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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

Prejudice and God’s Love

“You’re not what I expected. I thought I’d hate you, but I don’t.” The young man’s words seemed harsh, but they were actually an effort to be kind. I was studying abroad in his country, a land that decades earlier had been at war with my own. We were participating in a group discussion in class together, and I noticed he seemed distant. When I asked if I had offended him somehow, he responded “Not at all . . . . And that’s the thing. My grandfather was killed in that war, and I hated your people and your country for it. But now I see how much we have in common, and that surprises me. I don’t see why we can’t be friends.”

Prejudice is as old as the human race. Two millennia ago, when Nathaniel first heard about Jesus living in Nazareth, his bias was evident: “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” he asked (John 1:46). Nathaniel lived in the region of Galilee, like Jesus. He probably thought God’s Messiah would come from another place; even other Galileans looked down on Nazareth because it seemed to be an unremarkable little village.

This much is clear. Nathaniel’s response didn’t stop Jesus from loving him, and he was transformed as he became His disciple. “You are the Son of God!” Nathaniel later declared (John 1:49). There is no bias that can stand against God’s transforming love.

Destruction Destroyed

“The baby birds will fly tomorrow!” My wife, Cari, was elated about the progress a family of wrens was making in a hanging basket on our front porch. She’d watched them daily, taking pictures as the mother brought food to the nest.

Cari got up early the next morning to look in on them. She moved some of the greenery aside covering the nest but instead of seeing baby birds, the narrow eyes of a serpent met hers. The snake had scaled a vertical wall, slithered into the nest, and devoured them all.

Cari was heartbroken and angry. I was out of town, so she called a friend to remove the snake. But the damage was done.

Scripture tells of another serpent who left destruction in his path. The serpent in the garden of Eden deceived Eve about the tree God had warned her against eating from: “You will not certainly die,” he lied, “for God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:4–5).

Sin and death entered the world as a result of Eve and Adam’s disobedience to God, and the deception wrought by “that ancient serpent, who is the devil” continues (Revelation 20:2). But Jesus came “to destroy the devil’s work” (1 John 3:8), and through Him we’re restored to relationship with God. One day, He’ll make “everything new” (Revelation 21:5).

God’s Unexpected Ways

The pastor squinted over his sermon, holding the pages close to his face in order to make the words out. He was extremely near-sighted, and read each carefully chosen phrase with an unimposing monotone voice. But God’s Spirit moved through Jonathan Edwards’s preaching to fan the revival fires of the First Great Awakening and bring thousands to faith in Christ.

God often uses unexpected things to accomplish His perfect purposes. Writing about God’s plan to draw wayward humanity near through Jesus’ loving death for us on a cross, Paul concludes, “But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong” (1 Corinthians 1:27). The world expected divine wisdom to look like our own and to come with irresistible force. Instead, Jesus came humbly and gently to save us from our sins and so became for us “wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption” (1 Corinthians 1:30).

The eternal and all-wise God became a human baby who would grow to adulthood and suffer and die and be raised to life in order to lovingly show us the way home to Him. He loves to use humble means and people to accomplish great things we could never achieve in our own strength. If we are willing, He may even use us.

“Everything Is against Me”

“This morning I thought I was worth a great deal of money, now I don’t know that I have a dollar.” Former US president Ulysses S. Grant said those words the day he was swindled out of his life’s savings by a business partner. Months later Grant was diagnosed with incurable cancer. Concerned about providing for his family, he accepted an offer from author Mark Twain to publish his memoirs, which he completed a week before he died.

The Bible tells us of another person who faced grave hardships. Jacob believed his son Joseph had been “torn to pieces” by a “ferocious animal” (Genesis 37:33). Then his son Simeon was held captive in a foreign country, and Jacob feared his son Benjamin would be taken from him as well. Overcome, he cried out, “Everything is against me!” (42:36).

But it wasn’t. Little did Jacob know that his son Joseph was very much alive, and that God was at work “behind the scenes” to restore his family. Their story illustrates how God can be trusted even when we can’t see His hand in our circumstances.

Grant’s memoirs proved to be a great success and his family was well cared for. Though he didn’t live to see it, his believing wife did. Our vision is limited, but God’s isn’t. And with Jesus as our hope, “if God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31). May we place our trust in Him today.

The Gift of Encouragement

Your bees are swarming!” My wife stuck her head inside the door and gave me news no beekeeper wants to hear. I ran outside to see thousands of bees flying up from the hive to the top of a tall pine, never to return.

I was a little behind in reading the clues that the hive was about to swarm; more than a week of storms had hampered my inspections. The morning the storms ended, the bees left. The colony was new and healthy, and the bees were actually dividing the colony to start a new one. “Don’t be hard on yourself,” an experienced beekeeper told me cheerfully after seeing my disappointment. “This can happen to anyone!”

Encouragement is a winsome gift. When David was disheartened because Saul was pursuing him to take his life, Saul’s son Jonathan encouraged David. “Don’t be afraid,” Jonathan said. “My father Saul will not lay a hand on you. You will be king over Israel, and I will be second to you. Even my father Saul knows this” (1 Samuel 23:17).

Those are surprisingly selfless words from someone next in line to the throne. It’s likely Jonathan recognized that God was with David, so he spoke out of a humble heart of faith.

All around us are people who need encouragement. God will help us help them as we humble ourselves before Him and ask Him to love them through us.

Hope Beyond Consequences

Have you ever done something in anger you later regretted? When my son was wrestling with drug addiction, I said some harsh things in reaction to his choices. My anger only discouraged him more. But eventually he encountered believers who spoke life and hope to him, and in time he was set free.

Even someone as exemplary in faith as Moses did something he later regretted. When the people of Israel were in the desert and water was scarce, they complained bitterly. So God gave Moses and Aaron specific instructions: “Speak to that rock before their eyes and it will pour out its water” (Numbers 20:8). But Moses reacted in anger, giving himself and Aaron credit for the miracle instead of God: “Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?” Then he disobeyed God directly, “raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff” (vv. 10–11).

Even though water flowed, there were tragic consequences. Neither Moses nor Aaron was allowed to enter the land God promised His people. But He was still merciful, allowing Moses to see it from afar (27:12).

As with Moses, God still mercifully meets us in the desert of our disobedience to God. Through Jesus’ death and resurrection, He kindly offers us forgiveness and hope. No matter where we’ve been or what we’ve done, if we turn to Him, He’ll lead us into life.

God’s Garden

A reminder of the beauty and brevity of life grows outside my front door. Last spring my wife planted moonflower vines, so named because of their large and round white blooms that resemble a full moon. Each flower opens for one night and then withers in the bright sun the following morning, never to bloom again. But the plant is prolific, and every evening presents a fresh parade of flowers. We love watching it as we come and go each day, wondering what new beauty will greet us when we return.

These fragile flowers call to mind a vital truth from Scripture. The apostle Peter, recalling the words of the prophet Isaiah, wrote, “You have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. For, ‘All people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall’” but God keeps His promises forever! (1 Peter 1:23–25).

Like flowers in a garden, our lives on Earth are short when compared with eternity. But God has spoken beauty into our brevity. Through the good news of Jesus, we make a fresh beginning with God and trust His promise of unlimited life in His loving presence. When Earth’s sun and moon are but a memory, we will praise Him still.

Hope That Holds

I know Daddy’s coming home because he sent me flowers.” Those were my seven-year-old sister’s words to our mother when Dad was missing in action during wartime. Before Dad left for his mission, he preordered flowers for my sister’s birthday, and they arrived while he was missing. But she was right: Dad did come home—after a harrowing combat situation. And decades later she still keeps the vase that held the flowers as a reminder to always hold on to hope.

Sometimes holding on to hope isn’t easy in a broken, sinful world. Daddies don’t always come home, and children’s wishes sometimes go unfulfilled. But God gives hope in the most difficult circumstances. In another time of war, the prophet Habakkuk predicted the Babylonian invasion of Judah (Habakkuk 1:6; see 2 Kings 24) but still affirmed that God is always good (vv. 12–13). Remembering God’s kindness to His people in the past, Habakkuk proclaimed: “Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior” (3:17–18).  

Some commentators believe Habakkuk’s name means “to cling.” We can cling to God as our ultimate hope and joy even in trials because He holds on to us and will never let go.

Wagging Tails and Tongues

The newspaper declared that Pep had taken the life of the cat of the governor’s wife—but he didn’t do it. The only thing he may have been guilty of was chewing the sofa at the governor’s mansion.

Pep was a rambunctious young Labrador retriever owned by Pennsylvania’s governor Gifford Pinchot in the 1920s. The dog actually was sent to Eastern State Penitentiary, where his mug shot was taken with a prisoner identification number. When a newspaper reporter heard about it, he made up the cat story. Because his report appeared in the newspaper, many believed Pep really was a cat-killer.

Israel’s King Solomon knew well the power of misinformation. He wrote, “The words of a gossip are like choice morsels, they go down to the inmost parts” (Proverbs 18:8). Sometimes our fallen human nature causes us to want to believe things about others that aren’t true.

Yet even when others believe untruths about us, God can still use us for good. In reality, the governor sent Pep to prison so he could be a friend to the inmates there—and that he served for many years as a pioneer therapy dog.

God’s purposes for our lives still stand, regardless of what others say or think. We should certainly avoid the sin of gossip, yet when others sin by gossiping about us, remember that God’s opinion—and His love for us—is what matters most.