It’s Ninja season – not only on television, but for our constantly-climbing-or-hanging-from-something children 😉! Summer is a time we’re tempted to “slack” in our relationship with God, but it’s also an opportunity to “up the tension” by reading a challenging book, studying a passage you usually avoid, or intentionally researching a world or cultural issue that makes you uneasy. How are you upping the tension this summer?
(Originally posted October 2017)
From the first episode we watched, our family has been obsessed with “American Ninja Warrior”. This action-packed obstacle-course competition challenges athletes’ agility and strength – especially their upper-body and grip strength.
Our children, desiring to follow in the footsteps of newfound heroes like Jessie Graff and Meagan Martin, could be confused with monkeys based on the large amounts of time they spend “hanging” out on the obstacles in our backyard. Having small bodies that haven’t proportionally caught up to their arm muscle limits yet, they make a row of monkey bars or a trip across the “ninja line” look like a breeze!
Knowing we have no chance of keeping up with our kids, Tim and I have begun issuing each other daily “ninja challenges” – the first of which was to hang (yes, just hang) from the ninja line for 10 seconds (yes, just 10 seconds). It sounds easy, but hanging from this slackline is no simple feat!
And that’s because there’s too much slack. This line is adjusted to hold up our children, but our adult weight and height require us to work that much harder to stay off the ground. There’s not enough tension to hold us up!
It turns out a little tension can be a good thing.
A relationship is defined as the connecting line between two things and the relationship between God and human beings has a long history of tension. Most of the time, we think of this as a bad thing because, after all, tension = tense = stress = bad. And as Christians, we expect our connection with God to be good, not bad! But since He’s God and we’re not, some level of tension is always going to be present.
Here’s how it happens:
Many of us grew up learning Sunday School truths about a God who is mighty and powerful and who uses that power to do supernatural things to help people. We hear stories about His great love for us and His plans to guide us, care for us, and meet our needs. Even those of us who came to know Him as an adult, get a “WOW!” first impression of this God.
But inevitably there comes a point where these truths don’t seem to be holding up. That supernatural power didn’t show up when you needed it. The “love” and “care” you’re supposed to be experiencing is noticeably absent. Instead of guidance, you hear silence.
The Bible is filled with examples of this tension:
Why do you say, O Jacob,
and speak, O Israel,
“My way is hidden from the Lord,
and my right is disregarded by my God”?
Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord!
O Lord, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive
to the voice of my pleas for mercy!
Why have you wounded us past all hope of healing?
We hoped for peace, but no peace came.
We hoped for a time of healing, but found only terror.
These cries echo our own experience today. We look around at our world, our circumstances, and our struggles and wonder: “If You really are ‘in control’, why aren’t You fixing this?” or “If You’re as ‘good’ as you claim to be, why aren’t You showing it?” The tension mounts as we attempt to reconcile who we believe God to be with what we’re seeing of Him in real life.
If you read on a bit further in these passages, you’ll find that they all end in the same way:
Can any of the worthless foreign gods send us rain?
Does it fall from the sky by itself?
No, you are the one, O Lord our God!
Only you can do such things.
So we will wait for you to help us.
I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord
more than watchmen for the morning,
more than watchmen for the morning.
Even youths shall faint and be weary,
and young men shall fall exhausted;
but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not faint.
The Hebrew word for “wait” in these passages means more than the “passing of time” we might think of. It’s rooted in the idea of “twisting” or “stretching” and describes the “tension of enduring, waiting”*. Waiting on the Lord means to remain in the tension – to stay in that place of discomfort and disagreement in your relationship with Him. Because it turns out too much slack is actually the problem.
Slack in our relationship with God happens when we avoid the tension. It develops as we start dismissing the things about God we don’t like or that don’t make sense to us, forming our own “comfortable” view of Him. It grows as we close our eyes to the world around us and sprinkle a spiritual sugar-coating of “God is good” on the situations we don’t want to accept. It may feel good for a time, but if that relational line between you and God has too much slack, it’s not gonna hold you up!
Today’s “ninja challenge” involved setting up a slackline (the kind you walk on like a tightrope) in a local park and standing on it for 10 seconds (yes, only 10 seconds – it’s much harder than it looks!). After several very wobbly attempts, we finally cranked up the tension. A couple tries later and an 11-second victory was mine!
If you’re feeling comfortable in your relationship with God, that may be a red flag that it’s time to up the tension. Maybe you need to open your eyes to the events going on in our world, find a mentor, and start asking some hard questions. Maybe turning the crank looks like opening your Bible and studying some of those passages you’ve avoided because they don’t fit with your theology. Maybe it looks like opening up to a trusted friend about your doubts. Or maybe it means you stop sugar-coating and get brutally out-loud honest with God about a situation in your life.
Tension in my relationship with God may not feel good, but it is good. It’s in the tension that I am pushed to learn things about Him that I otherwise wouldn’t have paid attention to. It’s in the tension where I allow Him to put His finger on the nerves, revealing areas of my life I need Him to do some work on. It’s in the tension that I start seeing faith as a choice to put my life in God’s hands even if He doesn’t come through in the way I expect Him to. Embracing the tension may seem counterintuitive, but it’s in the “waiting” that He holds me up!