In talking with many Christians regarding their spiritual disciplines, the issue I find that comes up the most is prayer. Contemporary Evangelical Christianity, a stream to which many belong today, seems to have pushed so far away from orthodox Christian practices concerning prayer that many find it difficult knowing how and/or what to pray.
I, myself, am no stranger to this. Having been a Christian most of my life, brought up in non-denominational expressions of following Jesus, I had great difficulty with the discipline of prayer. In my younger days the best I could come up with for prayer times seemed little more than talking to myself about various things in no certain pattern or structure. It was only after college when I decided to do something about this. In my times spent conversing with God I found prayer beads could be a helpful tool, especially in times when I find it difficult to talk with God regarding a certain matter.
My first encounter with prayer beads was not Christian, but Muslim. The college where my wife and I attended had a considerable international student contingent and I made intentional efforts to build as many cross-cultural relationships as I could. One year on my birthday, friends of mine from Saudi Arabia gave me a simple Misbaha, the Muslim version of prayer beads. I asked them to explain their usefulness and what they mean. Though I couldn’t affirm their use, myself being a Christian, I became curious about the background, and even if they could be of possible help to Evangelical Christianity.
Etymologically, our English word “bead”can be traced back to its Old English root bede which actually meant “prayer” (for some, the spelling of bede may look familiar as it is also the name of the 7th century English monk who was known for his works on early English Christian history). As a tool for prayer, beads have been used almost since the beginning of the Christian Church itself. Desert Fathers would pray using knotted ropes as a way of repeating the Jesus Prayer (“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner”). The tradition continued through the centuries, most notably today in Roman Catholicism with their use of the rosary is meant to call to mind 59 prayers, creeds, and events in Jesus’s life through which they pray regularly. This does not mean however that simple beads are solely a Catholic practice and are thereby a tool Christians are prohibited from using. If we applied this logic, which often happens, our spiritual lives would be deeply impacted as there are many things we use as tools that cross religious boundaries and do not inherit the other’s religion in and of themselves.
Some outside of liturgical expressions of the Christian faith argue that this practice is too formulaic and inauthentic for the life of a follower of Jesus, preferring more extemporaneous forms of conversational prayer times. I certainly do enjoy talking with God in unstructured ways as well, but often I need something to get the ball rolling and the simple set of prayer beads I made for myself help me to do that.
My prayer beads (pictured) consist only of 17 beads, each representing unique sets of prayer concerns. The largest bead reminds me to pray the Lord’s Prayer (found in Matthew 6:9-13). The nine round beads remind me to pray that God would cultivate in my life the nine fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (found in Galatians 5:22-23). You will notice that one of the nine beads is a different color – this calls to mind the statement in 1 Corinthians 13:13 that “the greatest of these is love.” The seven remaining beads lead me to pray that God would keep me from, and forgive me of, the seven deadly sins: hate, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony (see Proverbs 6:16-19 and Galatians 5:19-21).
Looking to scripture, after Jonah refused to do as God had commanded and was swallowed by a giant fish, Jonah prayed from inside the fish, and you can find his prayer in Jonah chapter 2. What’s interesting is that even in this seemingly helpless situation, one of extreme crisis, Jonah’s prayer consisted not of improvised “words from the heart,” but of direct quotations from the Psalms, ancient Israel’s prayer book. In our darkest moments when words don’t flow as easily as we would like, we need to be able to cry out to God for His help and guidance, and having a tool like prayer beads certainly can assist us.
What helps you with your prayer life? Please comment below. If this idea appeals to you, please feel free to use it and even copy the design if you wish. Blessings on your increased conversations with God.