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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

The “Chewing” Years

My wife recently gave me a Labrador retriever puppy we named “Max.” One day when Max was spending time with me in my study, I was concentrating at my desk and heard the sound of paper ripping behind me. I turned to find a guilty-looking puppy with a book wide open and a page dangling from his mouth.

Our veterinarian tells us that Max is going through his “chewing years.” As puppies lose their milk teeth and permanent ones grow, they soothe their gums by chewing almost anything. We have to watch Max carefully to ensure he isn’t gnawing on something that could harm him, and we point him to healthy alternatives.

Max’s urge to chew—and my responsibility to watch him—cause me to think about what we “chew on” in our minds and hearts. Do we carefully consider what we are feeding our eternal souls when we read or “surf the web” or watch TV? The Bible encourages us, “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good” (1 Peter 2:2–3). We need to fill ourselves daily with God’s Word and truth if we are to thrive as followers of Christ. Only then can we grow to maturity in Him.

When Words Fail

Not long ago I sent my wife Cari a text message using only voice prompts. I was on my way out the door to give her a ride home from work and intended to send the words, “Where would you like me to pick you up, old gal?”

Cari doesn’t mind my calling her “old gal”—it’s one of the affectionate nicknames we use around the house. But my cell phone didn’t “understand” the phrase, and sent the words “old cow” instead.

Fortunately for me, Cari immediately understood what had happened and found it funny. She later posted my text message on social media and asked, “Should I be offended?” We were both able to laugh about it.

My wife’s loving response to my awkward words that day makes me think about God’s loving understanding of our prayers. We may not know what to say when we pray or even what to ask for, but when we belong to Christ, His Spirit within “intercedes for us through wordless groans” (Romans 8:26) and lovingly helps us articulate our deepest needs before Him.

Our heavenly Father doesn’t stand at a distance waiting for us to get our words right. We can come to Him with every need, assured that He understands and receives us with love.

Longing for God

One day my daughter was visiting with our one-year-old grandson. I was getting ready to leave the house on an errand, but as soon as I walked out of the room my grandson began to cry. It happened twice, and each time I went back and spent a moment with him. As I headed out the door the third time, his little lip began to quiver again. At that point my daughter said, “Dad, why don’t you just take him with you?”

Any grandparent could tell you what happened next. My grandson went along for the ride, just because I love him. 

How good it is to know that the longings of our hearts for God are also met with love. The Bible assures us that we can “know and rely on the love God has for us” (1 John 4:16). God doesn’t love us because of anything we have or haven’t done. His love isn’t based on our worthiness at all, but on His goodness and faithfulness. When the world around us is unloving and unkind, we can rely on God’s unchanging love as our source of hope and peace.

Our heavenly Father’s heart has gone out to us through the gift of His Son and His Spirit. How comforting is the assurance that God loves us with love that never ends!

God in the Details

When my “chocolate” Labrador retriever puppy was three months old, I took him to the veterinarian’s office for his shots and checkup. As our vet carefully looked him over, she noticed a small white marking in his fur on his left hind paw. She smiled and said to him, “That’s where God held you when He dipped you in chocolate.”

I couldn’t help but laugh. But she had unintentionally made a meaningful point about the deep and personal interest God takes in His creation.

Jesus tells us in Matthew 10:30 that “even the very hairs of your head are all numbered.” God is so great that He is able take infinite interest in the most intimate details of our lives. There is nothing so small that it escapes His notice, and there is no concern too trivial to bring before Him. He simply cares that much.

God not only created us; He sustains and keeps us through every moment. It’s sometimes said that “the devil is in the details.” But it’s better by far to understand that God is in them, watching over even the things that escape our notice. How comforting it is to know that our perfectly wise and caring heavenly Father holds us—along with all of creation—in His strong and loving hands.

Comfort Shared

“God sent you to me tonight!”

Those were the parting words from the woman standing in front of me as we exited our flight to Chicago. She had sat across the aisle from me, where I learned she was headed home after several flights in a round-trip that day. “Do you mind if I ask why you had such a quick turnaround?” I inquired. She glanced downward: “I just put my daughter in rehab for drug abuse today.”

In the moments that followed I gently shared the story of my son’s struggle with heroin addiction and how Jesus had set him free. As she listened, a smile broke through her tears. After the plane landed we prayed together before parting, asking God to break her daughter’s chains.

Later that evening I thought of Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 1:3–4: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.”

All around us are people who need to be encouraged with the comfort only God can give. He wants us to reach out to them with tenderhearted compassion, to share the love He has shared with us. May God send us to those who need His comfort today!

Giving the Gift of Prayer

“I didn’t realize what a gift prayer was until my brother was sick and you all prayed for him. I cannot tell you what a comfort your prayers were!”

Laura had tears in her eyes as she thanked me for our prayers of the people in our church for her brother, who was facing a cancer diagnosis. She continued, “Your prayers have strengthened him in this difficult time and have been an encouragement to our entire family.”

One of the best ways to love others is to pray for them. Jesus is our ultimate example in this. The New Testament tells us about Jesus praying for others on many occasions, and even shows us that He continues to come to the Father on our behalf. Romans 8:34 says that He “is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.” Even after showing such selfless love at the cross, the risen and ascended Lord Jesus Christ continues to express His care for us by praying for us at this very moment.

All around us are people who need us to follow Jesus’s example and love them with our prayers, inviting God’s help and intervention in their lives. We can ask God to help us pray for them, and He will! May our loving Lord strengthen us to generously give the gift of our prayers for others today.

Precious to God

His name was David, but most just called him “the street fiddler.” David was a disheveled, older man who was a regular fixture in popular places in our city, serenading passers-by with unusual skill at his violin. In exchange for his music, listeners would sometimes place a dollar in the open instrument case before them on the sidewalk. David would smile and nod his head in thanks as he continued to play.

When David died recently and his obituary appeared in a local paper, it was revealed that he spoke several languages, was the graduate of a prestigious university, and had even run for the state senate years ago. Some expressed surprise at the extent of his accomplishments, having assessed him on the basis of appearance alone.

Scripture tells us that “God created mankind in his own image” (Genesis 1:27). This reveals an inherent worth within each of us, regardless of how we look, what we have achieved, or what others may think of us. Even when we chose to turn from God in our sinfulness, God valued us so much that He would send His only Son to show us the way to salvation and eternity with Him.

We are loved by God, and all around us are those who are precious to Him. May we express our love for Him in return, by sharing His love with others.

Fleeing to Strength

“Parry four!”

When I began fencing in high school, my coach would shout the correct defensive position (“parry”) against the move he was making. When he extended his weapon and lunged, to repel the attack I had to listen and respond immediately.

That active listening brings to mind the prompt obedience Scripture calls for in the area of sexual temptation. In 1 Corinthians 6:18 Paul writes to believers tempted to solicit pagan temple prostitutes, telling them to “flee from sexual immorality.” Sometimes we are to “stand firm” in challenging circumstances (Ephesians 6:11; Galatians 5:1), but here the Bible practically shouts our best defense: “Run away!”

Immediate action guards against compromise. Small compromises can lead to devastating defeats. An unrestrained thought, a glance in the wrong place on the Internet, a flirting friendship when you’re already married—each are steps that take us where we shouldn’t go and put distance between us and God.

When we flee temptation, God also provides a place to run. Through Jesus’s death on the cross for our sins, He offers us hope, forgiveness, and a new beginning—no matter where we’ve been or what we’ve done. When we run to Jesus in our weakness, He sets us free to live in His strength.

True Hope

Not long ago I visited the Empire State Building with a friend. The line looked short—just down the block and around the corner. Yet as we entered the building, we discovered the line of people stretching through the lobby, up the stairs, and into another room. Every new turn revealed more distance to go.

Attractions and theme parks carefully route their crowds to make the lines seem shorter. Yet disappointment can lurk “just around the bend.”

Sometimes life’s disappointments are much more severe. The job we hoped for doesn’t materialize; friends we counted on let us down; the romantic relationship we longed for fails to work out. But into these heartbreaks, God’s Word speaks a refreshing truth about our hope in Him. The apostle Paul wrote, “Suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame [or disappoint us], because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us” (Romans 5:3–5).      

As we place our trust in Him, through His Spirit, God whispers the truth that we are unconditionally loved and will one day be with Him—regardless of the obstacles we face. In a world that may often disappoint us, how good it is to know that God gives genuine hope.

 

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