Solomon wrote, "Where there is no vision, the people are unrestrained, But happy is he who keeps the law." (Proverbs 29:18). "No vision." What is that? Many have concluded it was a reference to leadership. Leaders must have a vision, a direction to go, a plan, even big dreams. Using invariably the King James Version ("Where there is no vision the people perish"), they use this as proof of the need to dream big. As it turns out, the idea in Solomon's text was a direction from God. The text, in fact, tells you where to get that "vision" by contrasting with the happy person. He "keeps the law." Thus, "vision" is God's Word and "no vision" is disregarding God's Word.
So what is the vision found in the hymn, Be Thou My Vision?
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.
Typically attributed to Dallán Forgaill in the 6th century, this Irish hymn was translated by Mary E. Byrne in 1905 and put to verse by Eleanor H. Hull in 1912. The poem was set to an Irish folk tune in 1919. And this one appears to be without confusion. Clearly it is in the same sense as the author of Hebrews intended it:
Since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2)
This vision is looking where you're going. Where does the hymn suggest? "Be Thou my vision."
Excluded, then, would be just about anything you might want to think. Riches, praise, family, inheritance, self-preservation, dignity, pleasure ... let's see ... what's left? Nothing. The song calls on God to be the sole sight, the only direction, the single vision. In Him we find wisdom, guidance, family, protection, dignity, joy, shelter, inheritance, treasure, and a future.
When contemplating this wonderful hymn, I came across an interesting feature. Now, mind you, it may simply be the difference between English in 1909 versus modern English, but note the first two lines: "Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart; Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art." Okay, let's first work through the unfamiliar language. "Lord of my heart, please be my focus." Fine. Easy stuff. And then a little more difficult. "Naught be all else to me" -- "Let nothing else be everything to me." If nothing else is to be everything to me, what is? Here's where the language gets interesting. "Save that Thou art." Now, perhaps there is a glitch in understanding. Maybe "that Thou art" is meant to convey "as much as You mean to me." "Let nothing else mean as much to me as you mean to me." But that's not what the words say. The words, taken at face value, say, "except that You are." Okay, hold on. Let me put that together in our English. "Let nothing else mean all to me except that You exist."
If this is accurate, the song is calling on us to love God simply for His being. It isn't loving Him for what He provides which is great. It isn't loving Him for loving us which is marvelous. It is loving Him because He is. It is the language found in Jeremiah's lament.
Surely my soul remembers and is bowed down within me. This I recall to my mind; therefore I have hope. The LORD'S lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness. "The LORD is my portion," says my soul, "Therefore I have hope in Him." (Lamentations 3:20-24)
In this amazing passage of Scripture, Jeremiah hits bottom. He experiences hopelessness. What rescues him from hopelessness? It is not the promise of something better. It is simply the Lord. "The LORD is my portion," he says, and that is His reason for hope.
Let nothing mean as much to me as the fact that you are, dear God. You be my vision.
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