Publication:Pastoral Letter, November 2018
Dear Friend in Christ:
This month in America, we celebrate Thanksgiving to honor God’s Providence in the founding of our nation. Thanksgiving has taken on renewed significance for me personally. In 2014, I was facing a severe respiratory infection that wouldn’t go away for many weeks. It produced a searing headache that progressively worsened. Finally, I was hospitalized with severe pain and dizziness. My blood pressure spiked up to dangerous, life-threatening levels.
In the ensuing days, I underwent many tests, enduring constant pain and uncertainty. Specialists finally discovered a toxic fungus “ball” in one of my sinuses located between my brain and my eye; serious surgery was required. There were risks, but time was urgent. The three-hour surgery went well; recovery was painful and slow. I’m so thankful that the Lord healed me and gave me a fresh start in ministry; I’ve never forgotten it.
It’s one thing to preach on a truth or believe truth theoretically. However, truth takes on new relevance when you are in a storm and truth is your only hope of survival. During my personal health storm, I had lots of time to meditate on what I believe and, more importantly, to meditate on the One in Whom I believe.
Thank God for those who have sown truth in my life; the fruit of their love, wisdom, and prayer is here and abundant for me in my hour of need. One great truth that has been put into my life is the principle of practicing thanksgiving as a lifestyle. The Apostle Paul wrote, “in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Michael Coleman, one of my great mentors and friends, once said, “If you’re ever wondering what is God’s will for you, there it is: give thanks in everything!” I may not like my challenging circumstances, but I can rejoice and give thanks by faith that God is at work in my circumstances to produce something precious within me.
The morning of my surgery, several friends sent encouraging Scriptures. Singer John Elefante texted, “Let’s agree together and pray Psalm 91 over you.” So I read: “He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress; my God, in Him I will trust” (Psalm 91:1-2). All that day, and in days that followed, I held onto that entire Psalm, which speaks of healing and deliverance; it brought me joy and peace, like an anchor in a storm.
Pastor Gordon in Kenya sent this to me: “Bless the LORD, O my soul; and all that is within me, bless His holy name! Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits: Who forgives all your iniquities, Who heals all your diseases, Who redeems your life from destruction, Who crowns you with lovingkindness and tender mercies” (Psalm 103:1-4).
He Who resides in our hearts can actually direct and correct what is in our minds…and we can cooperate with Him! The mind says, “I hurt, I’m frustrated, I’m angry, I’ve been mistreated, my bank account is empty, there is no food in the pantry, my boss is a jerk, the city is on fire!” But then there is a welling up of the Holy Spirit Who resides in our hearts. He says, “Hey, wait a minute. Stop. Re-set. Re-focus. Bless the Lord. Praise Him, for He is good. Thank Him, for you are blessed. Don’t forget the things He has done for you. He is worthy of all gratitude, honor, and worship. The One Who provided all these things is still able and mighty to save!”
We have a choice at that point to choose which report we will believe. I call this “Transcendent Truth”; it is the Good News that transcends all circumstances. If we will confess the truth in line with the Holy Spirit, if we will agree our minds with His, then our entire perspective will change.
IN HIS PRESENCE
Some years ago, I read a survey which revealed that only a tiny percentage of people ever sense God’s presence in a church service. That stunned me. Why go to a church, then? Pleasant tunes? Affirming homily? Decent cup of coffee? Carpet color? Maybe some dry ice and lasers? If I am not going to encounter God at a church gathering in some kind of meaningful, tangible, transformative way, I really don’t want to go. I’ve got other stuff to do. Praise God, the churches I attend are full of life and joy; full of God’s presence!
King David said to the Lord in Psalm 16: “In Your presence is fullness of joy.” Following his terrible sin with Bathsheba, David pled with God, “Don’t cast me away from Your presence, O Lord” (see Psalm 51). David was willing to embrace the discipline of the Lord as long as the Lord did not reject him or leave him.
In Psalm 27, David said the most important thing to him — his top priority — was to be in God’s presence and dwell in His house forever. How important is it for you to be in God’s presence? To enjoy right relationship and abiding fellowship with Him? Is once a week good enough?
Here is my theory: if we are not “practicing the presence of God” during the week, then we will not be fully sensitive to Him when Sunday morning rolls around or any other time. God’s glory should not be a hobby for us, but a lifelong passion and pursuit. If we better understood what happens in His presence, we would do whatever it takes to be close to Him.
There are no formulas for “conjuring up” God’s presence, as if we could do such a thing. But, God does provide us with a key to entering into His presence in Psalm 100:4-5, which says:
“Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise. Be thankful to Him, and bless His name. For the Lord is good; His mercy is everlasting, and His truth endures to all generations.”
Thanksgiving is the entry point into God’s presence. It is the key that opens the gates. You can have every gift, talent, resource, and good work, but without a grateful heart, you simply don’t get in. If you don’t deal with the thanksgiving issue, everything else is a moot point. Here are a few characteristics of thanksgiving as a lifestyle:
The moment we begin to give God thanks and praise, regardless of our circumstance, something happens to our vision:
In Psalm 100, there is first an acknowledgement that He has made us; we did not create ourselves. Just as thanksgiving is the key for entering His presence, the fear of the Lord (rightly reverencing and honoring Him, living in awe of Him) is the key for accessing His wisdom. Arrogance is a blockade to wisdom, just as ingratitude deflects us from His presence and peace.
Romans 1 reveals a reverse pattern; steps that lead to death. When creation rebels against the design of the Creator, chaos is the result. How can we set things right in our own lives and be a light to others?
A couple of days before my surgery, I was laying in the dark alone, head and eyes covered with a heating pad, unwilling and unable to take any more painkillers. The pain was brutal, ratcheting up with greater and greater pressure. All that doctors and I knew to do, we had done. I couldn’t sleep or do anything for relief.
So, I cried out to God, and He simply said, “Sing.” Of course, singing was not what I felt like doing. Out of simple obedience and trust, I began to weakly croak out some praise choruses. At first, I felt foolish and self-conscious…but I kept on singing.
As the words began to seep into my consciousness, I sensed God’s courage and favor. I began to sing with greater boldness, joy, and conviction. I was declaring truths about God’s faithfulness and my own salvation. The more I declared this, the more I could feel chains of fear, self-pity, confusion, and frustration starting to break.
I became deeply aware of His presence, which had been there all along, but I had missed it. Soon, I could hear God’s voice speaking to my heart, and He was lifting my eyes to see a new revelation of His purpose in my life. As the peace of God settled upon me, I also sensed His joy in our fellowship. I was just one man in the dark in an old chair who discovered again that in my weakness, His strength is revealed and made perfect in me.
May I encourage you, in the midst of all of the great needs you may be facing, or the great things you may be seeking, to simply pause and give thanks to the Lord for all that He has already done? “Count your blessings”, as the old hymn says. I believe it will affect your vision and help you to see things you may have missed before. It may well be that the answer to your most complex troubles will be found in the simplicity of giving thanks to God.
All of us here at CSM are profoundly grateful to God and to you for your friendship and support. Please continue to remember us in your prayers and in your giving this month and throughout the remainder of 2018. For more information—and to receive a free LIVE audio recording of this Bible teaching on Thanksgiving — please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or write us at CSM PO BOX 850067, Mobile, AL 36685.
Mark your calendar now for May 14-16, 2019, as our 20th annual CSM Leadership Conference takes place in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Our theme will be “Spirit & Truth”. We’d love to see you and your friends there. More information coming soon!
You can visit us at csmpublishing.org or on our Charles Simpson Ministries Facebook Page. You can also follow us on Twitter @CSMinPublishing.
Have a very happy and blessed season of Thanksgiving, wherever you are! We love you!
Scripture references:1 Thessalonians 5:18; Psalm 91:1-2; Psalm 103:1-4; Psalm 16; Psalm 27; Psalm 100:4-5; Psalm 100; Romans 1
STEPHEN SIMPSON is the Editor of One-to-One Magazine and the Director of CSM Publishing. In addition to publishing ministry, Stephen has served in leadership for churches and ministries in Costa Rica, Florida, Mississippi, Texas, and Michigan, as well as being the Senior Pastor of Covenant Church of Mobile (2004-2013). He continues to travel in ministry across North America and in other nations.