[Post from 15th June 2010]
As Christians, we are called to live a life of tension. For many of you, the term ‘tension’ immediately brought to mind the image of a tense person, anxiously striving to overcome the difficulties of life. This is not what I mean at all when I use the word ‘tension’. I am speaking of the kind of tension where you can thrive and blossom in the scorching desert, or walk uprightly even though surrounded by evil, or rejoice in the midst of tragedy, or ooze out genuine love, when all you get is hatred and slander in return. As Christians, this is the very invitation we are given by Christ Jesus, our example. He carried such a tension, and He did it with grace. Picture this: Christ, the Creator of the universe, and the rich owner of all things, became poor and humbly came to earth, choosing to serve the very ones He created. THAT’S tension! Christ, the very Person of Love, came and loved those that hated Him, spat on Him and ultimately, killed Him. Now THAT’S tension! Having experienced the fulfillment of intimate communion with the Trinity in Heaven, Christ came and lived as a single man on earth. Again, THAT’S tension! In all that Christ said and did, He cut against the grain, He swam against the current, and He stepped away from the status quo crowd, and instead, invited others to follow Him. Whoa, THAT’S tension! Christ was intimately acquainted with tension. As His followers, we are also called to follow in His footsteps. We can try and fight it, or plug our ears to this truth, but there really is no way around it! If Christ did it, so must we.
I wrote about an example of this tension in one of my recent blogs here. This article described how we must have contentment in the present moment, while still longing for and believing for a different outcome to occur in the future. We are called to wait patiently (dare I say, to wait joyfully) while what we truly want is still as yet unseen… It is the tension of juggling seemingly opposite things: contentment and holy discontentment. It’s like saying, “I’m happy, but I’m not happy enough!” or “I’m satisfied, but I’m not fully satisfied!” It sounds a little crazy, if you ask me! But God does ask us to walk through life carrying this tension in balance.
A few years ago, I was introduced to the term, ‘the tension of opposites,’ as I read Mitch Albom’s book ‘Tuesdays with Morrie’. Here, he describes its meaning:
“Have I told you about the tension of opposites?” Morrie says, “Life is a series of pulls back and forth. You want to do one thing, but you are bound to do something else. Something hurts you, yet you know it shouldn’t. You take certain things for granted, even when you know you should never take anything for granted… A tension of opposites, like a pull on a rubber band. And most of us live somewhere in the middle… A wrestling match. You could describe life that way.”
Yes, the Christian life can often feel like two ends of a rubber band being pulled at once, or like a wrestling match! I’m sure you can relate to that analogy. I know I sure can! It sounds quite a lot like the Apostle Paul’s confessions in Romans 7:15-23: we desire to do one thing, but we keep getting pulled in another direction. It seems this tension and battle have been around since the beginning of time. I think it’s time we accept this as a reality of the Christian life, rather than shaking our fists at God and begging for Him to remove the tension. It is the very thing that shapes us and forges us into Christ’s likeness, IF we allow it to do its full work in us.
We can also see this tension in the Christian life when we look at the obvious differences in the value system of the world versus that of God’s Kingdom. The examples are plentiful:
- If you want to be first, then go to the end of the line and be last. (Matt 20:16. Mark 10:31)
- If you want to become great, be a servant. In other words, to go higher, you must go lower. (Matt 20:26)
- You are rich when you are poor. (Matt 5:3. 2 Cor 8:9)
- To hold on to what you cherish, you must let it go. (Matt 16:24-25)
- To be wise in God’s eyes, you will look foolish in the world’s eyes. (1 Cor 1:27)
- You’re supremely blessed when people ridicule you because of Christ. (Matt 5:11)
- To truly live, you must lay your life down and die. (Matt 16:24-25. John 12:24-25)
It’s easy to see why the world looks at us like we are crazy people! And truth be told, we are! God’s Kingdom truly is upside down. It’s backwards! God’s way of doing things is so opposite to the ways of this world. Living for God is a surefire way to invite tension into your life. Hooray for us! So much of what we are called to do opposes the very spirit of this world. It involves having to completely unsubscribe to the world’s way of thinking and adopt an entirely new set of values and perspectives. No wonder the Bible refers to us as “aliens and foreigners” on this earth! (1 Peter 2:11)
There is an extreme tension between these two ‘worlds’. You cannot take hold of God’s Kingdom by merely coasting. It’s going to take a fight. There’s a war on the inside, and most opt out of the battle before they ever receive the benefits of victory. So many choose to give up the tension when breakthrough and transformation are just around the corner. Now THAT’S tragedy, in my opinion!
But you may be asking, ‘WHY would I even want to BEAR this tension? Is it even worth it? Why not avoid the pain that comes with it and just numb myself, and dull the ache? Is there ANY apparent benefit to living within this tension?’
I’ve certainly asked this question, as a single woman in my early 30’s, in regards to remaining sexually pure. I have had countless discussions with others who have also asked this same question, ‘What’s the point of staying sexually pure when God made me a sexual being?’ To the world, sexual abstinence for a grown adult is pure insanity. Every day we are inundated with messages to give in to our desires and satisfy our emotional and physical cravings. Basically, the world teaches us to throw off self-control, toss away our moral compass, run far from the tension, and give in to all our whims. Yes, we certainly ARE aliens when we say no to this approach and choose, instead, to live WITH the tension that comes with sexual abstinence and moral purity, especially in our supposed ‘sexual peak’ years. Yes, I repeat. We are aliens. Crazy people. It’s who we are.
But in all honesty, most Christians don’t look much like aliens. Instead, they look quite normal. And I don’t mean that as a compliment. Can you imagine the God of the Universe finally meeting you, and His only comment is, “Well, you lived a normal life.” Somehow, I don’t think He sees it as a compliment either. Sadly, this is how many Christians live: normal, safe lives, free of the tension we are called to carry in this lifetime. After experiencing pain, confusion, or disappointment, many people decide to stop living this life of tension, throwing off restraint and, to put it bluntly, say, “To HELL with this tension! I can’t handle it anymore!” and another one bites the dust, joining the normal masses on the wide, easy path that leads to death (Matt 7:13-14). In the Bible, it speaks of the path that leads to eternal life as being a narrow road that few ever find. (Personally, I believe that many do find it, then they discover the cost of walking on it, and ultimately, they decide it’s not worth the pain. But that is just my personal opinion.)
With so many opting out of this tension, there are masses of people on earth that never see the benefit of persevering in the thick of the battle! It’s like aborted, unborn potential that never goes full term. It could also be likened to a long engagement or betrothal that never reaches its consummation in a marriage union. The tragic thing in all of this, is that we have multitudes subscribing to the easy way out, and in the end, they still lose everything. Which is the better way? Is it better to live WITH the tension of the Christian life IN THIS LIFETIME, and then live in eternal bliss and peace in THE ETERNAL AGE TO COME? Or is it better to take it easy in this lifetime, going with the flow instead of fighting against it IN THIS LIFETIME, but then eternally living in torment and tension IN THE ETERNAL AGE TO COME? The choice is yours: Live for this life, or live for the life to come. That’s really what this all comes down to.
We cannot take any of our earthly possessions or comforts with us after we die (Matt 6:19-21). All we can take with us is the eternal part within us, our spirit. And we take with us the fruit of the spirit, and all the victories that were won as we partnered with God in the midst of the tensions of this world and in the face of great opposition. So, for the Christian, there is inevitable tension that comes with walking the narrow path of the godly life, yet this way has eternal benefits that outlast this perishing world. I don’t know about you, but that’s deeply encouraging to me!
It is my prayer that we are both challenged and encouraged to accept the unavoidable and direly necessary tension that comes with walking in God’s ways while living in this day and age. May God’s powerful grace empower you with inner strength as you follow Christ and His example. And may each day find you looking more and more like the alien you were meant to be. You were called to this upside down, backwards, radical lifestyle in the midst of a normal, status quo world. If you remember anything about this blog, remember this: you’re a crazy alien!