Witnessing for Christ in Hostile Territory 1 Corinthians 11:1 and Matthew 10:16 By Dr. David…
Now I Lay Me Down…
By Dr. Mike Murphy
“You had better be asleep by the time I get there!” She heard herself saying the words as if robotic. Words it seems she had to repeat every night. But that was life with a five year old son, repeating the same words over and over each day.
As she reached his room, she could already hear the constant moving. As she peeped around the corner of the door, she found her son still sitting up in the middle of the bed. “I thought I told you to get to sleep!”
“Mama, I can’t go to sleep yet, we forgot something!”
She waited for the rest. She thought she had heard it all, so she began looking around the room for whatever animal or toy he wanted to sleep with him. She just wished that for one night this could be made simple. For one night she could get him to bed without a thousand distractions. That for one night she could find a little peace and quiet, without hearing her named called fifty times before she laid down herself.
But what her little boy said next shocked her, and brought her to a speechless silence. “Mama, I can’t go to sleep yet, God would not be happy. We haven’t said our prayers!” The moment froze her, and as she found the smile forming on her face, she looked into the eyes of her young son. She watched as her boy climbed out of the bed, and got on to his knees beside it. As she watched him, she found her way to her own knees. She then watched as his small fingers came together, as his hand became one to pray.
“What prayers do you want me to say tonight?”, she so softly asked her son.
“I know the words Mama, I will say the prayer. Is it okay if I talk to God tonight?” As the tears formed in the corner of her eyes, what other answer could she possibly have to this question. “Of course! I am sure the Lord would love to hear from you!”
As she finished her own words, she heard her son begin to pray. “Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake. I pray the Lord my soul to take. God bless Mama, and…….”
Words every parent has heard more times than they can count. Words that filled our own youth, and words we still know by heart. The words of such a simple prayer, but a prayer that is filled with more than just simple words.
Besides the Lord’s Prayer and Psalm 23, no other prayer has probably been said more. Ask one hundred men and women about this prayer, and you will be shocked by how many can still recite you every word. And as you ask each, you will see the instant smile come to their face as they remember the words of this prayer.
Although so many know the words, few know the history of the prayer. History tells us little about the prayer, including its’ origins and its’ author. Much like the Serenity Prayer, this children’s prayers in not found in the Bible, but does seem to be formed from one of the verses. Psalm 4:8, “In peace I will both lie down and sleep, for You alone, O Lord, make me to dwell in safety.“
The prayer, as we know it, first appeared in print in the New England Primer in the 1737 edition. Benjamin Harris, a Boston publisher, included the prayer in his book, and the book soon rocketed in popularity. The ninety page book soon became the standard by which the early colonies used in teach reading to school children, and continued to be that standard until 1790. It is estimated that over two million copies sold during the 18th century, and although it would become known as a children’s prayer, it was originally seen as a prayer for all ages. It is reported that President John Adams recited this prayer every night before he went to sleep
Although the prayer became popular as it was printed in the children’s reading primer, little is none of the origins of the prayer. Many have linked its’ origins back to the popular English nursery rhyme titled, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. “Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, guard the bed that I lie on; Four corners to my bed, four angels ‘round my head; One to watch and one to pray, and two to bear my soul away.” Others have linked it to Joseph Addison, and an essay he wrote for the Spectator in March of 1711. “When I lay me down to sleep, I recommend myself to His care; When I awake, I will give myself up to His direction.”
So which version is true? I do not know, and do not even think it matters. Many may question who the original author is, I do not. I believe the author of this simple prayer is the same Author that gave us the Lord’s Prayer and Psalm 23. And when we look at the words of this prayer, it soon becomes obvious that only One could have given them to us. The innocence and the simplicity of this prayer could only have come at the Hands of the One above!
The prayer reminds us, that in those moments when we are unaware of the world around us, our Lord is still there, caring for us and protecting us in the mercy of His Hands. The first line, “Now I lay me down to sleep”, reminds us of the reality of each day. We are made aware that each of our days will come to an end, and what better way can we end each day than to spend a few restful and peaceful moments with the Lord who made us. God’s Word tells us, “When you lie down, you will not be afraid; yes, you shall lie down, and your sleep shall be sweet.” (Proverbs 3:24). Just as the Lord is there to guide us through each of our days, He is also there to protect and watch over us through each of our nights.
The second lines tells us, “I pray the Lord my soul to keep”. The Bible tells us, “The Lord is your keeper, the Lord is your shade on your right hand.” (Psalm 121:5). Our prayer each night reminds us of the One who is the keeper of our soul. The One who keeps a watchful eye over us, and who we entrust to also protect us. Ask yourself, who else but our Lord could we ever entrust our soul too?
The next line says to us, “And if I die before I wake”. In this line of the prayer, we can take the greatest of comfort. Paul addressed this line of the prayer, with the most powerful of questions. “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:55). Our faith in Christ brings us a certainty, a certainty that death holds no power over us. A certainty that death can bring no fear to us. A certainty of knowing, that this breath may be the last I take on this earth, but will not be the last breath I take for eternity. We have the blessed assurance of knowing, that this breath will not be our last!
The last line of the prayer tells us, “I pray the Lord my soul to take.” What a powerful ending to such a simple prayer! No greater request could we make than to desire to spend our eternity with our Lord! Romans 10:13 assures us, “For whoever will call upon the name of the Lord, will be saved.” Because of what Christ has done for each of us, the promises that our faith in Him brings us, nothing that we may face should ever scare us. He alone has made the unknown known to us. And has made our future secure before us!
No greater beauty can be found than in the four lines of this simple prayer. A prayer that so simply shows us the promise of our assurance. A prayer that shows us the reality of who we are, and the desire of where the Lord longs for us to be. Four simple lines that show us just what an amazing gift this life is, and the love and assurance He offers us with this gift. A giftful beauty that can even be seen through the eyes of a child, heard in their words as they speak a simple prayer.
Although we are called to mature, and grow beyond a childlike faith, I pray I never grow beyond a childlike trust. As a child, without question, will leap into the open arms of a parent, I pray I will always approach the arms of the Lord with the same trust. With the same assurance that those arms will never fail me, will always be there to catch me. A trust that with each night my life is not filled with fear of what tomorrow may bring, but with the assurance and trust of the beauty that tomorrow will offer. And as I lie down at the end of this day, I praise the Lord for each word of a prayer that my childhood taught me, and the promise that each word of that prayer still brings me. Praise the Lord that I am His child!
Praying each of you will never outgrow this simple prayer!