Illusions of Security

By Dan Schaeffer


It’s been almost seven years since I gave up my earthly security. Twenty years ago I planted a church in a town and for thirteen years watched it grow from several couples to ministering to over 400 people each month. Once I was the only pastor, now there were three full time staff; once the office was in my garage, now we had professional office space in town. Our eight thousand-dollar a year budget had grown to well over three hundred thousand. My income had risen by a third since I began as a bi-vocational church planter. In short, I had finally achieved both financial and vocational security.

Maybe that is why it was so hard to give it all up.

Feeling God’s call to move into a new ministry and leave behind all my earthly security was one of the most frightening things I had ever done. I like security. It makes me feel safe and comfortable. It had taken so long to achieve it that giving it up now was terribly painful.

Only a few months after I left, and future financial security was nothing but a pipe dream, I remember thinking about a man in our church. He had started a business only a year or two earlier. His business had grown so rapidly that he was now employing five different people and had just bought a very expensive home in a very exclusive area in town. Furthermore, he bought the new home without selling his old one. It seemed that every time I saw him and his wife they were driving a newer car.

On his wife’s birthday he had invited a few friends to go out to dinner to celebrate her birthday. We were all picked up in a limousine and driven to one of the most expensive restaurants in our area. I’ve never been a lover of money, and I have no desire to be rich, but financial security is a weakness of mine. This guy had security with a capital S.

When we moved into a rental home in the country, our new landlords lived above us. Their estate home in the country was right out of Country Living Magazine. They were middle aged with four healthy, attractive children, every kind of toy you could imagine, and highly visible in the community. Very active in a civic group they were the epitome of security. I couldn’t help but feel security envy. These two families reminded me that I had given up security, not only for myself, but also for my family.

My new ministry was growing, but painfully slowly. While finances were extremely limited, worry and pangs of regret were in great supply. Maybe the greatest emotion I felt was not envy, or jealousy, but regret. I had security once. Now it was gone. Would I ever get it back? This thought terrified me. Had I played the part of the ultimate fool in giving up financial and vocational security?

It is now seven years later. My new ministry grows, slowly, ever so slowly, but it grows. Finances are also growing, although we have still not regained everything we gave up. We’ve come to terms with the fact that it might never happen.

I had occasion to revisit my old church and revisit with old acquaintances recently. I found my wealthy friend. He had laid off all his workers, given up his office, sold his estate home, and moved back to the house in the suburbs. He was now working out of his garage and talking about moving out of state where it was cheaper.

The incredible security that I had once so envied was actually an illusion. I pray that my friend is able to rebuild his business, but I have learned an invaluable lesson. When we feel most secure, we can actually be standing on very thin ice. There is no security apart from the Lord; in fact He is our only security.

One day our landlords in the beautiful Country Living home invited us over to their home for dinner, but I didn’t see the husband. I kept asking people where he was, never getting a straight answer until, finally, the wife told me with deep sadness, “He hasn’t been here in awhile. We’re having trouble.” I was stunned.

I ended up counseling with both the husband and wife for many hours and watched their children suffer terrible agony and sadness. Their storybook life ended and happiness has been replaced with shame, anger, and sadness. It will never be repaired.

How I had envied that family, that man who could give his wife and children all the things that I could not. Now he could give his family nothing. His wife wanted nothing to do with him, and his children were angry and shamed. Instead of living in an elegant mountaintop home, he lived in a small primitive outbuilding on a nearby ranch, where once I had been envious now I only felt sadness for them. Their security was an illusion. They had looked so strong and confident and prosperous in so many ways. Yet their security had been a mere facade.

Security, as much as we like to have it, is an illusion. Just ask the investors and employees of Enron, or World Com, or numerous other companies that saw their profits and their employees retirement funds go up in smoke.

Security can come in many forms. We can feel security in our health, our talent, our money, our portfolio’s, our vocations, the economy, our family, our spouses, and many other things. Unfortunately, each of these can create merely an illusion of security.

One day a very physically fit person discovers he or she has an inoperable tumor. One day a person who believes their marriage is good and strong is suddenly surprised to find out their spouse is unhappy, or has been having an affair. One day the child who has always been a good boy or girl is caught using drugs, or cutting school. One day you can be secure in your vocation, and the next you can be laid off with no warning.

Ironically, what we learn is that we were never really secure in those things in the first place, we just felt that way. It was a false security. But it was such a pleasant and comforting feeling that we never examined it too deeply. The feelings were merely props like those used in movie studios. They looked solid and real, but they were just thin veneers that easily deceived us.

While having your security removed from you is a terribly painful reality, it is an instructive one. Security is not a bad thing, nor is wanting security. We must just be very, very careful where we place it, and whom we place it in. The best of people can let us down. The most secure of situations can go south suddenly and without warning.

There is only one place to go for true security, and that is in the One who holds all things together. Everything in our lives is in constant transition. This means that earthly security is going to be a transient experience at best. Only God never changes (Mal 3:6).

We are often tempted to place our security in the blessings and gifts that God has so generously given us. But even all those things are temporary. It is only the Giver who never changes. We can end up trusting in what God has provided for us, rather than in God Himself. We end up becoming devoted to the gift, rather than the One who gave it to us. We never do this intentionally. It is just one of the pitfalls of desiring earthly security.

It was Corrie Ten Boom, the survivor of a German Concentration camp, who taught that we should never hold things too tightly, because it hurts so much when the Lord has to pry our fingers loose from them. But it is precisely this pain that the Lord is trying to spare us from. He knows that there is no security in life apart from Him. Far from trying to make us miserable, He is trying to safeguard our hearts from inevitable pain and disillusionment.

True security is in knowing that there is a God and that He does indeed love me. It involves knowing that He alone will never fail me or desert me in this life. He alone will never change, though everything around us does. True security looks to the character of God for security, not the transient and fragile facades of earthly security that look so appealing.

True security involves keeping one eye firmly fixed on eternity, remembering that only then and there will life be totally secure, safe and trouble free. Only with Christ is there any true security. Everything else is just illusion.

Don’t give up on security; just be careful where you seek it.