Be Thou My Vision

I have always loved this hymn. The melody is beautiful, haunting… not to mention fun to sing. The words illicit visions of light, heaven and close communion with God. It includes references to God’s transcendence (High King of heavenRuler of all…) and also his nearness (Thou in me dwelling, and I with Thee one).

Today as I read the familiar words of this hymn, this stanza stands out:

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.

It happens so often that the words on the page are what I wish were true in my own life. I would love to say to God without hesitation “Thou and Thou only, first in my heart.” But can I really sing these words with honesty every time? The truth is, I do heed man’s empty praise… More often than not I wish I had more earthly treasure to pay the bills or just to buy the things I want. I put other things before God. So I’m left wondering what to do with the tension of who I am and who I want to be.

Several years ago I was leading worship with a friend who altered the lyrics of a song from “in all I do, I honor You” to “let all I do honor You.” See the difference? In the original version the worshiper is declaring that all of his actions honor God. Since that can’t be true for any of us, the second version is more realistic – a prayer that aspires to something instead of a declaration.

That’s the same tension I find in Be Thou My Vision. But I don’t think I want to change the lyrics. Instead, I want to sing it as written – by one sinner and sung by thousands and millions of sinners throughout the centuries. And as I add my voice to the choir, I can offer a prayer that the God who transforms hearts and lives will continue to bring my heart and life in line with His. Hopefully these things are more true of me today than they were a year ago. And maybe when I sing it a year from now, I will be even less concerned with worldly riches and man’s empty praise and more focused on my inheritance in Christ.

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.

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.


The Hymn Project

I love hymns. As a child I would sit with my family at church with one finger marking the page of the next hymn and the other hand holding the bulletin, counting the number of items remaining until we could sing it. As I learned to read music, I would try to follow the alto line or read the melody of an unfamiliar hymn. When we gathered for the yearly Carol Sing at Christmas time, I would eagerly await my chance to sing the stanzas marked “women” or “pulpit side” of the sanctuary. I sang loud and clear when it was my turn.

That love of hymns led to another love – collecting and reading old hymnals. I have a rag-tag collection of over 40 books that I have picked up at thrift stores, ordered on Amazon, or salvaged from various “free” tables in church basements and fellowship halls. I love the stories these hymnals tell about the time in which they were written, and the denominations or communities of faith for which they were compiled.

Like many churches, my church has moved away from using print resources in favor of projecting the lyrics on a screen. While this technology has many benefits, I’m afraid that when the church has thrown away it’s of hymnals, we may lose the more obscure hymns completely as we pick and choose only our favorites to sing at church. I believe that there is a language and depth of worship from times past that can teach us something today and I want to do my part to get to know hymns a little better.

My goal for the blog is pretty simple. I want to dive into my hymnal collection, see what I can find in the dusty pages, then share my thoughts here. I also hope to record some of them and include them in my posts. I have read several hymnal devotion books and I always have to look the song up online or take the hymnal to the piano to find out what it sounds like. I’ll just save you a step and put it all in one place. I also hope to hear from you. Hymns are not just for Sunday mornings, but can enrich our lives as we follow Jesus every day.