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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

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!

Fully Known

“You shouldn’t be here right now. Someone up there was looking out for you,” the tow truck driver told my mother after he had pulled her car from the edge of a steep mountain ravine and studied the tire tracks leading up to the wreck. Mom was pregnant with me at the time. As I grew, she often recounted the story of how God saved both our lives that day, and she assured me that God valued me even before I was born.

None of us escape our omniscient (all-knowing) Creator’s notice. Over 2,500 years ago He told the prophet Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you” (Jeremiah 1:5). God knows us more deeply than any person ever could and is able to give our lives purpose and meaning unlike any other. He not only formed us through His wisdom and power but He also sustains every moment of our existence—including the intimate details that occur every moment without our awareness: from the beating of our hearts to the intricate functioning of our brains. Reflecting on how our heavenly Father holds together every aspect of our existence, David exclaimed, “How precious to me are your thoughts, God!” (Psalm 139:17).

God is closer to us than our last breath. He made us, knows us, and loves us, and He is ever worthy of our worship and praise.

The Hardest Places

Geoff is a youth pastor today in the same city where he once abused heroin. God transformed both his heart and his circumstances in a breathtaking way. “I want to keep kids from making the same mistakes and suffering the pain I went through,” Geoff said. “And Jesus will help them.” Over time, God set him free from the slavery of addiction and has given him a vital ministry in spite of his past.

God has ways of bringing unexpected good out of situations where hope seems lost. Joseph was sold into slavery in Egypt and falsely accused and sent to prison, where he was forgotten for years. But God restored him and placed him in a position of authority directly under Pharaoh, where he was able to save many lives—including the lives of his brothers who had abandoned him. There in Egypt Joseph married and had children. He named the second Ephraim (drawn from the Hebrew term for “twice fruitful”), and gave this reason: “It is because God has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering” (Genesis 41:52).

Geoff’s and Joseph’s stories, while separated by three to four thousand years, point to the same unchanging truth: even the hardest places in our lives can become fertile ground for God to help and bless many. Our Savior’s love and power never change, and He is always faithful to those who trust in Him.

No Line to Love

Sometimes when my Labrador retriever wants attention, he’ll take something of mine and parade it in front of me. One morning as I was writing at the desk with my back turned, Max snatched my wallet and ran off. But realizing I hadn’t seen him do it, he returned and nudged me with his nose—wallet in mouth, eyes dancing, tail wagging, taunting me to play.

Max’s antics made me laugh, but they also reminded me of my limitations when it comes to being attentive to others. So often I’ve intended to spend time with family or friends, but other things occupy my time and awareness; and before I know it the day slips away and love is left undone.

How comforting to know that our heavenly Father is so great that He is able to attend to each of us in the most intimate ways—even sustaining every breath in our lungs and synapse in our brains for as long as we live. He promises His people, “Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you” (Isaiah 46:4).

God always has time for us. He understands every detail of our circumstances—no matter how complex or difficult—and is there whenever we call on Him in prayer. We never have to wait in line for our Savior’s unlimited love.

Prompted to Pray

“Several years ago I was prompted to pray for you often, and I wonder why.”

That text message from an old friend came with a photo of a note in her Bible: “Pray for James. Cover mind, thoughts, words.” Beside my name she recorded three separate years.

I looked at the years and caught my breath. I wrote back and asked what month she began to pray. She responded, “Sometime around July.”

That was the month I was preparing to leave home for extended study abroad. I would be facing an unfamiliar culture and language and have my faith challenged like never before. As I looked at the note in her Bible, I realized I had received the precious gift of generous prayer.    

My friend’s kindness reminded me of another “prompting” to pray, Paul’s instruction to his young missionary friend Timothy: “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people” (1 Timothy 2:1, italics added). That phrase “first of all” indicates highest priority. Our prayers matter, Paul explains, because God “wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” about Jesus (v. 4).

God moves through faithful prayer in innumerable ways to encourage others and draw them near to Himself. We may not know someone’s circumstances when they come to mind, but God does. And He will help that person as we pray!

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