Now Featured in the Patheos Book Club
A Bead and a Prayer
A Beginner's Guide to Protestant Prayer Beads
By Kristen E. Vincent

Book Excerpt

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. 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 our own words, we should not need something to aid our time with God. Right? If only it were that easy. Clearly, it is not; otherwise everyone would "pray without ceasing."

A lot of people struggle with prayer. As I mentioned earlier, I never knew what to say to God. If I heard of someone's illness, grief, or job loss, I would pray, "Lord, please help (fill in the blank)." Otherwise, I felt unsure

about 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. Were my words worthy of God's time and attention? In the end, I

just skipped praying altogether.

I know I am not alone in my struggle 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 forus. 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 specific prayer concern that the two of you pray together, and you may be left to wonder how your friend made such a hasty exit. We are uncomfortable with prayer.

Luckily for us, God knows our limitations. God calls us into relationship. 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. The Lord acknowledges our inability to focus and our inadequacies. So God provides tools to aid us in prayer. Look at what God does for the Israelites. Here the Israelites are really struggling. God has delivered them from slavery and led them out of Egypt, promising to bring them to the land of milk and honey. But the trip is taking too long. The Israelites have been in the desert for years and are beginning to lose hope. Will they ever see the Promised Land? Will they ever settle down and experience stability again? Will they ever have anything to eat besides manna? Their days have been filled with wandering. So much wandering. And hunger, death, and attempted invasions. A person—and a people—can only take so much. Recognizing this limitation, God commands Moses to "put [God's] name on" (Num. 6:27) the Israelites and share the following blessing:

The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face to shine upon you,
and be gracious to you;
the Lord lift up his countenance upon you,
and give you peace" (Num. 6:24-26).

On this momentous occasion, God blesses the Israelites and places God's name on them, signifying divine care and provision for this journey to the Promised Land.