Handling Your Insecurities
Handling Your Insecurities
I've been checking on the United States Constitution recently, especially when I found out that the Bill of Rights is now 200 years old. I was particularly interested in the preamble of the Constitution, where I read why the founding fathers felt it would be appropriate to establish this new nation. The point of the Constitution was "to establish justice, to ensure domestic tranquility, to provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty." The dominant theme there is security. The founders were concerned that people be delivered from injustice. They wanted to ensure domestic tranquility and national security. They wanted to secure the blessings of liberty. This is not surprising, because whenever people come together, they usually are looking for security they cannot find individually. Deep down we have a sense of individual insecurity and hope to cooperate with other people.
Maxwell Maltz, who wrote PsychoCybernetics, estimates that 95 percent of people in our society have a strong sense of inadequacy. I have no difficulty believing that figure. The only surprise is the other 5 percent. Why aren't those guys feeling insecure? Inferiority, inadequacy, and insecurity all go together. When you look at what it means to be a human being, you wonder how anyone feels secure. You can't even count on your next minute or your next breath. Many circumstances are totally out of our control. Any thinking person recognizes some degree of insecurity.
For help with insecurity, I point you to Hebrews 6:19, a delightful little statement: "We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure." I want to concentrate on the expression, "an anchor for the soul." The anchor was an important symbol to the first Christians. If ever you have the chance to visit the catacombs in Rome, those tunnels under the ancient city where many of the early Christians were buried, you can see the symbols of faith on their tombs. Three common symbols appear: the dove, the fish, and the anchor.
The dove symbolizes the Holy Spirit. The letters of the Greek word for "fish," ichthus, stand for the words Jesus Christ, God's Son, Savior. The anchor came from the idea that, as Christians were going through difficult, insecure times, their hope anchored their souls.
Insecurity is a real issue in our society.
The causes of our insecurity are well documented. Some people say that the experiences of childhood produce feelings of inferiority from which we never escape. A noted Christian psychiatrist says parents who excessively condemn and judge their children's failures cause them to grow up with a warped idea of what appropriate standards are. Some parents give too little encouragement, praise, thanks, congratulations, or appreciation. Parents can make their children feel that they are dissatisfied because they did not do even better. They grow up convinced that anything short of perfection is failure. As an adult, they feel guilty and inferior, suffering from false guilt, low self-esteem, and insecurity.
Change is another cause of uncertainty. We are a mobile society. We move because of a promotion. We move because we don't like the weather. We move to run away from a difficult situation. Christian psychologist Gary Collins says that mobility tears up friendships, separates families, eliminates neighborhood and community spirit, and causes people to avoid close friendships that might end in painful separations. Along with its benefits, our changing, dehumanizing, technological society has disrupted people and shattered traditional sources of security.
Twenty-one years ago, Jill and I left England. We uprooted our family and moved away from the ministry we'd been involved in for decades. We moved away from friendships we had developed over many years. We had a tremendous sense of insecurity. After three months, Jill and I looked at each other and said, "What have we done?" Since then, we've taken root, and we're doing very well. But we understand the tremendous sense of insecurity that comes through change.
Crisis also breeds inadequacy. Reading various psychologists this week, I read about singleness, divorce, bereavement, and middle age. The phrase that came up over and over is that all these crisis experiences produce inadequacy and insecurity.
Let me identify four characteristics of insecurity: aggressive behavior, addictive behavior, affective behavior, and criticism. Aggressive behavior. Two San Francisco cardiologists wrote a best-selling book about the type-A personality and how it affects the heart. They described type-A people as aggressive, impatient, and work-dominated. They often have hidden anger. They are excessively competitive. They work, eat, and drink too much, and they relax too little. They usually have deep-seated insecurity. We love the aggressive competitor in this society. We laud the person who goes out there to win. What we should be doing, of course, is trying to help them with this sense of insecurity that hides under the aggressive and highly competitive behavior. Aggressive behavior can be indicative of insecurity.
Addictive behavior. The word addiction has been overused in the Christian community. Strictly speaking, addiction is a physiological experience that results from a prior psychological experience called dependence. All of us find it relatively easy to develop a dependence on some thing or some person. Feelings of insecurity or boredom or loneliness or desire for acceptance drive us to embark on behavior that brings relief or euphoria or acceptance. As we need more and more, we move into these behavior patterns and develop a dependence. We have to maintain the high because we cannot face the low. This becomes psychological dependence, which can degenerate into a physiological addiction. Remember the root cause? Insecurity. We couldn't cope with our situation, and we had to compensate in ways that were eventually self-destructive.
Affective behavior. Karen Homey, another psychologist, says anxiety is the result of personal and collective insecurity. A Stanford University study on shyness made the startling discovery that 80 percent of us regard ourselves as shy. People are self-conscious and strongly preoccupied with the reactions of others. One of the reasons for shyness is an inbred sense of insecurity. Carol Burnett says that when she was a girl, she joked and clowned around just to get over the fear of not being liked, because she was poor and not very pretty. To be socially acceptable in our society, we need to show the trappings of success and be physically attractive. Lacking those, we feel desperately insecure and try to compensate in a variety of ways. For Carol Burnett, it worked out fine. She became the funniest lady on television. For many people, it doesn't work out fine at all. Researchers in the area of shyness say shy people are afraid of emotionally threatening people, like strangers, authority figures, members of the opposite sex, and people who might criticize or reject them. They will engage in affective behavior that is rooted in their fundamental insecurities.
Then there are critical people. Did you realize that probably they are critical because they are fundamentally insecure? Critical people are insecure people who are always finding fault with others. They try to build themselves up by knocking down everyone else. If they do have a good word to say, you wait with baited breath because you know the next word is "but," and then the cutting and slashing begins.
Biblical examples of security
We see aggressive, addictive, and affective behavior on every hand: anxiety, jealousy, resentment, shyness, and criticism. All have roots in insecurity. Therefore, what Scripture says about security is of profound significance to all of us. Let me give you a couple of examples of some very insecure situations where people did not slip into insecure behavior.
In Acts 27 we read a wonderful story of a shipwreck in the Mediterranean. You remember that Paul had been arrested and charged with all kinds of things, and his defense was an appeal to Caesar. Eventually, they put him on a boat headed for Rome. The south wind blew gently. What an idyllic picture. As soon as they left the lee of the land, they were hit by the mother of all storms, and the ship began to disintegrate. They tried tying it together with ropes. They threw overboard all their loose equipment. They couldn't see the stars or the sun. They were scudding along day after day with no idea where they were and at the mercy of this vast, incredible storm. Now, that's insecurity! Paul says to all those aboard, "Now, folks, don't worry. I've got some good news. God has just revealed to me that none of you will perish." There was no reason to believe him because the storm probably went on for two more weeks.
But God had spoken, and they believed him. That is fundamentally what the Bible says. In circumstances where we cannot cope, God speaks to us. In the midst of our insecurities, we lay hold of what God has said, and we can be greatly encouraged. Eventually, Paul's ship hit a sand bank with tremendous force, stuck fast, and the great waves coming in behind simply destroyed the stern. The whole thing fell apart, but every one of the men got ashore safely.
Now look at the second story. This has to do with a man who lived in a well-developed city called Ur. One day he believed that God was speaking to him. The gods of the area where he lived were quite different from the God Jehovah. But this God said to him, "Abram, I want you to leave where you're living. I want you to uproot your family and head west." I have no doubt that Abraham said, "Well, could you be a little more specific?" God said, "Just head west." "Why would I do that?" "Because eventually you will come to a land that I will give to you." "Where is this land?" "I'll tell you when you get there." "Well, what's it like?" "You'll find out when you get there."
Incredibly, Abraham went. If you were contemplating a move, would you go on that kind of information? Probably not, but Abraham went. Along the way, God gave him further promises. He promised that although Abraham wouldn't get the land, his descendants would. God said that Abraham's descendants would bless all the nations of the world. He said that he would be their God, and they would become his people. Abraham said, "That's wonderful, God, but there's one slight matter that I need to raise with you. You say that through my descendants all the nations of the world will be blessed, but I don't have any descendants. I'm almost 100 years old. My wife is no spring chicken, and we can't have children." God said, "I'm aware of that. Don't worry about it."
Eventually, they had a son, Isaac. One day God said to Abraham, "You know that your descendants are going to become my people, and I will be their God. You know that everything is hanging on your sole descendant, Isaac, but this is what I want you to do. Take Isaac and offer him up as a sacrifice." We get an insight into Abraham's thinking in Hebrews 11. It says Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead. He was absolutely convinced that if God promised, his word was final. You can begin to build your life on who God is and what he has promised. In so doing, you find an anchor for your soul.
God is the source of true security.
We hear so much about insecurity. We see all kinds of insecure behavior. We see all kinds of lives being self-destructed, self-destroyed. We see all kinds of relationships being destroyed simply because of insecure people not dealing with their insecurities. There is a fundamental, spiritual principle here. It is possible for people to relate so well to this reliable God that in their relationships they find an anchor for their souls, steadfast and secure. We used to sing a song when I was growing up: "We have an anchor that keeps the soul / steadfast and sure while the billows roll. / Fastened to the rock which cannot move, / grounded firm and deep in the Savior's love." Is that your experience?
With that in mind, let me just identify a few things around this expression in Hebrews 6, to help you find an anchor of the soul. Let me show you where we derive our encouragement in times of insecurity. In Hebrews 6:16-17 it says: "Men swear by someone greater than themselves, and the oath confirms what is said and puts an end to all argument. Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath." Is the unchanging nature of God's purpose for your life clear? Are you convinced that, having committed himself to you, God has absolutely committed himself to keep that which you have committed to him? Do you understand that he is a covenant-making, covenant-keeping God?
Through obedience and faith we find in God a sense of eternal purpose. He has planned for you in such a way that if you commit yourself to Jesus Christ, you have life eternal. You know that at the end of all things, you will be with him for all eternity. Are the unchanging purposes of God totally clear to you? Then they become an anchor for your soul.
The Scripture also talks about God's unfailing promises being confirmed. There are two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie. He can't lie when he gives a promise, and he can't possibly lie when he makes an oath. What has he promised you? He has promised that if you come to repentance and faith in his Son Jesus Christ, he'll take away your sins and give you the gift of eternal life. He will care for you in this life and take you into heaven for all eternity. That's a promise on an oath. He is your covenant-making God. Have you made a covenant with him? If so, then in the midst of your insecurity, you have an anchor for your soul.
There's a third thing in verse 18. It says, "We who have fled to take hold of the hope offered to us may be greatly encouraged." The word fled here means literally, "to become a refugee" to flee from that which you cannot handle and find refuge in God's purposes and promises. Critics of Christianity sometimes say to me, "Christianity is for weak people and wimps." Warming to their subject, they say, "Christianity is simply a crutch." When they tell me that, I congratulate them on their keen insight into Christianity, because they're right. Christianity is for wimps. Christianity is for weak people. Christianity is a crutch. Everybody is a wimp. All of us are at some point weak, and we are all at some point so insecure we can't keep ourselves alive. We can't fit ourselves for heaven. We cannot reconcile ourselves to God. We cannot undo what we've done. We're incapable of doing what we should have been doing for ten, twenty, thirty, forty, or fifty years. We're a bunch of wimps. It is only the macho that will not admit it. They go on living in their arrogant self-centeredness and independence. They manifest pitifully their insecurity instead of finding refuge in him from whom we come, to whom we go, and through whom we survive.
The writer of Hebrews says when we begin to understand God's unchanging purposes, which have been clarified, and his promises, which have been confirmed, and we come in all our uneasiness to find in him that which holds us secure, we are opened to be encouraged and strengthened at the point of our insecurity.
When I was in the Marines, the training for commandos included cliff assaults. The theory was that a commando raid should be a surprise, done as quickly and as silently as possible on the area with the lightest defenses. The lightest defense is at the point where attack is least expected. More often than not, it was the cliffs. We would come close to the cliff in our small boats and fire one rocket up through the darkness. Attached to the rocket was a grapnel. Attached to the grapnel was a light rope. When the rocket landed on top of the cliff, the grapnel would lie on the grass. We would then pull it back gently until it caught on something. We hoped it caught on something secure.
We had expert climbers. Those guys were like spiders. They would get out of the little boat onto the seaweed-strewn rocks, and scale those cliffs in the dark hanging onto this thin, little rope that was on the end of a grapnel they hoped was hanging onto something secure. A bigger rope trailed behind them. Below, we held onto the rope. When the climber got on the top, he would secure the rope he'd taken up and then give two little tugs on it. The minute the two little tugs came, we jumped out of our boats, cold and wet on the waves and rocks. We would scale the cliffs. It was a hairy experience, except we had utter confidence in the one who'd gone before us. We had utter confidence in the security of the rope he had fastened for us.
You can imagine my delight when I discovered that Jesus is called "the one who has gone before," or in the Greek, the prodromes. The prodromes was a person who headed a patrol in military maneuvers. He was the one who went ahead and made sure the way was open. I rejoice to tell you that many times we'd find ourselves totally secure on those cliffs because of the utter reliability of the skilled climber.
But there's something that made me even more comforted in those days and to this day. There's one who has gone before. He has gone into the presence of the living God. He has forgiven my sins. He has offered me eternal life. And he has promised to keep that which I have committed unto him. You wouldn't believe how secure I feel. I have every reason in the world to be insecure. My insecurities will show from time to time, as do yours, but I ask you a question: Do you have an anchor for your soul, fastened to a rock that cannot move, grounded firm and deep in the Savior's love? This is where you find security in the midst of all your insecurities.
Preaching Today Issue #119
A resource of Christianity Today International
Stuart Briscoe is minister-at-large of Elmbrook Church in Brookfield, Wisconsin, and author of several books, including What Works When Life Doesn't (Howard Books).