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About 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

Walking by a Blessing

By |2022-05-12T09:06:03-04:00May 12th, 2022|

In 1799 twelve-year-old Conrad Reed found a large, glittering rock in the stream that ran through his family’s small farm in North Carolina. He carried it home to show his father, a poor immigrant farmer. His father didn’t understand the rock’s potential value and used it as a doorstop. The family walked by it for years.

Eventually Conrad’s rock—actually a seventeen-pound gold nugget—caught the eye of a local jeweler. Soon the Reed family became wealthy, and their property became the site of the first major gold strike in the United States.

Sometimes we walk past a blessing, intent on our own plans and ways. After Israel was exiled to Babylon for disobeying God, He proclaimed freedom for them once again. But He also reminded them of what they’d missed. “I am the Lord your God,” He told them, “who teaches you what is best for you, who directs you in the way you should go. If only you had paid attention to my commands, your peace would have been like a river, your well-being like the waves of the sea” (italics added). God then encouraged them to follow Him away from old ways into a new life: “Leave Babylon . . . . Announce this with shouts of joy”! (Isaiah 48:17–18, 20).

Leaving Babylon, perhaps now as much as then, means leaving sinful ways and “coming home” to a God who longs to do us good—if only we’ll obey and follow Him!

Carried by Love

By |2022-04-13T09:06:04-04:00April 13th, 2022|

My four-year-old grandson sat on my lap and patted my bald head, studying it intently. “Papa,” he asked, “What happened to your hair?” “Oh,” I laughed, “I lost it over the years.” His face turned thoughtful: “That’s too bad” he responded. “I’ll have to give you some of mine.”

I smiled at his compassion and pulled him close for a hug. Reflecting later on his love for me in that cherished moment also caused me to ponder God’s selfless, generous love.

G. K. Chesterton wrote: “We have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.” By this he meant that the “Ancient of Days” (Daniel 7:9) is untainted by sin’s decay—God is ageless and loves us exuberantly with a love that never falters or fades. He is fully willing and able to fulfill the promise He made to His people in Isaiah 46: “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” (v. 4).

Five verses later He explains, “I am God, and there is none like me.” (v. 9). The great “I AM” (Exodus 3:14) loves us so deeply that He went to the extreme of dying on the cross to bear the full weight of our sin, so that we might turn to Him and be free of our burden and gratefully worship Him forever!

Making Every Moment Count

By |2022-04-11T09:06:05-04:00April 11th, 2022|

The halted hands of a pocket watch in a library’s archives at the University of North Carolina tell a harrowing tale. They mark the exact moment (8:19 and 56 seconds) the watch’s owner Elisha Mitchell slipped and fell to his death at a waterfall in the Appalachian Mountains on the morning of June 27, 1857.

Mitchell, a professor at the university, was gathering data to defend his (correct) claim that the peak he was on—which now bears his name, Mount Mitchell—was the highest one east of the Mississippi. His grave is located at the mountain’s summit, not far from where he fell.

As I ascended that mountain peak recently, I reflected on Mitchell’s story and my own mortality and how each of us has only so much time. And I pondered Jesus’ words about His return as He spoke to His disciples on the Mount of Olives: “So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him” (Matthew 24:44).

Jesus clearly indicates that none of us knows either the moment He will return and establish His kingdom forever or when He may summon us to leave this world and come to Him. But He tells us to be prepared and “keep watch” (v. 42).

Tick . . . tick . . . The “clockwork” of each of our lives is still in motion—but for how long? May we live our moments in love with our merciful Savior, waiting and working for Him.

Witness Marks

By |2022-04-01T10:01:57-04:00April 1st, 2022|

“See that?” The clock repairman pointed his flashlight beam on a small, fine mark roughly engraved inside the old grandfather clock he was working on in our home. “Another repairman could have put that there almost a century ago,” he said. “It’s called a ‘witness mark,’ and it helps me know how to set the mechanism.”

Before the age of technical bulletins and repair manuals, “witness marks” were used to help the person making a future repair to align moving parts with precision. They were more than just time-saving reminders; they were often left as a simple kindness to the next person doing the work.

The Bible encourages us to leave our own “witness marks” as we work for Him by serving others in our broken world. The apostle Paul wrote to the church in Rome: “Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up” (Romans 15:2). This is the example of our God, “who gives endurance and encouragement” (v. 5). It’s about being a good citizen of both earth and heaven.

Our “witness marks” may seem like small things, but they can make a vital difference in someone’s life. An uplifting word, a financial gift to someone in need, and a listening ear—all are kindnesses that can have a lasting impact. May God help you to make a mark for Him in someone’s life today!

Encouraged in God

By |2022-03-03T08:06:11-05:00March 3rd, 2022|

In 1925 Langston Hughes, an aspiring writer working as a busboy at a hotel in Washington D.C., discovered that a poet he admired (Vachel Lindsey) was staying as a guest at the hotel. Hughes shyly slipped Lindsey some of his own poetry, which Lindsey later praised enthusiastically at a public reading. Lindsey’s encouragement resulted in Hughes receiving a university scholarship, furthering him on his way to his own successful writing career.  

A little encouragement can go a long way, especially when God is in it. Scripture tells of an incident when David was on the run from King Saul, who was trying “to take his life.” Saul’s son Jonathan sought David out “and helped him find strength in God. ‘Don’t be afraid,’ he said. ‘My father Saul will not lay a hand on you. You will be king over Israel’ ” (1 Samuel 23:15–17).

Jonathan was right. David would be king. The key to the effective encouragement Jonathan offered is found in the simple phrase, “in God.” God, through Jesus, gives us “eternal encouragement and good hope” (2 Thessalonians 2:16). As we humble ourselves before Him, He lifts us as no other can.

All around us are people who need the encouragement God gives. If we seek them out as Jonathan did David and gently point them to God through a kind word or action, He will do the rest. Regardless of what this life may hold, a bright future in eternity awaits those who trust in Him.

Leaning into God

By |2022-02-20T08:06:03-05:00February 20th, 2022|

Harriet Tubman couldn’t read or write. As an adolescent, she suffered a head injury at the hands of a cruel slave master. That injury caused her to have seizures and lapses of consciousness for the rest of her life. But once she escaped slavery, God used her to rescue as many as three hundred others.

Nicknamed “Moses” by those she freed, Harriet bravely made nineteen trips back to the pre-Civil War south to rescue others. She continued even when there was a price on her head and her life was in constant danger. A devoted believer in Jesus, she carried a hymnal and a Bible on every trip and had others read her verses, which she committed to memory and quoted often. “I prayed all the time,” she said, “about my work, everywhere; I was always talking to the Lord.” She also gave God credit for the smallest successes. Her life was a powerful expression of the apostle Paul’s instruction to the earliest Christians: “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:16–18).

When we lean into God in the moment and live dependently in prayer, praising Him despite our difficulties, He gives us the strength to accomplish even the most challenging tasks. Our Savior is greater than anything we face, and He will lead us as we look to Him.

Love’s Greatest Gift

By |2022-01-18T08:06:04-05:00January 18th, 2022|

My son Geoff was leaving a store when he saw an abandoned walking frame (a mobility aid) on the ground. I hope there isn’t a person back there who needs help, he thought. He glanced behind the building and found a homeless man unconscious on the pavement.

Geoff roused him and asked if he was okay. “I’m trying to drink myself to death,” he responded. “My tent broke in a storm and I lost everything. I don’t want to live.”

Geoff called a Christian rehabilitation ministry, and while they waited for help, he ran home briefly and brought the man his own camping tent. “What’s your name?” Geoff asked. “Geoffrey,” the homeless man answered, “with a G.” Geoff hadn’t mentioned his own name or its uncommon spelling. “Dad,” he told me later, “that could have been me.”

 Geoff once struggled with substance abuse himself, and he helped the man because of the kindness he’d received from God. Isaiah the prophet used these words to anticipate God’s mercy to us in Jesus: “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6).

Christ, our Savior, didn’t leave us lost, alone, and hopeless in despair. He chose to identify with us and lift us in love, so that we may be set free to live anew in Him. There is no greater gift.

When Love Never Ends

By |2022-01-03T08:06:03-05:00January 3rd, 2022|

“Whenever my grandfather took me to the beach,” Sandra reminisced, “he always took off his watch and put it away. One day I asked him why.”

“He smiled and replied, ‘Because I want you to know how important my moments with you are to me. I just want to be with you, and let time go by.’”

I heard Sandra share that recollection at her grandfather’s funeral. It was one of her favorite memories of their life together. As I reflected on how valued it makes us feel when others take time for us, it brought to mind Scripture’s words on God’s loving care.

God always makes time for us. David prays in Psalm 145, “You open your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing. The Lord is righteous in all his ways and faithful in all he does. The Lord is near” (vv. 16–18).

God’s goodness and thoughtful attention sustain our lives each moment, providing us with air to breath and food to eat. Because He is rich in love, the Creator of all things mercifully crafts even the most intricate details of our existence.

God’s love is so deep and unending that in His kindness and mercy He has even opened the way to eternal life and joy in His presence. As if to say, “I love you so much, I just want to be with you forever, and let time go by.”

 

Lion, Lamb, Savior!

By |2021-12-29T08:06:05-05:00December 29th, 2021|

Two stately stone lions watch over the entrance to the New York Public Library. Hewn from marble, they’ve stood there proudly since the library’s dedication in 1911. They were first nicknamed Leo Lenox and Leo Astor to honor the library’s founders. But during the Great Depression, New York’s Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia renamed them Fortitude and Patience, virtues he thought New Yorkers should demonstrate in those challenging years. The lions are still called Fortitude and Patience today.

The Bible describes a living, powerful Lion who also gives encouragement in trouble and is known by other names. In his vision of heaven, the apostle John wept when he saw that no one was able to open the sealed scroll containing God’s plan of judgment and redemption. Then John was told, “Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah . . . has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals” (Revelation 5:5).

Yet in the very next verse, John describes something else entirely: “Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the center of the throne” (v. 6). The Lion and the Lamb are the same person: Jesus. He is the conquering King and “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). Through His strength and His cross, we may receive mercy and forgiveness so that we may live in joy and wonder at all He is forever!

With Us in the Valley

By |2021-10-07T14:51:07-04:00October 5th, 2021|

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).

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