Overcoming Spiritual Inconsistency: Me So Thorny

In 2 Corinthians, Paul vaguely writes about a thorn in his side. Most likely a personal ailment, or, as he puts it, a “messenger from Satan,” scholars have debated for centuries on what this thorn really was.

When it comes to faith and spirituality, we all have a thorn that tests our faith from time to time—a personal battle.

I love the Lord and His teachings, and wouldn’t trade my faith journey for all cheese on the Moon. Truthfully however, I show up for class roughly half the time; my spiritual thorn is inconsistency.

I know I should read my Bible everyday; I know I should serve fellow-man and spend more time in prayer. I know I need to worship. I know I need to love.

Yet, on a busy day, these desires are the first I give up. Heck, half the time I’m not even that busy.

Everybody Has One

My spiritual life is about as consistent as my bowling game is: Strike. Gutter. Spare. Grandma Roll. Punch the Chair. Gutter. Get a Hot Dog. Gutter.

I’ve had this problem for a while, you see. Years and years of inconsistent faith. I’d be on fire for God and then quickly fade, or receive a vision of helping the homeless, and then go buy a Playstation.

On January 1st, I committed to a read the “Bible in a Year” regimen. An everyday sort of thing. WIth two chapters of Old Testament, one Psalm, and a New Testament chapter everyday, I was excited to sign up. I even thought the daily structure looked a little light.

Then life set in. I got busy. My thorn started jabbing, and now I’m three weeks behind in the Old Testament and two weeks behind in the New. How could this happen?

Well, there are excuses, of course.

I was traveling…

I had a test…

I’ve been busy at work…

(Never mind the time spent on Facebook, Temple Run 2, and the NBA Finals).

Scripture is just one example. There are times when prayer is all I want, and others when I’ll do anything I can to avoid it. Consistency is just beyond me.

Simple religious guilt? To be honest, no. I sincerely desire a healthy relationship with God. I long for a day where my spiritual agenda can’t be easily shaken—when God’s will can be carried out in confidence—despite whatever my Facebook feed feeds me or the limitations I find in my schedule.

I see the inconsistency in other places, too. The more I look around, the more I see others who suffer like me. I can say this in confidence because of the state of the world we live in; we could all be a little more consistent in our faith and in the Gospel.

We are a generation of Christians who could spread the Gospel like wildfire if we would only light the match. We say things like, “I’ve been busy at work,” though inside, I think we’re all just waiting for a little push.

Some Thoughts

Is spiritual inconsistency a natural part of faith? Is this where, as they say, the rubber meets the road?

Is spiritual inconsistency another name for laziness? The more I write about it, the more I wonder.

Does the Church unintentionally encourage spiritual inconsistency? Showing up on Sunday is a popular (and shallow) way to keep each other accountable. Has the “one-day-a-week” mentality played a part in these habits?

How do we tackle spiritual inconsistency without encouraging empty religious guilt? Not all guilt is bad, but we need to be careful about labeling our own judgements as God’s.

picstitchDo you struggle with spiritual inconsistency? Any thoughts to share or advice to give?

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38 comments

  1. That title is hilarious Kevin. Who ever told you that you need to read the bible everyday, a man? God and Jesus know your good heart. He understands what we all have things to do in life to survive.We are thrown into this world where we all have to take part of an economic system or die. You already know the Holy Bible, and the most important parts about it. Now live the life Gods wants you to, and continue to be that good Christian person you are with no guilt.

    1. This is a good insight. I agree with you. However, speaking for myself here, I know that my inconsistencies always lead me to sin. This is why, maybe like the author, I long to be consistent. I love God. Yet,to be honest, there is still that part of me that loves the world too. What sucks is that my love for God is not always dominant. I usually go through the process of going through troubles, look for God, be victorious, pray and commune with God (bible reading), get to comfortable, go back to my earthly ways and then be in trouble again. I think most of my issues are consequences and not trials. This is what I want to put and end to. I long that the issues I will face are tests that will propel my relationship with God forward. Not mere consequences because I keep sinning.

      Then again, I am now where I am because of the times i failed and my experience of God’s grace (clearly undeserving by me). Maybe everything we go through is something we really need to experience. I am not really sure. All I know is, I owe everything I am today because of God’s love, grace and mercy. I really wish I could give more to Him.

      Mr. Kevin, how are you? Did you find any change in yourself from the time you wrote this blog to this very day?

  2. Kevin, it’s so good to hear a fellow believer admit a weakness! I grew up in a sect where holiness/complete sanctification was the goal, & oh, so frequently I’d hear someone say, “I was sanctified last night! Isn’t it glorious to be living wholly for God?” There was a long list of do’s & don’t’s that a holy Christian must follow to stay in that blessed state of purity, & for awhile all of these folks followed the list. At the same time, however, they’d gossip, overeat, give unwanted advice, & — soon — become quite proud of their Christian humility! When I had what I call my “awakening” at age 18 & joined my forever denomination, I learned many words of wisdom, one being that throughout this life, believers are both saints & sinners at the same time. We live with 1 foot in each kingdom — temporal & eternal. Romans 8 says it so well! Each morning is a new start for a Christian; the old failings are gone & forgotten, except as a gentle reminder that we’re children of God, safe in his loving arms, & he’s cheering us on as we do our best to share his love through our lives. AND — knowing that my salvation is not dependent on my successes or failures, or on the number of souls I “win” each day, or on the number of chapters I read in scripture — I can live each day in joy (not happiness, which is temporary & fleeting). Sorry to be longwinded — Since 1965, I’ve felt like I left a menu of bread & water for a banquet room where there’s always a place set for me.

    1. Pauline,

      You were not longwinded at all. I loved every line you wrote. Thank you for sharing your story. I especially love the Romans 8 reference. That was great. What an encouraging comment; I can’t thank you enough for sharing.

  3. Accountability is what keeps me on track. A small study/prayer/sharing group. Again, the group is not meeing constantly, so some of the spiritual consistence is gone. Couple of days I started a study (The good and beautiful God, by J.B.Smith), by myself. I try to go through a topic a day… He has a thought there in the very first chapter, that all the spiritual practices that are out there, we have to do them for ourselves. There is a wrong idea going arround that we choose to practice spirituality FOR GOD, not FOR US, which would be the right focus.

    I can’t promise anyone I could evere reach a consistent spiritual disciplines, but I’m trying, my own way…

  4. I think this inconsistency is something every believer has to deal with as we are not perfect. It might mean laziness, but at the same time, I believe it keeps us on track as long as we dont kill the desire to be with God and makes us feel not necessarily guilty, but maybe a bit mad that we are not taking advantage of the privilege of standing in Gods presence more often. If we were perfectly diligent, and spent every single morning with God, we could very easily fall into an empty and dry religious practice … I think feeling a bit uneasy about not doing it every day is a sign of us having a genuine relationship with God and is definitely much better than feeling great about ourselves for doing it every day …

    1. Katka,

      Thanks for your comment. It’s encouraging to hear from other believers about the inconsistency issue. I know that we can’t be perfect (and trying to acquire perfection could lead to the “empty and dry religious practice”), but there has to be a happier medium somewhere. I loved what you said about “…not taking advantage of the privilege of standing in God’s presence more often.” Great thought!

  5. A friend of mine is an accountant and he recently said something that came to mind when I read this. He said that he’s realized how he tends to think of mission work, helping the homeless, reading his bible, praying, “church things,” etc. as the only “spiritual time” in his life. Because of that label, he noticed how he would do those things, then say “Okay God, that was great. Now I’m going to leave and go to work and I’ll see you later.”

    His big point, and I think we all need this, is that God placed him at his job, and has him at his house, and gave him a family and friends, ALL TO THE GLORY OF GOD. I think him being an accountant is the perfect example, too, because how on earth can you crunch numbers all day and still feel as though you’re in His presence? But he does. But he says that after recognizing this tendency, he’s been trying not to “say goodbye” to God after his quiet time, but instead goes with Him to the next things.

    I think there’s a great point here. If we went about life as though ALL OF IT is time with God, and that there’s nothing inherently special about any one thing (including, and don’t get me wrong here, those “spiritual things”), I think it’d change everything. Our expectations about those “secular things” would completely change. We’d desire (and see the chances that have been in front of us) to read more, pray more, help people more…

    And I’m pretty sure it’d be a DESIRE. Not an “I feel like I really need to…”

    1. Oops, forgot to log in… I guess this one’s striking a chord because I need to say even more. 🙂

      I think in a weird, paradoxically freeing way, we need to know that the goal is not just to “have more quiet times.” The goal is to have a renewed mind that sees God working in everything we do and that praises him for it. Which is actually harder, but for some reason, more freeing.

      So, realistically, we need to pray before work and say “God, I’m going with you. Open my eyes to the way you’re working in my job.” Then start looking for ways He’s with you. And EXPECT it. With friends, be mindful of their needs, and be watching for things to do for others. And then, in distractions (which are fine and needed), say “If I have a problem, help me to be okay with letting this go.” And then trust that if you’re not feeling specifically that you need to sell your Playstation or delete your Facebook account, it’s all fine.

      We get stuck in a “religiously narcissistic” spot (and I’m very guilty of this), and really, the goal can’t be to “curse less” or “tithe more,” or even “read more scriptures” (though those are awesome things). It is simply to love others and to be the new creation that we are. Which is harder. Again. But simpler…

      1. You brought up some really great points here. I very much appreciate your thoughts.

        One thing I didn’t clarify here (in the post) was that I didn’t want to do these things because I felt like I had to. I want to do these things because I have a desire to serve God and I mature as a Christian when I actively follow Him. That said, the Bible reading thing—to me—is more of a disappointment because I committed and have so far not come through.

        I know I have nothing to prove to God; I think I’m just annoyed with myself.

        I really liked your point: “If we went about life as though ALL OF IT is time with God, and that there’s nothing inherently special about any one thing…” That was great.

      2. You totally came across right. Your post was clearly not driven by guilt, although sometimes I can read that into things, since I really have struggled with false guilt all my life. In all reality my comments were probably just to solidify things in my own mind. 🙂

        I really enjoy reading your blog by the way! Very thought provoking and edifying. Keep it up, man!

  6. Hi,
    Great post, hope you don’t mind if i reblog it. I have always found it hard to be consistent in my prayer life and reading the Bible, which is weird because i can be very driven, focussed and stubborn in many ways… but when it comes to reading the Bible I’m aimless and apathetic more often than not.

    I’ve been trying to engage with the whole thing on the level of desire rather than duty- not dissimilar to you, and i also find that its still really hard. Maybe thats how its meant to be, but I’m not convinced. Maybe there really is a spiritual battle going on about this, and my own feelings that I’m not worth battling over are dumb. Maybe I’m still trying to overcome the habits of 25yrs of not listening to God through Scripture.

    Anyway, the thing I’m doing at the moment is blogging my personal reflections to the Bible Study I’m using. The study is called ‘Essential Jesus’ and I’m encouraging a bunch of folks to journey through it with me- the blog is part experiment, part accountability thing (if I put on the internet that I’m going to do this, I really have to follow through), and part… something else probably, but so far its working- I’ve done a month of daily readings and blogged on each of them. so thats something.

    Anyway, my hope and prayer is that your desire will overcome your laziness and that you’ll discover a place of intimacy with God that doesn’t measure relationship based on how many verses we read, or even how long we pray for.

    1. Hello there, I’d be honored if you reblog it! Sorry for the delayed response. I’m looking forward to catching up on your blog. It sounds like something I’d love to be apart of. Thanks for your encouragement!

  7. Thanks for this post! I feel like it came along at an opportune moment. I’ve had the exact same experience with the bible in year thing, I got so far behind that I had to change my start date 4 times to try and catch up. I gave up in the end and in one sense feel like a failure, but in another feel frustrated with myself for feeling like I’ve failed. Because I don’t want to read my bible just for the sake of it, I don’t want to fall back into religion and doing things simply because I “should” or “ought” to be. I still wonder though, how much of our consistency is dependent on discipline? Being disciplined for a little while at least, because the end goal is good. Surely this would turn things into habits, and good habits once developed are so valuable. It takes repetitiveness, regularity and steadfastness to form consistency, which are all directly linked with being disciplined. A part of me doesn’t quite like the sound of that, but I don’t know whether that’s because it’s wrong or because it’s right and I don’t want to face it.

    1. You had some great thoughts here. Discipline, I think, isn’t as bad of a word as we make it out to be. I think humans naturally respond well to discipline (or structure). It does get dangerous, as you mentioned, when the discipline becomes empty.

      I can also relate to your statement of “feeling like a failure,” in regards to the yearly Bible reading. It’s very true.

  8. Good Article – I can relate, (Although I wish I couldn’t). I think I have learned over the years that missing a day here and a day there is not a big deal, in fact sometimes it is good for me since I sometimes get either legalistic about my Quiet time and sometimes I get prideful. However, although a break might be good every now and then, when the breaks get to often (for me more than 1 – 2 a month) then I know that I have a problem with my priorities and I need to refocus!

  9. I really enjoyed reading your post. I think you give a really good perspective on this issue. Consistency is also a battle because all the other options that distract us. In my mind it is really a question of what is the greatest joy? The answer is always Jesus!

  10. Hi! Thank you for this post. It’s very reassuring to see a brother in faith encountering the same problems I do in my walk. I am by no means, reveling on your thorn, but I have to admit that I worry often over the inconsistency of my quiet time (worrying: another of my many thorns). I really can relate with what you said. I can’t even count the times I skipped my quiet time for other “ministries”. I guess they stop being ministries when I no longer do them by faith, for God, right? Anyway, thank you and I hope that we’ll really come to the point when we find God’s word sweeter than honey. God bless! 😀

    1. “I guess they stop being ministries when I no longer do them by faith, for God, right?” That’s a big question to ask! Thanks for sharing your thoughts and for the encouragement!

  11. I think living intentionally in Christ is difficult because there is ongoing spiritual warfare. Our greatest enemies are our flesh, the world, and Satan. Our defeat is most commonly due to our flesh and sinful nature that won’t be completely overcome until we are resurrected in new bodies. I guess as his children, we just need to stay encouraged and draw near to him in order to discern how best to stay focused and consistent. I just wrote a post called Fan or Follower that deals with some of the same issues you brought up. Thanks for being so honest and real about your personal walk. God Bless you!

  12. I feel you, Kevin. But I’ve discovered that sometimes when we think we’re lagging, we just might be farther up the road than we thought. Most of our leaders and mentors have taught us to gauge our spiritual life by how much time we pray and read the Bible, but I feel they’ve severely limited us and not given us the whole pie of spiritual formation. There are so many spiritual habits that get us to God, many that you probably already do but never considered it part of your “reasonable service.” Yet classical Christianity abounds with these habits: contemplation, learning, celebration, Sabbath, fellowship, centering, Lectio Divina, journaling, hospitality, slowing, and so many more. This is how God enters the “daily do” of our lives. Prayer and study are essential, but they’re not the only spiritual exercises available to us. These others eliminate the compartmentalization we create between our secular and spiritual selves to make all our living sacramental. Great post!

    1. Such a wonderful response! Compartmentalization is the worst(!), and I’m most guilty. Thanks for adding this to the conversation. I like your thoughts on “being farther up the road than we thought.” It gives me hope 🙂

  13. I think that we’re inconsistent by nature- dont worry! I demonstrate nothing but spiritual inconsistency; I’m hoping its all part of the process 😉

  14. I thank you for sharing this. I have been inconsistent for a while not taking care of business Spiritually, Physically & Naturally the way that i should.I just realized today how badly this has affected my life when my mother told me,”Shamara your just not consistent”. That made me feel so bad & useless, it felt like my life was over. I just really need guidance from Holy Spirit.

  15. I have been feeling the same way! I do believe inconsistency and laziness goes hand and hand. Truthfully, I sick and tired of the inconsistency. It shows up everywhere in my natural life as well as in my spiritual life. One mintue I’m hot and next I’m cold! Other times I fighting just to stay afloat! I understand why we need to stay in the Word, praying and fasting cause when we partake in the fats(pleasures) of this land we can become weigh down. That now I struggle getting back to fasting, praying, studying, and when I’m faced with challenges (thorns) speaking the Word! For we wrestle not against flesh and blood principalities in high places.

  16. It’s so refreshing to hear you talk about something I’ve been battling with. I’m trying my best to be faithful to the Lord and the things i do, like school, work and my relationships but the more i try the worse it becomes. I’ve had thoughts to just give up but i know God hasn’t given up on me yet so how can give up on myself. I just want to hear your thoughts on how to overcome inconsistency in my relationship with God and other people around me. Thanks.

  17. You hit the nail right on the head!!! This is exactly what im experiencing in my life. As a singer and active member in my church youth group I struggle with this. As you’ve stated, sometimes when I sing (ok who am i kidding, most times) if im singing a solo I try to put myself in a position where im the writer of the song and as I sing Im trying to get on that level that the artist is at or was at when they wrote and sang the song. Some times i succeed and other times im like “yea i just wanna hurry get home so im gonna sing this and thats that”. However truthfully and with every single day that passes I long for a 100% closer relationship with My Saviour Jesus Christ. I know how to pray, I know about fasting, I know about Spiritual warfare and boy let me tell you THAT IS REAL!!!! i dont know of anyone that can deny the fact that they arent battling something because I definitely am. However I know what needs to be done so why am I so “comfortable” just giving Him 40% of my time. Im ashamed to admit it but its the truth. How can I get the strength to stand against my own beliefs and rely soley on the word of God? I mean look around at whats happening today?? Its a mess. Im no giving up because it is my desire to serve Him. This article is beautiful… This saved my life.

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