What does this word conjure up in your mind?
I asked a class this week whether their immediate response to the word “tension” was positive or negative. Almost all said negative. We see tension as something bad, something that’s a nuisance at best or a hindrance at worst. I would beg to differ. Our world would not function without tension. Try building a bridge without it. Try walking upright without it. I know; for a while I could not walk upright because of lumbar spine issues. My body simply could not maintain the appropriate tension to stand up straight without pain.
We have tension in theology: God is sovereign yet we are free. God has given us grace through Christ so that we are totally clean before him, yet he calls us to walk in holiness. We live in the tension of the already-not yet. We have tension in relationships. That’s why opposites attract; without thinking about it, a certain amount of tension makes relationships healthy. But here is the issue we have with tension: too much tension and things snap. Relationships breakdown. Divorce happens. Belts snap on lawnmowers and tires go flat from too much pressure.
The inverse also stands, as too little pressure leads to unbalanced relationships. If we don’t appreciate the importance of tension we won’t discipline our children.
We won’t teach them everyone does not get a trophy and actions have consequences. We have people today who wear “I can’t adult today” shirts: they can’t handle the normal tension that comes with life because they weren’t taught the importance of tension. This is why some struggle with witnessing. You don’t know how a person may respond when you share Christ. That thought alone brings some tension, right? Sometimes when you share Christ people raise objections–the thought of not being able to answer them brings tension as well (note: the Bible does not tell us we have to answer every question as many are frivolous, but we are to give reason for the hope within us).
It’s the reason a lot of believers won’t dive deep into community or accountability, because that would involve becoming transparent and honest about our struggles, which brings–you know what–tension. If the idea of tension is negative to you, start thinking about all the ways tension helps us live our lives: physically, relationally, emotionally, financially, and spiritually. A certain amount of tension is not a necessary evil, it’s a gift from God. I’m content not understanding everything about God. The Trinity I get, but yet it’s still a mystery, for instance. I’m content not having a perfect life and perfect relationships, as long as they are real. I don’t always welcome the tension life brings, but I do see it as a blessing and not a curse.
Embrace tension, and sharing Christ becomes less a chore and more a joy.
Alvin L. “Doc” Reid serves as Senior Professor of Evangelism and Student Ministry at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina, where he has been since 1995. He is also the founding Bailey Smith Chair of Evangelism. Alvin and his wife Michelle have two married children: Joshua and his wife Jacqueline, and Hannah and her husband Corey. Hannah and Corey recently welcomed Doc’s first grandchild, Lincoln James. He also serves as Pastor to Young Professionals at Richland Creek Community Church. Alvin travels extensively speaking and has authored a number of books. His most recent is Sharing Jesus Without Freaking Out (B&H Academic).