Prayer, at times, becomes an ordeal primarily due to our lack of concentration; we battle with our thoughts, noise, distractions, anxiety, and stress. However, in Jesus Christ we find the prime example of the practice of contemplation. We observe the best illustration of Him using this practice not when Jesus healed the demoniac, or when He rebuked winds, nor in the event of His Transfiguration, but during His temptation in the desert (Mt.4:1–11).
We learn vital lessons by observing how Jesus dealt with the thoughts through which Satan was trying to ensnare Him. Keen attention to the account of Jesus’ temptation in the desert reveals that He avoided getting caught in any sort of conversation with Satan. Instead, Jesus quoted lines of Scripture, in order to break the cycle of inner chatter that would have succeeded in holding His attention captive if He listened and indulged in it. During moments of struggle when our thoughts are attacked by the evil one through flaming darts, we must reply with a verse from the Holy Scripture, just as Jesus did.
Jesus’ own battle with thoughts is the Christian foundation of the practice of contemplation: the quiet repetition of a scriptural phrase in order to keep the attention focused. This became a common practice among the desert fathers and mothers who memorized passages of Scripture, sometimes lengthy passages, in order to break free of this snare of distracting thoughts. Scripture also claims, however, that the name of Jesus itself casts out demons (Lk. 10:17) and implies the presence of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12:3). Thus the repetition of Jesus prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner” can function as an anchor in the midst of a storm of distractions. Contemplation on the love of God, revealed in Jesus Christ for everyone, will fill us with joy and usher in stillness; a posture we all need.