Prayer Beads: Yes, It’s OK for Protestants

colorful-prayer-beads“Is it okay for Protestants to use prayer beads?”

In the five years I’ve been writing and teaching about prayer beads, this is, by far, the number one question I hear.

The subtext of the question seems to be, “Are we going to get struck by lightning if we use beads in prayer?” There is fear, or at least, concern.

Granted, not everyone is tentative about using beads. Many people take up the beads without hesitation, thrilled to have another tool for prayer. But there are enough that it warrants addressing the question, particularly in my (southern) neck of the woods.

I always begin my response with the Old Testament story of the Israelites, newly-freed from slavery. They were headed to The Promised Land, this wonderful place that God had set aside for them. But in between them and TPL was a massive desert with no planes, trains, or automobiles in sight. In faith, they set out on their journey, not realizing how long it would take. As the years passed and they got more and more tired of being hot and sticky and thirsty, they began to rebel. They even argued with God, saying they would be better off as slaves back in Egypt. They were beginning to think God had abandoned them.

In response, God told them to take up the fringe on their garments. Bet they didn’t see that coming! How could fringe help them in this situation? But God understood the Israelites were physical beings. Even though God had promised to be faithful and always be with them, God knew the Israelites would get so focused on being hot and miserable and forget God’s promises. God knew they needed something tangible – physical – to hold onto and remind them that God was with them. So God told them to take up fringe – a common, ordinary, everyday object – and hold onto it when they needed comfort, guidance, assurance, love.

So if the question is whether it’s okay for Protestants to use beads – a common, ordinary, everyday object – in prayer, we have only to look at the book of Numbers (chapter 15) and read how God offered fringe: the first prayer tool. That’s how we know we’re safe from lightning strikes (aside from the fact that God is not in the business of lightning strikes).

At this point most people are able to relax and consider incorporating beads into their prayer time. Others, however, have more questions:

When people use prayer beads, isn’t the focus on the beads rather than God? No. The focus is on developing and going deeper into one’s relationship with God. That’s what prayer is about. The beads are just a tool to facilitate that.

Why are beads even necessary in prayer? After all, we Protestants have been praying just fine without them all these years. Indeed. And certainly, not everyone will want or need to use beads in prayer. But many people struggle with prayer; they don’t know what to say or how to go about it. Prayer beads can offer structure, a path, a safe place even, for prayer.

How can they help? For starters, how many of us have begun a prayer, only to realize a minute later that we’re making the grocery list instead? Feeling the beads can help you maintain your focus in prayer. How many of us have rushed through the day and forgotten to pray? Seeing the prayer beads lying on a table, we are reminded to take time to sit with God. And how about those times when we, like the Israelites, feel lost and abandoned in the wilderness places of life? We can hold onto the beads and know that God is as close as the beads in our hands.

That fringe? It really was a gift – a gift from God that enabled the Israelites to feel more connected to God through the good, the bad, and the hot and sticky. That’s what prayer beads are.

Even for Protestants.

timthumb.php-3Kristen E. Vincent is the author of the award-winning book, A Bead and a Prayer: A Beginner’s Guide to Protestant Prayer Beads.  She is the owner and principal artisan of Prayerworks Studio, which specializes in making handcrafted prayer beads and other prayer tools. She speaks widely on prayer and prayer beads and enjoys leading retreats.

 

About Kristen E. Vincent
  • Mestes

    Respectfully, Numbers 15 doesn’t say or imply anything about the fringe on their garments being a “prayer tool”. It is to serve as a reminder to “remember all the commandments of the Lord,
    and do them”. I understand you like arts and crafts, and that you sell
    them, but Christians should not (and do not) twist scripture for
    monetary gain. Also, a Christian doesn’t need a “tool” or any tangible
    object for effective prayer. We have the Holy Spirit for that. If
    people struggle with prayer (presumably to the God of the Bible), I
    advise they make sure their salvation (2 Peter1:10). “Prayer beads” are
    an ecumenical tool for blurring the lines between authentic
    Christianity and false religions. If you’re a Christian, Ms. Vincent,
    you’ve got some explaining to do to your God. If you’re not, then
    kindly refrain from representing yourself as one. Thank you. (Let the cries of “PHARISEE!!” commence)

    • Lyndon James

      Sigh.

    • The_Clay_Jar

      “Prayer beads” are
      an ecumenical tool for blurring the lines between authentic
      Christianity and false religions.”

      Really? Where does this stuff come from? I’m assuming you consider the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches “false religions,” because millions of Christians within these traditions use prayer beads regularly.

    • Magnus Elric-William

      I would opine that no beads are not necessary for effective prayer, but if the use thereof assists others, why not?

  • stefanstackhouse

    It all depends. If it is a matter of saying the same prayer over and over again (as with the Hail, Mary, etc. with a rosary), then Jesus had something very negative to say about this. (Matt 6:7) On the other hand, if it is simply a memory aid in remembering a long prayer list, then it seems to me that this really isn’t any different than using a written list – something that millions of faithful Christians routinely do.

    • Toby

      “And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.” He could very well be talking about speaking in tongues, but then many Fundamentalist Protestants seem ok with that. Personally, I tend to think that Jesus was referring to using things like chants or spells as a means to influence God. I think the issue was with the intention, and not necessarily the technique used. I don’t believe there’s a problem with repeating a phrase with purpose and intention as a means of focusing more clearly on God, but there IS a problem when someone chants or babbles as a means of somehow magically getting what they want from God.

    • T_Ford

      The operative word in Mt. 6:7 is VAIN, not repetition. Our Lord is speaking to our heart – our disposition in prayer – not how we pray. Repetitive pray can be very deep and profound. If you don’t use or need such methods yourself that is great, but I suggest it is not appropriate to judge those who do.

      • Mestes

        I can see how you would read that verse to read that way to support your belief. But the point of Matt. 6:7 is that repetition, in and of itself, is vain. “Vain” is used to describe “repetition”, not to somehow separate it from repetition that is somehow not vain. A repetitious prayer is vain. If you want to know how to pray, continue on through Matthew 6 to where Jesus Himself models for Christians the way we ought to pray (side note to Roman Catholics: He mentions nothing about the mortal, Mary). If you’re a Christian, you should be warned that repetitious prayer is a form of mysticism and is not indicative of the Christian life.

        • T_Ford

          Ummm…no.

          • Mestes

            I understand. I’d like a chapter and verse that supports repetitious prayer in Christianity, please. On the flip side, I can give numerous references for the fact that repetitious prayer is a staple of mysticism, and that Roman Catholicism practices mysticism systematically. I appreciate your time.

          • T_Ford

            Strong’s Concordance has one reference to the word
            “repeateth” in Proverbs which doesn’t really apply. “Repetition” only appears in Matt. 6:7 which I have already shown to be modified in this specific reference by the word “vain.” I then googled “repetitive prayer in scripture” with similar limited results. HOWEVER, in Matthew 26, as our Lord is praying in the garden before His Passion, “he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words.” It certainly seems to me that He is engaging in repetitive prayer. If you can show clearly that Scripture
            prohibits all forms of repetitive prayer, please share. Otherwise, I will continue to maintain that the forms used are less relevant than our intention or disposition. But all of this aside, the most important thing is that we pray!

    • Mestes

      This is blurring of the lines. If something as innocuous as a written list does the trick, why not just use a written list? Why “prayer beads”/rosary beads? The very idea of the rosary incites repetition. And from your comment, you seem to know what’s wrong with repetition. Unless your beads are labelled with your prayer requests (which could very easily be written on a piece of paper), then the beads serve no purpose to the Christian. But everyone knows that’s not the purpose of the rosary to begin with.

  • spiritubrianus

    I am a member of the Episcopal Church, and the use of the Anglican Rosary is fully accepted by our church. I even know of Episcopalians who use the Marian Rosary. Historically ours is a church that grew out of the Protestant Reformation although a lot of us would say we are an ‘unreformed’ Protestant Church. Or as one wag said, “We are the most Catholic of the Protestant Churches and the most Protestant of the Catholic Churches.” Bottom line, prayer is something that is personal. If beads help, they can’t be bad, don’t you agree?

  • Mestes

    Let’s all try to remain focused on the topic at hand. There are a couple problems with this blog entry: 1) We’re being told that Numbers 15 in the Bible is talking about something that it clearly is not. 2) The author of this blog entry happens to make and sell said “Prayer Beads”. This article is not a deeply theological expression of a particular viewpoint meant to edify the body of Christ or glorify God in any way. It is nothing more than an advertisement for a product. As far as the personal use of beads or notes or whatever, I’d say use whatever you want. But don’t twist scripture to say God gave fringe to Israel as a gift. That didn’t happen. Don’t imply that the use of your “Prayer Beads” will deepen or do anything to develop your relationship with God. It won’t. As far as ecumenism: It absolutely is a way of blurring lines between Christianity and Roman Catholicism. That is clearly the undertone of this article (i.e. the title and the last sentence: “Even for Protestants”) And if you’re forgetting to pray, it’s not because you don’t have “Prayer Beads”. Christians don’t “forget” to pray, as though it’s an obligation. Christians pray because it’s the lifeblood of our relationship with the God of the Bible.

    • Donna Kemp

      I’ve read Numbers, and taught on it, several times. Ms. Vincent’s point is that many human beings are confronted by a dark night of the soul, or a hollowness at times in our faith journey. Most of us don’t have the “straight line” journey you seem to be undertaking. Like the Israelites, something tangible can assist with focus and that continual recommitment to God most of us experience. I can tell you from personal experience that Ms. Vincent is a very committed Christian without a commercial motive. Yes, she does make and sell beads; she leads workshops; and she has brought a much deeper understanding to many Christians. Your critic is unnecessarily nasty and personal, with absolutely NO basis for any of your harshness. Last time I checked Roman Catholics are Christians. And one of the many ways I know this, is the giant Crucifixion of Christ that hangs in EVERY Catholic church. Finally,(there’s just soooo much), prayer is not an obligation. It is a pure expression of the intimate relationship we have with God. But, all relationships have ups and downs, and when we cannot find the words to pray or the peace to pray, then reminders of God’s love bridge our gap to the God of love and forgiveness, who lives in the world with us.

      • Mestes

        Again, the fringe was not a means by which Israel was to remember the love and forgiveness of God. God states plainly what the fringe was for: “that ye may look upon it, and remember all the commandments of the Lord, and do them ; and that ye seek not after your own heart and your own eyes, after which ye use to go a whoring: That ye may remember, and do all my commandments, and be holy unto your God. I am the Lord your God, which brought you out of the land of Egypt, to be your God: I am the Lord your God.” No rainbows, no hearts, no peace signs….and no beads. Just a very sober reminder of Who God is and who Israel was. My critique may unfortunately come across as nasty and personal, but it is meant as an earnest plea for Christians to take seriously the word of God and the character of God, and not try to read ourselves into scripture, but rather read God out of it. Let’s take a realistic approach to our study of Who God is according to His word, and shun the idea that it’s all about us. Let’s hone our theology based on what scripture actually says, rather than what we feeble, created beings would like for it to say.

        • Donna Kemp

          So you understand the part where God told the Israelites to make the fringe a reminder. You seem to be having trouble with the idea that the rest of the passage addresses the be holy and know God part. Literalism with texts written thousands of years ago to address specific situations creates huge problems with those new to Christianity. Do you suggest that we should wear fringed garments? Do you suggest that Bible has nothing to do with human beings and there relationship to God. The Bible is a long narrative of the relationship between God and his peoples. Successful relationships can never be as one sided as you imply. God gave us free will; he expects us to attempt to understand him, and that requires the use of the imagination and the intellect God gave us. Anyone engaged in earnest prayer will encounter God. Earnest prayer can include any number of things; fringe, beads, lists, there is no real difference. And that encounter will determine what God has planned for each individual. There is no “one size fits all” in theology, no matter how convenient that might be the God Hall Monitors. And I think you have done an excellent job of ridding scripture and action of God.

          • Mestes

            1 — “Literalism with texts written thousands of years ago to address specific
            situations creates huge problems with those new to Christianity.” Two things about this: 1) The author of this article used Numbers 15 to support an idea (and a product of hers) that has nothing at all to do with what the passage is saying. That is wrong, at best, and deceptive at worst. 2) Those new to Christianity should be taught how to read the Bible properly. If you’re advocating for using the Bible to support your ideas of Who God is (or to sell a product) then you haven’t been taught how to handle the word of God in the right manner.
            2 — “[H]e expects us to attempt to understand [H]im, and that requires the use of the imagination and the intellect God gave us.” This is a grossly inaccurate and grievous way to approach the study of God and/or a relationship with Him. Use our imagination??? I implore you to please turn from this way of thinking! You’re opening yourself up to deception on a Satanic level. Your imagination, left to itself, is the breeding ground of heretical inventions that will lead you to believe and teach false doctrines, bringing great sorrow to God. We are fallen Man; prone to wonder. We do not have the capacity in ourselves to understand God. Our only hope is the Holy Spirit and the word of God. Thankfully, that is all we need!

            There are many other things in your response that should be refuted. If you say you’re a Christian, I can only take your word for it. However harsh it may sound, if I am to speak the truth in love, I’m compelled to tell you that you need to repent and ask God to shepherd you into a right understanding of Who He is, what the Bible says, and how you are to approach Him.

            Proverbs 15:32

  • linda

    thanks for your great blogpost. as a protestant i’ve always wondered about prayer beads as they looked so lovely and seemed like a great idea to help in prayer. your post was just the nudge i needed to go ahead and order a rosary. i’ll be reading your book while i’m waiting for it to come. while i bought a catholic rosary i like the idea of choosing your own prayers like the anglicans do.


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