Be Thou My Vision
Open Your Bible
Proverbs 29:18, Philippians 3:7-11, Colossians 3:1-3, Hebrews 12:1-2
Text: Proverbs 29:18, Philippians 3:7-11, Colossians 3:1-3, Hebrews 12:1-2
I had a favorite teacher in junior high and high school named Mr. Twining. I remember a surprising number of details about Mr. Twining for his time as my “Critical Thinking” (chess) teacher and all the years he led me through Saxon Algebra. I remember his thick, sausage-y fingers that were almost always covered in a bit of a dark substance. “Wal-nuts!” he would answer with enthusiasm when we asked him why his hands were so dirty. Dude loved to crack walnuts.
I remember his wild white tuft of hair that sometimes stuck straight up when he was feeling particularly passionate about perpendicular angles, and the way he wouldn’t throw away a small piece of chalk—rolling it around in his hands and wildly writing formulas on the chalkboard until it dissolved into an exhausted cloud of chalk dust. It’s funny the little details we remember about people in our lives.
You know what else I will never forget about Mr. Twining? Whether he was teaching us “Protect your bishops!” in chess class or working through an awful problem in pre-calculus, nearly every day at the start of class he would announce, as he also scrawled on the chalkboard with his tiny piece of chalk, “WITHOUT A VISION, THE PEOPLE WILL PERISH!”
It wasn’t until much later that I understood this was not just a way to get us to show our work or win a chess match—this was Biblical! (Proverbs 29:18) In any event, it stuck with me. You can’t just wildly move your pawns around the chessboard without a plan and hope it works out. And definitely don’t start working a math problem without knowing where you’re headed. We all need a vision.
That was enough for me when I was eighteen. My “vision” at the time was pretty straightforward: get married, be an interior designer, have babies, maybe live in one of those cute brownstones in downtown Chicago. But true vision, as it turns out, is less strategy and more heartbeat. It’s less “rook takes queen” and more “the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:8). My endgame didn’t reach much beyond this side of Heaven.
I don’t pretend to think my heart has fully matured in this area—I know it hasn’t!—but I do see the Lord faithfully teaching me to “delight in the law of God in my inner being” (Hebrews 7:22). And when I set my heart on new marble countertops, the Holy Spirit reminds me of the lasting richness that comes from “setting my mind on things above” (Colossians 3:2).
It’s like when you’re learning to drive, and the inevitably awkward driving instructor nervously and repeatedly reminds you as you weave down the road (and take a few curves on two wheels, in my case…): cast your gaze as far as possible in the direction you want to go, and you’ll just naturally drive straighter. Also, safer.
I think this is why I love the hymn “Be Thou My Vision” so much. The author isn’t interested in anything short of Jesus. There’s no glancing to the right or to the left—no weaving from side to side. And when we sing this song-prayer ourselves, we call on the Lord to be our vision, our wisdom, our true Word, our battle Shield, our Dignity and Delight—our One Thing and our All Things.
When we ask God to be our “best thought,” our “great Father,” “soul’s Shelter” and our “high Tower”—that’s when strategy falls quickly to the wayside and we march to the beat of a heart that longs for Heaven.
Friends, Proverbs 29:18 is absolutely right (and, I suppose, so was Mr. Twining): without a vision, the people will perish. We can laugh about the reality that we could lose at chess, not get our Chicago brownstone, or run our car off the road if we don’t have a proper vision, but the greater Truth outlasts all of these things, and the risk is much greater: without a vision, we will most certainly perish.
As believers, let our vision be simply this: “that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3:10-11)
“Therefore…let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith”
– Hebrews 12:1-2
(hymn artwork by Patrick Laurent of Quiet Boy Studio!)
BE THOU MY VISION
by Dallan Forgaill, 8th century
(translated by Eleanor H. Hull and versified by Mary E. Byrne)
Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart;
Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art.
Thou my best Thought, by day or by night,
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.
Be Thou my Wisdom, and Thou my true Word;
I ever with Thee and Thou with me, Lord;
Thou my great Father, I Thy true son;
Thou in me dwelling, and I with Thee one.
Be Thou my battle Shield, Sword for the fight;
Be Thou my Dignity, Thou my Delight;
Thou my soul’s Shelter, Thou my high Tower:
Raise Thou me heavenward, O Power of my power.
Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise,
Thou mine Inheritance, now and always:
Thou and Thou only, first in my heart,
High King of Heaven, my Treasure Thou art.
High King of Heaven, my victory won,
May I reach Heaven’s joys, O bright Heaven’s Sun!
Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
Still be my Vision, O Ruler of all.
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Click below to hear an adaptation of the hymn on the She Reads Truth |Hymns II Spotify playlist.