God has high goals for His kids, conforming us “to the image of his Son” (Romans 8:29). We’re not there. He uses tension to show us our need and build humility that cries out to God. He gives us relationships with people who are opposite us. It leads to friction, creating heat, with the view to character being formed in us. Think overbearing boss, strange relative, or sibling: Cain and Abel, Jacob and Esau, Martha and Mary.

Cain’s approach to life was a long way from Abel’s, and he had some changing to do. God said, “If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it” (Genesis 4:7). Instead of taking the warning in, Cain took his brother out. Sad. They could have become great friends, but he did not learn from the tension.

Mary and Martha look like opposites, Mary the relaxed, meditative type and her older sister the hardworking gal. Tension does not mean something is wrong; it means something is happening (thank you, Graham Cooke). Instead of learning from younger sis, Martha complained to Jesus about lazy Mary leaving her to do all the work. Then she ordered Jesus to tell her sister to get u and help, not the smartest thing to say to the Son of God. If Martha could only have stopped and asked, “What could God be teaching me in this frustrating situation?” She might have come up with a different response. Too late–it was out of her mouth. Jesus came to Mary’s defense, an uncomfortable moment for Martha. It appears from later interactions that she had matured through the experience.

Sometimes tension drives us to the opposite response than is needed. Jacob and Esau were poles apart. Big brother (by a few seconds) was a man’s man, with hair on his chest, while brother Jake was a momma’s boy, an insider rather than an outsider. Jacob got over the tension created by the dissonance, but he almost killed himself in the process. Had they seen what God was doing, they might have learned to cooperate with each other earlier than they finally did.

God is relentless in His desire to make us like Jesus. When tension addresses us, we can hopefully say, “I wonder if God has something in mind with the friction I feel right now. Could it be that I need to learn something rather than this person who feels like my adversary?” Cain chose jealousy over humility. Martha embraced a victim mentality. Victims don’t plan on changing, but they want you to change to help them. Jacob could only see a competitor, and deception took over when understanding would have worked better.

Do you find yourself struggling with tension? It is the light on the dashboard communicating an important message. If you can step back, ask what the message is, and respond appropriately, you will grow through the experience and even thank God for it. If you treat the light as an intruder and put tape over the light that says the car is overheating, get ready for a disaster. Maybe you are the one who is overheating, like Cain, Martha, and Jacob. Learn from the tension and grow!

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