The Christian life is not an easy thing to do. It is fraught with danger and trial and it always has been. Indeed the Bible itself tells us that Christianity is not easy, as disciples of Christ we are instructed to take up a cross — a symbol of shame in the culture of the 1st century — and follow after someone who was not widely accepted in his own lifetime. And the Bible also gives examples of people who followed after God regardless of what may have happened to them, people such as Hosea marrying a prostitute and Job who endured a silent God through suffering. This hymn, “Be thou my vision” recalls all this. It recalls how the Christian life is not easy, but it also reminds us of why we strive to be Christians and what we stand to gain in the last days. This hymn forces us to reflect on our own life and pray, remember that this world is vain apart from Christ, and that we have a hope that is infinitely greater than anything we might have in this life.
This hymn is one of my favourite because of its first few lines, “Be thou my vision.” This hymn does magnifies God as fortress, as unity, as strength, as sovereign, and as as the coming victory, but mere praise and worship is not the focus of this hymn. The focus, rather, is on a supplication whereby we come before God and beg of him that he might indeed be our vision. We are asking that God might be our vision, because having him as our vision is not easy. Amidst the trials and tribulations of this life, it is far easier to look away from God, to turn from his plan, and to not accept his guidance than to continually remember that God is sovereign over all things, that he is our light and guide, and that no matter what may happen to us we should still always look towards God as the source of all life. When I sing this hymn, when I reflect on its words, I am forced to consider the words of the first stanza “Naught be all else to me,” Is God my everything? Is he my best thought throughout the whole day? Does his word and presence illumine my life? I must say no to these, and for many of the questions I ponder over this hymn, and so long as that is the case, this hymn will remain a prayer throughout my life.
This hymn also reminds us of how little worth this world is to us who are Christians. “Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise.” How often do we act in a way that most benefits us and our comforts in this life? So often, I as a university student find this line especially hard to sing truthfully because really the reason I’m here is because university is the way society has dictated that I might provide for myself financially and marks themselves are the praise by which I advance myself as a student. These lines are so hard to sing, and they are a constant reminder that I must live for God, and not for myself for whether I live or die, I am the Lord’s. Then the stanza continues to remind of how Christ is our inheritance and that by our union with him, we gain something infinitely greater than what we have in this life.
Finally, this hymn reminds us of our final hope as Christians. There is a hymn entitled “Faith is the victory” and it is entitled such because faith is the victory that has overcome the world. If the last stanza is hard to sing because it reminds us of all that we seek apart from Christ, this final stanza reminds us why we look away from these worldly things. Our victory has been sure since Christ has vanquished death by defeating the grave and Christ himself is the light of heaven. Christ is brighter than all other things and his glory lights heaven itself. We hope then for the return of Christ and look towards it through all things. How fitting then is it that this hymn ends with the lines “whatever befall, still be my vision, O Ruler of all.”
Christians have always struggled, but we must always strive to always have God be our vision in all things, from our friendship and relationships, to our love for others, and even to a desire to spread the gospel. Whatever may befall us, be it good or bad, let us always pray for God to be our vision so that he may indeed be our wisdom and truth, and our shield and sword against all the forces that may assail us. Though life and death, may God still be our vision for he is the ruler of all.
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.