My name is Sasha Hettich, and I am an intern at Discovery House Publishers. I spoke with James Banks to get a better idea of his thoughts behind his latest book Prayers For Prodigals: 90 Days of Prayer For Your Child. Like his previous book, The Lost Art of Praying Together, Prayers for Prodigals is another powerful read, and both emphasize James Banks’ passion for helping others find a meaningful relationship with God through prayer. He currently serves as a pastor and church planter in Durham, North Carolina.
Sasha: Hi, James, thank you so much for talking with me today.
James: Thank you, Sasha.
Sasha: I wanted to start out by asking you, what gave you the original idea for Prayers For Prodigals?
James: Really, a lot of living. My wife and I have two children who have walked the prodigal path, and in that we have found the best recourse is prayer. As so we kept coming back to that place of dependence on God in prayer because of our children.
Sasha: So if you have a child who is making decisions to turn from God, how does this make you feel as a parent? And what thoughts go through your mind?
James: Oh, it can be heart-breaking because for one, every parent wants better for their child than they’ve had for themselves. You see your child having to learn the hard way, having to learn from their mistakes and you would intervene if you possibly could, but you can’t because we have to learn for ourselves. We have to make our own choices and in some ways, you find yourself powerless standing by. But the beauty of it is that we’re not powerless because of prayer. And that isn’t the power of control, if you will. It is “Father, you saved me. Save my child.”
Sasha: So you’re giving the control to God.
James: Absolutely. This is not a “my will be done” kind of thing in my child’s life. This is “Father, Your will be done. You know what is best for my child.” That isn’t always easy, but it ends up in the right place.
Sasha: I like what you say in week 10 of your book. You have little devotionals in between the prayers. You say “The spiritual blindness in our children’s lives is not caused by the sins of the parents, but by sin that is a part of the fallen nature we all share because “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” So the best thing to do from fallen nature, as you say, is pray and just give the glory and control to God to do what He will.
James: Well, sometimes we look at the choices our children have made and blame ourselves. The could’ve, would’ve, should’ve’s. We raise our head and say “If only I had done this, if only I had been more conscientious here, etc. Not that there aren’t areas where maybe we could have done things differently, but the truth is, we didn’t. We have to entrust that to God.
For me personally, parenting prodigals kids was a challenge because I didn’t make some of the choices my kids made. I purposefully made other choices. When I was offered marijuana, I turned it down, even though it cost me a friendship. That kind of thing. When you see your kids doing those things, you do realize that they got that old sin nature from somewhere. Sometimes parenting a prodigal child can be really humbling. It really does bring us to our knees. Sometimes we can pride ourselves in “well, we haven’t done these things, our kids won’t, either.” But in the end, that place of dependence on God is the best place for us to be.
Sasha: Have you done any extensive study on the prodigal parable in preparation for this book, and if so, did you find anything very fascinating or new that you’ve never discovered before?
James: Yes, yes, yes. I’ve looked at that parable so many times and the thing that always jumps out at me is that the father runs. It’s true that the son makes the decision. He comes to his senses in the far country, makes the decision, and turns home.
But when he is coming home, the father ‘sees him in the distance’, Luke writes. “When he was still a long way off, the father ran to him.” And this is something that, if you understand the context of the culture of that day, a middle-eastern father in that culture would not run to a son, especially under those circumstances.
James: Yeah. But this father does. And I see that as a very clear picture of Jesus. Jesus is God, welcoming us home. And in that regard, we’re all prodigals. The story of the prodigal son is the story of the human condition. We all need to be saved.
Sasha: That is a beautiful picture, picturing God running, almost like you’re the only prodigal child, though we all are.
There’s a lot of discussion in the Christian parenting world today that I’ve noticed about indoctrination and the difference between instilling values and enforcing beliefs. How do you find a balance between trying to bring your kids up with values and enforcing those beliefs, almost like making them believe a certain way?
James: Great question. I find we can’t enforce beliefs, per say. There are no “second generation” Christians. 1 Corinthians 12:3 says no one can say that “Jesus is Lord” apart from the Spirit. And so, our kids in their own hearts have to choose whether or not they’re going to follow Jesus.
We do our best to instill values and to advocate those beliefs, and most of all to live them in honest and positive ways before our children, but in the end, kids make their own choices. And I believe that those values are strong enough that as we instill the Word of God in our children, for example, that it will not return to Him void. That it will bear fruit in their lives over time. But it’s that “over time” part that’s hard.
Sasha: How can prayer affect a parent’s relationship with their prodigal child?
James: Oh, it’s huge. If as an evangelical believer, I claim to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, how can I have that relationship if I’m not praying? Prayer is in many ways like breathing in my relationship with Jesus Christ. It draws me close to Him. It’s the means whereby through His Spirit, I find that He speaks to me, that He shows me His will, and really directs my life so that as I’m seeking what to for my kids, prayer can never be far away.
Again, it’s not an issue of “My will be done”, but of “Thy will be done.” Any plan, any goal I may have for my child’s life ultimately needs to be surrendered to God for His direction and blessing.
Sasha: I can imagine, though I’m not a parent myself yet, but that it [prayer] could change your attitude and soften your heart toward that child, as well.
James: Oh, it has to. For example, I think one of the most challenging and overlooked parts of The Lord’s Prayer is “forgive us our sins, just as we forgive those who sin against us”. In other words, “Lord, I want you to forgive my sins, just like I forgive everyone else’s.” Can I really say that? And mean that to Almighty God? Prayer helps us keep our hearts in the right place through the Spirit at work as we pray.
Sasha: So, what do you hope that readers gain from Prayers for Prodigals? What would make you feel like the book was worth all the time and effort you put into it?
James: What I hope most of all is that the readers’ prodigals will come home to God. The prayers of a parent are so vital. They’re so powerful. More than anything else, if one soul is saved and returns to Jesus after walking away, if God uses this book for that, what a joy!
Sasha: I noticed that your previous book The Lost Art of Praying Together and Prayers For Prodigals share a common theme which is prayer. Tell me more about why you’re so drawn to the topic of prayer.
James: I would say that prayer is part of God’s work in my heart. Prayer amazes me. It fascinates me. It challenges me. Again, I see prayer as so much a part of our relationship with God. When you have an answer to prayer that you know is a very specific answer, the burden of proof becomes far too difficult to explain. It could not be just a coincidence, because it would be a series of coincidences. It’s this wonderful evidence of the truth of our relationship with God. William Cooper and his contemporary John Newton wrote a beautiful Hymnal together called “Only Hymns”. One of his Hymns has this line that you may have heard:
“Restraining prayer, we cease to fight, prayer makes the Christian’s armor bright. And Satan trembles when he sees the weakest saint upon his knees.” I may be the weakest saint, but by the grace of God, when I pray, I’m a force to be reckoned with. That’s astounding.
Sasha: Yeah. That God would allow mere humans to talk to Him is incredible, too.
James: Absolutely. It’s all through His mercy.
Sasha: This is something I’ve always wondered. As a college student myself, I’ve come across many peers who are trying to figure out what exactly they believe about God. They are trying to separate what their parents have always told them from what they should follow, so what would you say is the difference between a child who doubts his faith is true in that journey seeking to secure what he believes and a prodigal child? Or are they one and the same?
James: That’s another excellent question and a challenging one because there is a middle ground there. The first thing I would like to say is that God is strong enough for our questions. I was a philosophy major in college, and really God used my questions to draw me closer to Him. We look at Thomas, for example, who we call “The Doubter”. Thomas was the very first of the disciples to look at the incarnate Jesus and to say “My Lord and My God.” Which is an amazing thing for a monotheistic Jew to say while looking at someone standing right in front of him. Thomas actually makes the first truely trinitarian statement of all the disciples. But we don’t give him credit for that.
Sasha: We just call him “Doubting Thomas”.
James: Exactly. But you see that his questions brought him to a place that you don’t see articulated until later by the other disciples and the early centuries by the church with the Creeds. God is strong enough for our questions, and I think that an authentic relationship with God will ask those questions. But I also think that questions or doubts can become a refuge for sin. In other words, we have this question or this doubt, and we hang on to that. So that’s the middle ground that I’m talking about.
I’ve met many people today and in the past who use their questions as a resort, if you will, to do what they please. And yet you read the Scriptures, and you can find that God’s people asked questions. The Psalms are full of questions.
A prodigal is someone who has chosen to walk away. They may say a lot of the right things, they may say they believe, but they have chosen to live for themselves instead of living for the kingdom of God.
Sasha: What made you choose this particular way of writing this book as a book of prayers rather than a self-help book?
James: I wanted people to go straight to God. We can talk about prayers all day long, about how to pray and what to pray. But we need to go to that place of prayer. We need to come boldly before the throne of grace. That’s why. It’s a heart cry, and that’s where the parents of prodigals are. They love their children. They dearly want them to come home. By coming home, again that means coming home to a vital relationship with God that they were raised to have.
That’s really in many ways how I see a prodigal son or daughter who perhaps believed at one point in their lives, but then walked away. Of course, it could be a child who has never come to the faith. In many instances, it is surprising how many parents who have had to walk this road. We’re all on this road together, praying for our children. When your relationship with Jesus is the most vital thing in your life, you have to share it, and you don’t want anything less for your children.
Sasha: I really like that on your website prayersforprodigals.org that you allow space for people to share prayer requests. Do you yourself pray for those requests?
James: Oh yeah, absolutely. As a matter of fact, I just posted a couple more yesterday. We have to pray them. The reason these were put up is so that we could pray for each other and build a community. I have parents whom I am praying for every day, and praying for their kids, because I just believe that honors God.
Sasha: Overall, how has your perspective of the prodigal parable changed now that you have your own children who have made their own decisions about faith?
James: I would say it has deepened. It has given me a sense of the Father’s heart that I never had before. I get a sense of the longing and the heartbreak. I realize that that heartbreak was there for me, and it is also there for my children. That is the very heart of the Gospel; a Father who runs.
Sasha: Lastly, what last piece of advice do you have for parents who are struggling with guilt and anxiety for their prodigal child?
James: I would tell them that Jesus loves their prodigal child even more than they do. That Jesus loves you and your child with a love that defies description. Peter said, “Lord, to whom are we to go? You have the words of eternal life.” And I would tell them to keep praying, to keep believing, to keep hoping, and to hang in there with their child, and most of all, in prayer. Run to Jesus.
Sasha: Your answer to this question makes me think of the verse that says that the Holy Spirit comes as an intercessory for us when we are groaning in prayer.
James: That’s right. And that’s really a big part of this book, why that format was chosen, again, because it’s a heart cry. So many of these prayers just flowed. There were Scripture verses that I didn’t even know that I knew as I was writing. There were so many times that I would be writing and praying, and a verse would come to mind. I would think “Is that in there?” And sure enough, I would find the reference. It was there. God surprised me a number of times when I was writing this. There was this sense of almost being carried, if you will, as I was writing this.
Sasha: Thank you so much, James, for talking with me today. It has been great to talk with you.
James: Thank you, Sasha.
For more information about James Banks and his latest book, visit his website at jamesbanks.org or prayersforprodigals.org where you can view the book trailer and post your own prayer requests for your prodigal child. To purchase Prayers For Prodigals, visit our website at dhp.org.