadow of death, where David’s description of God turns deeply personal. He moves from talking about God in the beginning of the psalm—“the Lord is my shepherd” (v. 1)—to talking to Him: “for you are with me” (v. 4, italics added).

How reassuring it is to know that Almighty God who “brought forth the whole world” (90:2) is so compassionate that He walks with us through even the most difficult places. Whether our situation turns better or worse, we can turn to our Shepherd, Savior, and Friend and find Him “as good as ever.” So good that death itself is vanquished, and we will “dwell in the house of the Lord forever” (23:6).

From Mess to Message

Darryl was a baseball legend who nearly destroyed his life with drugs. But Jesus set him free, and he’s been clean for years. Today he helps others struggling with addiction and points them to faith. Looking back, he affirms that God turned his mess into a message.

Nothing is too hard for God. When Jesus came ashore near a cemetery after a stormy night on the Sea of Galilee with His disciples, a man possessed by darkness immediately approached Him. Jesus spoke to the demons inside him, drove them away, and set him free.

When Jesus left, the man begged to go along. But Jesus didn’t allow it, because He had work for him to do: “Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you” (Mark 5:19).

We never see the man again, but Scripture shows us something intriguing. The people of that region had fearfully pleaded with Jesus “to leave” (v. 17), but the next time He returned there, a large crowd gathered (8:1). Could the crowd have resulted from Jesus sending the man? Could it be that he, once dominated by darkness, became one of the first missionaries, effectively communicating Jesus’s power to save?

We’ll never know this side of heaven, but this much is clear. When God sets us free to serve Him, He can turn even a messy past into a message of hope and love.

Mercy and Grace

A stately sunflower stood on its own in the center of a lonely stretch of national highway, just a few feet from the fast lane. As I drove past I wondered how it had grown there with no other sunflowers visible for miles. Only God could create a plant so hardy it could thrive so close to the roadway in the gray gravel lining the median. There it was, thriving, swaying gently in the breeze and cheerfully greeting travelers as they hurried by.

The Old Testament tells the story of a faithful king of Judah who also showed up unexpectedly. His father and grandfather had enthusiastically served other gods; but after Josiah had been in power for eight years, “while he was still young, he began to seek the God of his father David” (2 Chronicles 34:3). He sent workmen to “repair the temple of the Lord” (v. 8), and as they did they discovered the Book of the Law (the first five books of the Old Testament). God then inspired Josiah to lead the entire nation of Judah to return to the faith of their ancestors, and they served the Lord “as long as [Josiah] lived” (v. 33).

Our God is the master of unanticipated mercies. He is able to cause great good to spring up unexpectedly out of the hard gravel of life’s most unfavorable circumstances. Watch Him closely. He may do it again today.

Listening Matters

“Come at once. We have struck a berg.” Those were the first words Harold Cottam, the wireless operator on the RMS Carpathia, received from the sinking RMS Titanic at 12:25 a.m. on April 15, 1912. The Carpathia would be the first ship to the disaster scene, saving 706 lives.                

In the US Senate hearings days later, the Carpathia’s captain Arthur Rostron testified, “The whole thing was absolutely providential. . . . The wireless operator was in his cabin at the time, not on official business at all, but just simply listening as he was undressing. . . . In ten minutes maybe he would have been in bed, and we would not have heard the message.” 

           Listening matters—especially listening to God. The writers of Psalm 85, the sons of Korah, urged attentive obedience when they wrote, “I will listen to what God the Lord says; he promises peace to his people, his faithful servants—but let them not turn to folly. Surely his salvation is near those who fear him” (vv. 8–9). Their admonition is especially poignant because their ancestor Korah rebelled against God, and had perished in the wilderness (Numbers 16:1–35).

The night the Titanic sank, another ship was much closer, but its wireless operator had gone to bed. Had he heard the distress signal, perhaps more lives would have been saved. When we listen to God by obeying His Word, He’ll help us navigate even life’s most troubled waters.

Of Prayer and Dust and Stars

Lara and Dave desperately wanted a baby, but their physician told them they were unable to have one. Lara confided to a friend: “I found myself having some very honest talks with God.” But it was after one of those “talks” that she and Dave spoke to their pastor, who told them about an adoption ministry at their church. A year later they were blessed with an adopted baby boy.

In Genesis 15, the Bible tells of another honest conversation—this one between Abram and God. God had told him, “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am . . . your very great reward” (v. 1). But Abram, uncertain of God’s promises about his future, answered candidly: “Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless?” (vv. 2–3).

Earlier God had promised Abram, “I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth” (13:16). Now Abram—in a very human moment—reminded God of that. But note God’s response: He assured Abram by telling him to look up and “count the stars—if indeed you can,” indicating his descendants would be beyond numbering (15:5).

How good is God, not only to allow such candid prayer but also to gently reassure Abram. Later, God would change his name to Abraham (“father of many”). Like Abraham, you and I can openly share our hearts with Him and know that we can trust Him to do what’s best for us and others.

In God We Trust

In the early days of the American Revolutionary War, an expedition was launched against British forces in Quebec. When the expedition passed through Newburyport, Massachusetts, on the way to Canada, they visited the tomb of the renowned evangelist George Whitefield. Whitefield’s coffin was opened and his clerical collar and cuffs were removed. The clothing was cut in pieces and distributed in the mistaken belief that it could somehow give the soldiers success.

The expedition failed. But what the soldiers did demonstrates our human tendency to trust in something less than a relationship with God—money or human strength or even religious traditions—for our ultimate well-being. God cautioned His people against this when invasion from Assyria threatened, and they sought Pharaoh’s help instead of turning from their sins and turning personally to Him: “This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says: ‘In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it. You said, “No, we will flee on horses.” Therefore you will flee!’” (Isaiah 30:15–16).

Their “expedition” failed as well (just as God said it would) and Assyria overwhelmed Judah. But God also told His people, “The Lord longs to be gracious to you.” Even when we have trusted in lesser things, God still holds out His hand to help us return to Him. “Blessed are all who wait for him!” (v. 18)

God of Justice

She was perhaps the greatest “scapecow” in history. We don’t know if her name was Daisy, Madeline, or Gwendolyn (each name has been suggested), but Mrs. O’Leary’s cow was blamed for the 1871 Great Chicago Fire that left every third resident of the city homeless. Carried by strong winds through wooden structures, the fire burned for three days and took the lives of nearly 300 people.

For years, many believed the fire began when the cow knocked over a lantern left burning in a shed. After further investigation—126 years later—the city’s Committee on Police and Fire passed a resolution exonerating the cow and her owners and suggesting the activities of a neighbor warranted scrutiny.

Justice often takes time, and Scripture acknowledges how difficult that can be. The refrain, “How long?” is repeated four times in Psalm 13: “How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me?” (vv. 1–2). But in the middle of his lament, David finds reason for faith and hope: “But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation” (v. 5).

Even when justice is delayed, God’s love will never fail us. We can trust and rest in Him not just for the moment but for eternity.

 

Worth It, or Worthy?

Helen Roseveare, an English missionary physician in the African Congo, was taken prisoner by rebels during the Simba Rebellion in 1964. Beaten and abused by her captors, she suffered terribly. In the days that followed, she found herself asking, “Is it worth it?”

As she began to ponder the cost of following Jesus, she sensed God speaking to her about it. Years later she explained to an interviewer, “When the awful moments came during the rebellion and the price seemed too high to pay, the Lord seemed to say to me, ‘Change the question. It’s not, ‘Is it worth it?’ It’s ‘Am I worthy?’” She concluded that in spite of the pain she had endured, “Always the answer is ‘Yes, He is worthy.’”

Through God’s grace at work within her during her harrowing ordeal, Helen Roseveare decided that the Savior who had suffered even death for her was worthy to be followed no matter what she faced. Her words, “He is worthy” echo the cries of those surrounding Jesus’ throne in the book of Revelation: “In a loud voice they were saying: ‘Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!’” (5:12).

Our Savior suffered and bled and died for us, giving Himself entirely, so that we may freely receive eternal life and hope. His all deserves our all. He is worthy!

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.

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