The Value of Tension


Tension is tough. We want to avoid it at all costs, but it can be good and useful. The question is what is causing the tension? Brandon Hatmaker in his book, Barefoot Church, talks about this. He made an interesting point that tension has a purpose. It is not the enemy and our focus doesn’t need to be eliminating the tension so much as understanding it and asking God what we need to learn from it. He writes:

Whether it holds us in place or just creates a moment where we have to consider our position or check our motives, it always comes with an opportunity for growth. … The problem is that we rarely focus our attention on the right thing. Tension always accompanies an opportunity, a challenge, or a thing to consider. When we place our focus on eliminating the tension, our focus becomes the tension itself instead of the thing we should be considering. (Emphasis mine)

He goes on to clarify that there is a right and wrong kind of tension:

    • The wrong kind of tension occurs when we protect what we do. The right kind of tension occurs when we proclaim what God does.
    • The wrong kind of tension comes when we make it about us and our kingdom. The right kind of tension comes when we make it about God and his kingdom.
    • The wrong kind of tension comes from using Scripture to defend our lives. The right kind of tension comes from letting Scripture define our lives.

Tension is a force. Although it can be destructive, applied rightly it’s constructive – it’s tension that creates the bridge. Maybe the tension you feel is God’s Spirit at work, building a bridge. Image © Stacey Tuttle

He is talking about the tension we feel, but there is another application for this—the tension we cause. When I was going into college it was at the height of (or at least the beginning swell of) the “do not offend” movement. That was fine with me, I hated to offend or cause conflict. I wanted to bring peace and be well-liked. However, I also wanted to be willing to be bold and stand up for Jesus, and I knew that that might not always be popular. There was a tension there. Jesus himself lived in this tension. He came to bring peace, and yet he was a stumbling block. He brought both peace and conflict, simultaneously. That’s tension!

So, going into college I was keenly aware of my struggle with this balance. I realized that there was a right way to bring peace and a wrong way, just as there was a right reason for offense and a wrong reason for it. Bringing peace at the cost of truth: wrong. Bringing peace through truth: right. Being offensive myself: wrong. Being myself inoffensive but being willing to let the message of Jesus offend and be a stumbling block: right.

So this was my prayer in college: “Lord, if you need to, want to, offend someone and cause them to stumble so you can get their attention, then let me be a willing vessel. But, don’t let me be offensive before your truth gets the chance!”

So here are the two applications for this idea of tension.

  1. What is the tension in your life/world right now? How are you responding to it? Are you trying to avoid it, eliminate it, or learn from it?
  2. When it comes to your relationships with others, do you know the difference between the right kind of tension and the wrong kind of tension? Are you able to, courageous enough to, be a source of tension? Are you anxious to bring peace but willing to be a stumbling block for the right reasons? Which extreme do you tend towards: do you work to create peace at all costs (run from offense), even at the expense of the truth? Or are you on the other extreme and do you bulldoze and bludgeon others in your zeal to speak the truth (careless of offense)? How do you do with finding that balance of recognizing the value of tension (and even of yourself as an agent of tension) and striving to get out of the way but praying for strength to allow God and His truth to do what they need to do?
Hatmaker, B. (2011). Barefoot Church. Grand Rapids: Zondervan. Chapter 7.
This entry was posted in Books, Cultural Commentary, Encouragement, Quotes, Relationship with God and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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