Imagine you are a spiritual director. You are meeting with a directee, Jane, who is a Christian, who is seeking God, who has gone so far as to seek out a spiritual director. You ask Jane to describe her prayer, and she responds thus:

Case 2

When I pray, I usually read a good book or the Bible, slowly. I think about how it applies to me. That often leads me into prayer. I really enjoy getting up early, getting a cup of coffee, and reading and praying, while the world is quiet. Sometimes if one book isn’t working I switch to a different one. I’ve got about three or four books going at a time. I’ve been doing this for years. I thank God that he has given me the strength to be faithful in this way—perseverance is key. Patience is a fruit of the Spirit, right? I don’t ask for much because God knows what I need.

Pause, consider. What is this person seeking in prayer?
How is this prayer likely to form the soul?
What advice would you give?


What strikes you about the prayer? What is it that Jane is seeking?

Jane is meditating—thinking about God and topics relevant to faith, thinking how they may apply to her, how then she should live, and the like. God is encouraging her with sweet feelings and contented reflections.

Jane seems to be seeking a particular feeling or experience. When one book “doesn’t work” she tries another one. How is she deciding when one is working and another is not? Probably by the presence or absence of sweet feelings of devotion in the will. There also seems to be some self-satisfaction or pride—she thinks highly of her meditation and prayer.

How is this prayer likely to form the soul?

In meditation, God teaches us many needed lessons. Meditation reshapes the way we see the world and re-forms the mind. It helps us develop appreciation and love for God’s wisdom and actions—for God’s beauty. God commonly encourages meditation by giving sweet reflections, contented feelings, peace, and joy. These “consolations of prayer” bring us back to meditation and draw us away from the world. They are the sweet milk of the childhood of eternal life.

Yet there are many common faults that can spring from consolations in prayer. Those who experience them often come to desire the gift rather than the giver—they become attached to the sweet feelings rather than dying to self. They may also come to think of themselves as better Christians than most since they spend time in prayer every day, learning lessons, growing in knowledge and faith and grace.

Meditation takes place in the more external parts of the soul—it involves thinking clear thoughts and feeling clear feelings of devotion. Effects in the spirit are hidden. Eventually, the soul must be weaned from attachments, not just attachments to the world but also sensory attachments to “spiritual things.” The soul needs to grow in poverty of spirit.


God is giving you consolations in prayer—sweet feelings, insights, inspirations. But be careful not to come to love those feelings instead of God. Think about how you should respond to God in love rather than dwelling on those feelings. Remember how Jesus sent out the 72 to spread the good news and heal and cast out demons. They came back rejoicing that demons obeyed them. Jesus told them not to rejoice in that, but instead to rejoice that their names were written in God’s book.

In fact, it would be good to add some self-denial to your spiritual life. Fast. Do good deeds that you find distasteful. Work on overcoming your attachment to pleasures of life. If you have to make a choice, choose the option that glorifies God and is unpleasant to yourself.

Some day consolations in prayer may end. Will you still be able to persevere in prayer, even if it is unpleasant and painful? Be careful not to have expectations of how prayer ought to go. Focus on God and how you can serve him.

Harry Plantinga

Harry Plantinga is a professor of computer science at Calvin University and the director of and