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Is ‘Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep’ Biblical?

  • Heather Adams Writer
  • 2020 30 Jun
woman laying in bed eyes closed sleeping as sun peeks through window

“Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep” is a Christian children's prayer that has comforted many youngsters (and adults) at bedtime. Over the years it's become one of the best-loved rhymes ever written:

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

I remember saying it every night when I was a little girl, after I'd settled into my bed. The words were so familiar to me that I mistakenly thought they came directly from the Bible.

But though it expresses a Christian desire for God's care, the poem itself is not a Scripture verse. Actually, this little rhyme has an interesting history that starts all the way back in ancient times.

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Origins of the ‘Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep’ Prayer

“Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep" was in all likelihood inspired by a very old poem called "The Black Paternoster." A German version of the poem was popular in the later Medieval period, and it ultimately spread to England. The rhyme came to be called "The Four Corners Prayer," first published in English by author Thomas Ady in the 1600s.

Mathew, Mark, Luke, John
Bless the bed that I lie on;
And blessed guardian angel keep
Me safe from danger while I sleep.

Another English author named Joseph Addison may have been thinking of this poem in 1711. He wrote an essay for his daily magazine "The Spectator" that included a passage with a similar theme. But Addison clearly put the emphasis on seeking help from God at night, rather than the Saints.

When I lay me down to Sleep
I recommend my self to his Care;
When I awake, I give my self up to his Direction.

Eventually, the rhyme we know today appeared in the 1737 edition of the New England Primer book by Thomas Fleet. About a century later, J.G. Rush set it to music for his "London Jingles" collection in 1840.

How This Prayer Has Appeared in the Culture

"Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep" began as a Christian prayer, but over the years has moved beyond church circles into the culture at large. It has shown up in printed and performed works, in several different genres.

As a poem or prayer, it was included among the readings in several hymnals of the era, such as the Young Singer's Friend (c.a. 1859), the Hymnal for Primary Classes (c.a. 1896), and the Hymnal for Church and Home (c.a. 1928).

Other times it was used as lyrics for a simple song in collections like David's Harp (1842), The Cherub (c.a. 1863), and Little Pilgrim Songs (c.a. 1883). The rhyme is also a staple in books of Mother Goose rhymes.

Since its writing, the poem has inspired artists, from portrait painters to World War I poster designers. More recently, the rhyme has been worked into songs by several bands, a Broadway musical number, and is even recited by characters in a number of movies.

"Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep" may be considered a nursery rhyme, but it contains a powerful message. True peace comes when we let the Lord keep us and save us. He is the only One who can. This prayer, and others like it, can help bring children and adults sweeter sleep and more confidence every day.

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Differing Versions of this Prayer

As time went on and more people shared this prayer, differing versions began to appear. One reason for making a change was that some people felt that death could be a scary subject for children. So in this example, and others like it, the second section was adjusted to carry a more hopeful thought.

Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep.
Angels watch me through the night,
And wake me with the morning light.

Here's another version that inserts a different request, as well as an expression of thanks, in those last lines.

Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep.
God bless those who are so dear,
And thank you Lord for all good cheer.

This variation keeps the original but extends it to add a positive spin. It sounds a bit like Joseph Addison's poem.

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.
If I should live for other days,
I pray the Lord to guide my ways.

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sleeping woman fading into beautiful sky

Is the ‘Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep’ Prayer Biblical?

Though this rhyme may have had a questionable origin, it actually imparts some Biblical truths. It's easy to treat this as just a quick poem to recite. But a closer look at the words reveals a heart that looks to God in trust and devotion.

One such heart in Scripture belonged to King David. He rejoiced in God's goodness, both in his own life and that of the Israelite nation. David had experienced God's watchful care countless times as a boy in the fields and as a King in battle. So, many of his Psalms naturally offer reassurance and encouragement that God is more than worthy of our trust.

In fact, Psalm 4 shares the same sentiment as Addison's and Fleet's passages, and probably inspired them, either directly or indirectly:

In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, Lord, make me dwell in safety.Psalm 4:8

With a firm reliance on his Lord, David could let down and rest comfortably. We can as well, if we follow David's lead. His writings say we can trust that:

God loves us.

But you, Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.Psalm 86:15

God wants to take care of us.

Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life…Psalm 23:6

God doesn't forget us.

...he remembers his covenant forever, the promise he made, for a thousand generations... Psalm 105:8

God hears our prayers.

I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry.Psalm 40:1

God will protect us.

You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance.Psalm 32:7

God is faithful.

Those who know your name trust in you, for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you.Psalm 9:10

God's ways are perfect.

I desire to do your will, my God; your law is within my heart.Psalm 40:8

God has a good plan for us.

Many, Lord my God, are the wonders you have done, the things you planned for us.Psalm 40:5

Meditating on verses like these will help us grow into believers who, like David, can delight in knowing that we are safe in God's care...not just overnight, but always.

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senior couple sleeping in bed

3 Benefits of Saying this Prayer

Lifting up any prayer brings some benefit to us. So, though the "Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep" prayer may be short and simple, it can minister in wonderful ways.

1. Prayer focuses our minds on God. Fixing our attention on His "ability" to protect and watch over us takes away fear.

2. Prayer realigns our spirits with God. Looking to Him for our deliverance releases us from the pressure of trying to control everything.

3. Prayer leads our hearts to worship God. Asking for His care reminds us how deeply we are loved, and praising Him is a natural response.

So, although you won’t find the specific “Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep” prayer in Scripture, the sentiment of resting in God’s protection is woven throughout the Bible. Praying this prayer can be one of the wonderful and sweet ways you surrender your life into God's hands...even while you sleep.

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Heather Adams is an author, speaker, and singer living in Connecticut. Heather’s passion is to equip and encourage believers to seek more of God’s truth and to experience more of His joy each day. Her book, Bow Down: The Heart of a True Worshipper is a practical, 30-day devotional about worship based on the writings of King David. Heather's blog, Worship Walk Ministries, offers weekly Scripture passages and insights to ponder. A native New Englander, Heather is settling into her home in the South, trying out local foods and watching for the alligators that live nearby! You can connect with her on her website: heatheradamsworshipwalk.com





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