Tension vs. Stress: the Good, the bad and the Biblical – Part 1

Tension vs. Stress

What comes to mind when you hear the word tension? Anxiety? Blood Pressure? Stress? Many of us equate tension with stress. Ironically, God established the principle of tension in our world, but forbade stress.

Tension is everywhere. It keeps the roof above our head, the bridge underneath our car, our guitars and pianos playing on key, our ecosystems balanced, and our bodies healthy.

Tension is GOOD. But we’ve conflated the concepts of tension and stress. Biblically our perspective ought to be that stress is something we need to repent of and tension something we ought to embrace. We need to separate the two, understand what the Bible teaches about stress, and choose to live in the tension.

Stress is bad

Stress basically comes from one of two places of fear.

Fear of vulnerability is triggered when you perceive danger or face a threat. Your body automatically and biologically responds by gearing up to “fight or flight” mode. It’s that extra heartbeat when your cell phone rings unexpectedly in the middle of the night, or the sharp inhalation when you see the flashing lights of a police car in your rearview mirror. These situations will happen, this fear will flare up, but it will resolve itself in time.

Fear of rejection stems from a deep place of worry. Like fretting about tanking in life, messing up at your job or completely failing as a parent.

 After Maslow’sHierarchy of basic needs is fulfilled—we’ve got food, water, shelter—the next most important need inherent in all of us is to be loved and accepted. For those of us who have accepted Christ, the Biblical term for this entrenched spiritual need is justification—to know we are approved and that our lives matter.

If we are “In Christ,” Jesus has already fulfilled this need for us because we are justified in Him. But because of our sin nature, we are going to constantly struggle our whole lives with trying to self-justify. The profound truth we need to understand and operate in is that we should never find ourselves stressed about any situation. If we are, then we are failing to have faith in our Savior’s justification, and must be trying to self-justify by doing more, being more, giving more, or working to achieve some sort of success that can only be achieved by self-justification.

This profoundly fundamental fear of rejection is the thing that feeds our default response to turn to self-justification methods. Fighting against the urge to succumb to the stress and struggling to believe that someone has already made us totally and completely accepted and gives us meaning—that there’s nothing we can do of our own accord to achieve success—is going to be the hardest fight of our whole lives.

Life is hard.

Life is deeply wrong. We all know that. This fear of not being accepted weighs so existentially heavy on people that it often drives them to very dark, extremely bad places to try to mitigate their need for success. But what’s so profound, yet so simple, is that in Jesus, “you’re OK!”

In Matthew 6:25-34, Jesus allays the stress that is rooted in these fears.

This passage clearly shows us that God is our Source. Not the church, not our workplace, not our family or connections or bank account. And when we lose sight of our Source, we stress out. Not trusting in our Source is sin, so when we fail to trust and turn to stress, we need to repent.

Stress is bad. Once you’ve dealt with it, you’ll be ready to take on the challenge of learning to embrace the seasons of tension in your life.

In part 2, Chad explains how to live in the tension.

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