I thought prayer beads were only for Catholics. Is it really okay for Protestants to use beads in prayer?
By far, this is the most common question I hear. And it’s a natural question since Protestants have not been raised to use beads in prayer. There must be a good reason why, right?! But if we look back in history we can see that our ancestors in faith often used some type of physical object to feel a connection with God. See below or click here for more.
How do Protestant prayer beads differ from the Catholic rosary?
There are both differences and similarities. The differences are in the format and use. Rosaries are made of five (or fifteen) sets of ten beads, while Protestant prayer beads are made of four sets of seven beads. And while the rosary is used to pray a certain pattern of prayer – some beads are used to pray the “Hail Mary” prayer while others are used to pray the “Our Father” (Lord’s Prayer) – there is no particular formula for praying with Protestant prayer beads. They are much more free form. My book offers a variety of suggestions for how you can pray with them.
The primary similarities are in the benefits of using the beads. Whether you pray with a rosary or with Protestant prayer beads, the beads can help keep you focused during your prayer time (in other words, they help to keep your mind from wandering to the grocery list or the latest episode of “Modern Family”). The feel of the beads in your hand can remind you of God’s presence, particularly in times of darkness. By repeating a particular prayer or phrase with each bead – whether the “Hail Mary” prayer for the rosary or a short phrase or verse with Protestant beads – you can quiet your mind and begin to listen to what God has to say to you. That’s the real gift of prayer beads!
What is the purpose of praying with beads?
I think the real purpose is to help us connect with God and go deeper in our prayer lives. There are endless ways in which you can do this; beads are just one of them.
Are prayer beads biblical? Where does this type of prayer tool originate in our Christian history?
Prayer beads are a prayer tool – an object that helps people connect with God – and while beads themselves are not mentioned in the Bible, there are references to other types of prayer tools such as fringe, rods and staffs, rocks, etc. There is a great story in Numbers 15 where the Israelites, who have been wandering in the desert for many years, feel as if God has abandoned them. God encourages them to take the fringe on their garments (at that time all clothing had fringe) and hold onto it. God commanded them to remember the commandments as they held that fringe. In doing so they would remember that “I AM the Lord your God.” In other words, they would be reminded that God had never abandoned them.
In the early church Christians used pebbles and stones to help them “pray without ceasing.” That practice evolved into using knotted rope, and later, strings of beads, which is how the rosary came into being. That happened long before there were “Catholics” and “Protestants.” Had we lived back in the Middle Ages we would have all been using beads in prayer. The Protestant prayer bead format that I talk about in my book was developed by a group of Episcopalians from Texas in the 1980’s as a way of reclaiming an ancient prayer practice.
I’ve been Protestant all my life. Why have I never heard about Protestant prayer beads?
Don’t worry! You didn’t miss something important in your upbringing! The Protestant prayer bead format is fairly new: it was developed in the 1980’s. It’s just taken a while for word to spread and the idea to gain traction. The majority of Protestants still don’t know about them. They are just starting to catch on. Consider yourself ahead of the curve!
Do you speak or lead workshops? Can you come to my event?
We travel extensively to lead retreats and workshops, preach, or do book signings. Click here for more details.
What kind of response have you had to this prayer bead ministry?
Incredible! We have received thousands of emails, letters, blog hits and comments, etc. The first book, A Bead and a Prayer (Upper Room Books, 2013), has remained on The Upper Room’s bestseller list almost every week since its release. It was also named Book of the Year by the Christian Small Publisher Association, and finalist for the USA Best Book Award in 2014. The second book, Another Bead, Another Prayer (Upper Room Books, 2015), has also been really well-received. I am constantly traveling to lead retreats and prayer bead workshops. It has become a full-time job!
All of this tells me that people – Protestants in particular – are hungry for new ways to connect with God. They need tools to help them feel more comfortable with prayer, quiet their minds, and experience a deeper connection with God. The prayer beads are doing that.
We receive the most amazing testimonies from people who are returning to church after being estranged from it for many years; who are experiencing God’s deep love for them in new ways; who are being comforted through times of darkness such as a terminal illness, a death in the family, job loss, etc. People are carrying their beads into doctor’s offices, delivery rooms, and even in their weddings! It is profound!
Can I make my own prayer beads?
Absolutely! In fact, we encourage you to do so! The act of making prayer beads can be a wonderful, creative time to think about how you want to connect with God. And using something that you have made to spend time with God can be meaningful.
But I’m not crafty. Is it hard to make prayer beads?
Our experience shows that people who don’t think of themselves as “creative” are able to create the most wonderful prayer beads! The process of making prayer beads is fairly simple. We even walk you step-by-step through the process, giving you supply lists, easy-to-follow instructions, and a video. (click here for video). We encourage you to try it. You might surprise yourself!
Where do you get your beads and crosses?
I purchase a lot of my beads and crosses from Fire Mountain Gems. Goody Beads is also another great resource. If you are not buying in bulk, it is a lot of fun to shop at your local bead boutique. Such stores tend to have a great selection and nice atmosphere where you can experiment with different designs. And their staff can answer your questions, offer advice, etc. Just Google “bead shops” and your location to see if there is a bead store near you.
I see you sell prayer beads. Is all this just a way for you to make money?
While we do have an Etsy store where we sell prayer beads, that’s not the point of all this. Check out my post, “Why I Don’t Care if You Use Beads in Prayer.”
So what is the point of all of this?
I want people to know that God loves each of us deeply. Yet in our crazy busy lives we often forget that, becoming disconnected from God. It’s easy then to feel as if we are alone. Prayer is one of our primary opportunities to reconnect with God. The prayer beads make that process accessible, leading us to a deeper, more profound experience of God’s grace and peace.