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Prayer Beads

Prayer Beads

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 Prayer Beadsnine 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.

You, Jonah, and the Whale

You, Jonah, and the Whale

I have a quirky habit – I purchase a metal key-chain each time I visit a new place. You see, I grew up moving quite a bit and during my early adult years, I got the unique privilege of traveling for both education and adventure. Today I have well over 200 key-chains from many different cities and countries, but I have no earthly idea what to do with this uncanny collection! A problem that I am okay with having since each new key-chain marks one more place I have had the privilege to discover. The reality is however, some of these key-chains symbolize an adventure that required I say goodbye to everything and everyone I knew so well. I recognize that not everyone loves the idea of saying goodbye or living out of a suitcase and I imagine that Jonah was one of these people and the town called Nineveh was not exactly classified as a travel destination.

When it comes to the story of Jonah we all tend to focus on his disobedience. However, have you ever stopped to think about Jonah’s life before the moment God spoke to him and asked him to go travel to a new place, add a proverbial key-chain to his collection?

Let’s use our imagination and make some assumptions: Jonah was a man who loved God. He followed his commandments, went to the synagogue daily, and kept the Sabbath. Let’s imagine Jonah was from a small town and all his family lived near his humble abode. In fact, Jonah had only traveled within a twenty-mile radius his whole life and therefore, had no “key-chains” in his collection. Let’s also assume that Jonah had some secrets. He had some things in his life that he had never shared. He felt tremendous guilt about parts of his past and no one knew about these mistakes and/or regrets. The last hypothesis we will make is that Jonah loved fishing and he loved, most of all, being out on the water.

Then one day, Jonah heard God speak very clearly, for the very first time in his life. The message was clear – God told him to go to a town that was far away and preach to a specific people group about forgiveness. Of course, like many people, Jonah was afraid. Can you blame him? Here are just a few of the reasons as to why: He didn’t want to step out of his comfort zone, the people he was supposed to go and speak to were wicked and corrupt. Most importantly, this was not a paid vacation to the beach; -Jonah felt that the people he was going to pay a visit to weren’t truly worthy of forgiveness. After all, he felt he wasn’t even deserving of forgiveness himself and he was a pretty good guy after all. So Jonah rationalized, why go and help some people that he felt wouldn’t even help themselves? What would you have done? Would you have ignored the voice you heard and tried to run away?

Like many humans, even those mentioned in the Bible, running was indeed a popular choice. In fact, in today’s world, Christians still run (in some sense of the word, even if it is not physical). So here we can see Jonah through our own human eyes: stuck between a decision to follow or to run and… Jonah chose the later. In some ways, we all run, the question just becomes… has it caught up to us yet?

Jonah’s decision was to head towards Joppa’s port and continue “running” via boat. After all, he loved the water, remember?  Therefore, God knew exactly how to reach him… by a big fish. Have you ever thought about why God chose a whale? He could have spoken again to Jonah or God could have simply chosen someone else, more passionate about doing His work. Why did God choose Jonah and why a whale?

Here’s my opinion: God needed Jonah to learn a lesson just as much as he needed the Nineveh people to experience His second chances and unconditional love. Jonah was the perfect person to go because his eyes needed to be opened, his heart needed to be cleansed of hatred, and his view of God needed to get bigger.  Jonah was a Hebrew prophet and the people of Nineveh were a people who hated the Israelites. Even though Israel was enjoying a season of prosperity during this time, it would have been very common for this group of people to attack Jonah’s homeland. Perhaps, Jonah may have grown up hearing stories about their ancestors being terrorized by the people he was now being sent to rescue. I have no idea as to why a whale was chosen, God is a mysterious God. However, I do know that when we are consumed with our own agenda, sometimes God has to do something really dramatic to capture our attention! Why should it surprise us that the God of the universe would use a whale to confound the supposed wise? Do you have a story that God taught you through an unlikely person or situation? I know a have a few and the hand of God is written all over these stories.

When it comes to following God, Jonah was actually lucky. God intervened and changed his course affecting others for good at the same time. However, we don’t always have that same guarantee. God asks us to follow Him and we may choose to run… but we may not have a huge fish waiting to change our minds. Nonetheless, I know that God’s word does not return void and there are consequences for disobedience. I also know that we are taking a major risk when we run. When we choose intentionally to not follow God not only are we left empty, but the others that we were sent to help along the way are affected by our actions too. I can hear God gently saying… “Please follow Me because I have certain people that I am sending your way that you can help in My name.” We are all a little bit like Jonah, natural mortal men or women, afraid of going into the unknown. Yet, I challenge you, the beauty of saying ‘yes,’ will far outweigh the complacency we will feel if we ignore His voice. God’s adventures are far better than our own endeavors, whether you pick up a key-chain along the way or not!