Why Prayer Beads?

August 20th, 2013

This is a session from my book A Bead and a Prayer: A Beginner's Guide to Protestant Prayer Beads. Read My Introduction to Praying with Beads to learn how I was introduced to this spiritual practice.

Section One: Why?

Week One
Why Prayer Beads?

Theme: Encounter

“Once someone has left behind the habitual prayers of childhood and has entered into the personal encounter, there is no way back. He must live in the light of God and expose and entrust himself to the light ever more conditionally.” – Adrienne von Speyr, Swiss mystic (insert photo)

Scripture Passage

The Lord said to Moses: Speak to the Israelites, and tell them to make fringes on the corners of their garments throughout their generations and to put a blue cord on the fringe at each corner. You have the fringe so that, when you see it, you will remember all the commandments of the Lord and do them, and not follow the lust of your own heart and your own eyes. So you shall remember and do all my commandments, and you shall be holy to your God. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, to be your God: I am the Lord your God. (Numbers 15: 37 – 41, NRSV)

Weekly Reading

One obvious question about prayer beads is, “Why?” Why prayer beads? Why in the world do we need something to help us pray? Prayer is such a simple thing, right? Whether we kneel or sit or stand or dance; whether we pray silently or out loud. Whether we read Scripture, say prayers written by someone else, or offer up our own words, we should not need something to aid our time with God.


If only it were that simple.

Clearly, it is not, otherwise everyone would “pray without ceasing.” By my count, that is not happening.

A lot of people struggle with prayer. As I shared before, I never knew what to say. Sure, if I heard that someone was sick or grieving or losing a job it was easy enough to pray, “Lord, please help (fill in the blank).” Otherwise, I was not sure what God wanted to hear. I did not want to fill up the space with empty words but I also did not want to spend too much time talking about myself. I was unsure whether my words were worthy enough of God’s time and attention. In the end, it was easier to just skip praying altogether.

I know I am not the only one who has struggled with prayer. I know it because I go to church. That is where you will find a lot of people who do not know how to pray. Sure, we can recite the Lord’s Prayer and the prayers in the hymnal with ease. We can handle communal prayers, particularly those that are familiar or written down for us. But call on one of us to pray out loud, individually, and—heaven forbid—extemporaneously, and you will hear crickets. Or suggest to a friend who has just shared a particular prayer concern that the two of you should pray together and you will be left wondering how your friend made such a hasty exit. We are uncomfortable with prayer.

Lucky for us, God knows our limitations. God calls us to be in relationship with God, yet God knows that we need a little help to do this. God knows we accept the call in the midst of our insecurities, our frazzled lives, our egocentricities and our sin. God knows we bring all that with us to the table. God knows that means we have trouble focusing or trip over our words or feel inadequate. That is why God provides us with tools to aid us in prayer. Look at what God did for the Israelites.

The Israelites were struggling. Really struggling. Sure, God had delivered them from slavery and led them out of Egypt. And God had promised to bring them to the land of milk and honey. But it was taking too long. By now the Israelites had been in the desert for years and were beginning to lose hope. Would they ever see the Promised Land? Would they ever be able to settle down and experience stability again? Would they ever have something to eat besides manna? Their days had been filled with wandering. So much wandering. And hunger and death and attempted invasions. There was only so much a person—and a people—could take.

Recognizing this, God approached Moses and commanded him to share the following blessing with the Israelites:

“The LORD bless you and keep you.
The LORD make his face to shine on you and be gracious to you.
The LORD lift up his fact to you and grant you his peace (Numbers 6:24 - 26).”

This was a momentous occasion. God was blessing the Israelites, going so far as to place God’s name on them. In other words, God was making it clear that God was going to take care of the Israelites and give them everything they would need for this journey to the Promised Land.

And for a while it worked. The Israelites settled down and enjoyed the favor of God’s blessings. But it didn’t last.

Apparently, the Israelites forgot God’s blessing and again started feeling hopeless. They began to rebel. Like children who do not get their way, the Israelites started their collective temper tantrum. They whined and complained. They railed against God. They questioned and even mocked God, saying they would have been better left in captivity. In case their displeasure wasn’t clear enough, they began to break the commandments, the very laws God had given them, the ones that not only protected them but also defined them as a nation, as a chosen people. In the passage immediately preceding the story above, one Israelite had even dared to work on the Sabbath. Things were getting out of hand.

excerpt from A Bead and a Prayer: A Beginner’s Guide to Protestant Prayer Beads by Kristen E. Vincent. Copyright©2013 by Upper Room Books. All rights reserved. Used with permission. Order information below.

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