If you often have trouble sleeping, try reading Psalms 3 and 4.

David, running for his life and surrounded by Absalom’s rebellious army, wrote in Psalm 3:5, “I sleep and wake up refreshed because you, Lord, protect me.” Psalm 4:8 indicates the promises of God make good pillows for those who rest in him: “I can lie down and sleep soundly, because you, Lord, will keep me safe.”

But not during the preacher’s sermons.

At least, not in early American church history.

The Puritans of colonial New England appointed “tithingmen” to stroll among the pews on Sunday mornings, alert for anyone nodding off during the long, sometimes ponderous sermons. They carried long poles with feathers on one end and knobs or thorns on the other. Worshipers napped at their own peril, and the results were unpredictable—as noted by Obadiah Turner of Lynn, Massachusetts, in his journal for June 3, 1646:

Allen Bridges hath bin chose to wake ye sleepers in meeting. And being much proude of his place, must needs have a fox taile fixed to ye ende of a long staff wherewith he may brush ye faces of them yt will have napps in time of discourse, likewise a sharpe thorne whereby he may pricke such as be most sound. On ye last Lord his day, as hee strutted about ye meetinghouse, he did spy Mr. Tomlins sleeping with much comfort, hys head kept steadie by being in ye corner, and his hand grasping ye rail. And soe spying, Allen did quickly thrust his staff behind Dame Ballard and give him a grievous prick upon ye hand. Whereupon Mr. Tomlins did spring vpp mch above ye floore, and with terrible force strike hys hand against ye wall; and also, to ye great wonder of all, prophanlie exclaim in a loud voice, curse ye wood-chuck, he dreaming so it seemed yt a wood-chuck had seized and bit his hand. But on coming to know where he was, and ye greate scandall he had committed, he seemed much abashed, but did not speak. And I think he will not soon again goe to sleepe in meeting.

There are some who ask, “Who will be good to us?” Let your kindness, Lord, shine brightly on us. You brought me more happiness Than a rich harvest of grain and grapes. I can lie down and sleep soundly Because you, Lord, will keep me safe. (Psalm 4:6-8)

Robert J. Morgan, On This Day : 265 Amazing and Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs & Heroes, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000, c1997). June 3.

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