Many Protestants think that praying with beads is a “Catholic thing.” The Roman Catholic rosary has been in use for centuries and probably had its origins with the use of knotted prayers ropes by the Desert Fathers in the 3rd and 4th centuries. The rosary evolved gradually into the form we know today in the 12th through 15th centuries.
During the Reformation, Martin Luther criticized the practice of reciting prayers as idle prayer. It’s not sure if he objected to the rosary beads themselves or that they were used without feeling or faith. So the newly formed Protestants abandoned the use of prayer beads.
However, about 30 years ago, a group of Episcopalians who were studying ancient prayer practices rediscovered prayer beads. They developed Anglican prayer beads which differed from the rosary in that they were to be used for spontaneous prayer or formal prayers chosen by the user. As Anglican prayer beads grew popular with other denominations, they also came to be called Protestant prayer beads. Users find that fingering the beads helps with concentration and can lead to contemplative prayer where we are listening to God rather than talking to God.
You can purchase prayer beads or make your own. There are plenty of beads for sale online and you can also find directions on how to make them and use them online. A number of prayer beads books are also available, including A Bead and a Prayer: A Beginner’s Guide to Protestant Prayer Beads, A String and a Prayer: How to Make and Use Prayer Beads and Bead One, Pray Too: A Guide to Making and Using Prayer Beads.
Prayer beads in some form are found in almost all of the major religions. They are one more tool that faith geeks and others can use in their spiritual lives and can range from simple ones made by children with pony beads to unique works of art which express the creativity of the maker.