By Nick Batzig
“Be Thou My Vision” is one of the oldest and most beloved hymns in all of Christendom. Though there are numerous reasons why this is a favorite for so many believers, I suspect that—apart from the melodic tune—the chief reason has to do with the way in which the songwriter wed theological and devotional lyrics into a prayer.
Transliterated into English prose by Mary E. Byrne in 1905, this melodic Celtic prayer focuses those singing it on the all-sufficiency of God. Much as the psalmist frequently enumerated the multitude of ways that God was his all-sufficient portion and defense, “Be Thou My Vision” gives the worshipper words to refocus his or her mind and heart to the greatness of the true and living God. And with the recurrent use of the first-person pronoun “my” within the hymn, we see how these lyrics intimated a personal relationship between Byrne and God—between the believing worshipper and the only God worthy of our worship. He is our vision, wisdom, true Word, battle shield, sword, inheritance, and treasure.
The hymn writer beautifully highlights the all-sufficiency of God by contrasting all of who He is with those earthly things that so often compete for our hearts. As the Apostle Paul said to the Philippians, everything is “a loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus [our] Lord” (3:8). Whether it is earthly relations, wisdom, or riches, our God is the true Father, true wisdom, and true riches to the souls of believers.
The one singing this hymn from the heart to God is acknowledging a desire to relinquish earthly pleasures and gains expressed. How often we need to be reminded that the Living God is better than all of the passing pleasures and experiences of life in this fallen world! “Thou, and Thou only, first in my heart/great God of heaven, my treasure Thou art.”
Written by Nick Batzig
Be Thou My Vision
Text: Irish hymn, sixth century
Prose Translation: Mary Byrne, 1905
Verse Form: Eleanor H. Hull, 1912
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, Though my delight;
Thou my soul’s shelter, Thou my high tower,
raise Thou me heav’nward, O Power of my pow’r.
Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise,
Thou mine inheritance, now and always:
Thou, and Thou only, first in my heart,
great God of heaven, my treasure Thou art.
High King of heaven, my victory won,
may I reach heaven’s joys, O bright heav’n’s Sun!
Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
still be my vision, O Ruler of all.