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Preaching the Pastor’s Favorite Hymns: Be Thou My Vision

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Be Thou My Vision is a hymn that has gained popularity over the last fifty years—but especially over the last 25 years—along with the growing popularity of all things Irish. The words and the tune can both be traced back to an event that took place in 5th century Ireland.

The music is an 8th century Irish folk song entitled Slane, and refers to Slane Hill were in A.D. 433 Patrick (as in St. Patrick) challenged a pagan king, and some Druid Priests, by lighting a bon fire on the eve of Easter proclaiming the victory of Christianity in Ireland. It was on that evening, and at that hill that King Loe-gaire of Ta-ra—himself a pagan—traditionally lite a bonfire that initiated a pagan spring festival. Logaire was so impressed by Patrick’s devotion that, despite his defiance (or perhaps because of it), he let him continue his missionary work in Ireland. The tune was written to commemorate this event.

The stanzas we sing today are taken from a prayer that is believed to have been written by Patrick himself. The inspiration for the prayer seems to be taken from Jeremiah 9:23-24. Composed in Old Irish, the text was translated into English prose in 1905 by Mary Byrne. in 1912 Eleanor Hull used Byrne’s translation to crate a twelve-couplet poem from which the current stanzas were chosen. Thy hymn in its current form first appeared in The Irish Church Hymnal in 1919. It was introduced to Southern Baptists in our 1956 hymnal.

As is often the case in our Baptist hymnal one of the original verses is left out. The omitted stanza reads: Be Thou my breast-plate, my sword for the fight, Be Thou my Armour, and be Thou my might; Thou my soul’s shelter, and Thou my high tower, Raise Thou me heavenward, O Power of Power. I tell you this because since the original prayer was based on Jeremiah 9:23-24 the hymn is really incomplete without it this verse. The second, third, and forth verses begin with “Be Thou my Wisdom,” “Be thou my Breast-plate,” and “Riches I heed not” respectively. Jeremiah reminds us that, Thus says the Lord, 'Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches; but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD who exercises lovingkindness, justice, and righteousness on earth for I delight in these things,' declares the LORD. (Jeremiah 9:23-24, NIV).

Here in these verses we see the same order of wisdom, might, and riches laid out as we find in the hymn. This is not an accident. The hymnist was communicating the truth in Scripture that our wisdom comes from the Lord, our strength comes from the Lord, and our treasure is the Lord. Apart from the Lord we are foolish, weak, and poor with nothing in which to boast. The Apostle Paul alludes to the Jeremiah passage in his first letter to the Church at Corinth. He writes: "26For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; 27but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, 28and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, 29so that no man may boast before God. 30But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, 31so that, just as it is written, “Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:26-31, NASB95).


          1. apart from the Lord, I am self-centered
              1. without Him, I am focused only on what brings me pleasure
          2. the hymn is primarily a prayer, and petitions God for wisdom, for might, and for Christ to be our treasure
          3. Patrick’s high regard for God is evident in the various titles ascribed to the Lord
              1. He is:
                  1. our Vision
                  2. our Lord
                  3. our Best Thought
                  4. our Wisdom
                  5. our Word
                  6. our Great Father
                  7. our High King
                  8. our Inheritance
                  9. our Treasure
                  10. our Sun
                  11. our Ruler
                  12. our Heart
          4. more than any other hymn, these verses describe for me, what I want to be in the Lord


          1. the first stanza begins by imploring Be Thou my Vision
              1. the sense of the verse is that God and God alone needs to be the center of our focus
          2. the Lordship of Christ demands nothing less
              1. O Lord of my heart, Naught be all else to me
                • ILLUS. In the poem that the hymn is taken from, the first couplet says: Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart, None other is aught, but the King of the seven heavens
              2. the meaning here is that in respect to everything else Christ alone is King of kings, and Lord of lords—He alone saves and is our Savior
                  1. if Christ is Savior and Lord, and He is, then he deserves to be my First Love
                  2. he needs to be my best thought—my primary thought—by day or by night weather I’m waking or sleeping
          3. the doctrine of the Lordship of Jesus Christ is an intensely personal doctrine and an immensely practical doctrine
          4. it’s a doctrine that touches our lives at every point
              1. Christ s lordship will affect the decisions you make
              2. Christ s lordship will motivate the things that you do
              3. Christ s lordship will illuminate the things that you think and the attitudes you hold
          5. we cannot be half-way disciples
            • "He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. 38“And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. 39“He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it." (Matthew 10:37-39, NASB95)
            • ILLUS.One of the most influential Christians of the 19th century was William Booth. You may not recognize his name, but you know the organization he established. He founded the Salvation Army. William Booth walked the streets of London, England and saw the poor, the hungry, the sick, and the lonely people of the city. The people were crammed into crumbling buildings that were full of rats. They had no jobs. There was no one to help them. Worst of all, there was no one to tell them that Jesus cared. Many of the children had no knowledge of the Gospel—that Jesus died to be their Savior and rose again to be their Lord. William Booth made it his life’s career to minister among the poor of his city. Years later when someone asked General Booth the secret of his success, he said, "God has had all there was of me to have! From the day I got the poor of London on my heart, and a vision of what Jesus Christ would do for them, I made up my mind that God would have all there was of William Booth. God has had all the adoration of my heart, all the power of my will, and all the influence of my life."
          6. Jesus had become Booth’s Vision, and the Lord of his heart


    • "Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom. 14But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. 15This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. 16For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing. 17But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. 18And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace." (James 3:13-18, NASB95)
          1. apart from the Lord, I am foolish
              1. without Him, I know nothing despite the number of degrees I have earned, or the books I have read
          2. in the Epistle of James, the apostle refers to two kinds of wisdom
              1. there is earthly wisdom
              2. there is heavenly wisdom


          1. worldly wisdom is defined as man’s use of knowledge to get a desired end through an effective means
              1. God gave us the capacity to think and to know and to reason and therefor to become wise
              2. but, like all other attributes of man, our reasoning process has also been affected by sin
              3. when a man divorces his thinking from the mind of Christ, his reasoning becomes corrupted
          2. worldly wisdom has two chief characteristics
              1. First, it is filled with bitter jealousy
                  1. James here refers to a spirit of rivalry that refuses to be reconciled
                  2. this philosophy rules the business and political worlds—and sadly—sometimes it rules the church
                      1. worldly wisdom says that to be the best, you’ve got to beat everyone else – there is no glory in second-best
                      2. any method you employ to obtain that accomplishment is prudent
              2. Second, it is filled with selfish ambition
                  1. worldly wisdom says, How will this affect me to the better? or How can I best manipulate this situation so that I come out on top?
                  2. selfish ambition leads to the establishment of parties, and factions, cliques and alliances
                    • ILLUS. I have never, ever watched any of the‘Survivor’ shows. But it’s hard to ignore them because every other commercial on TV is about one. It doesn’t take a genius to understand that the competitors in these shows base their survival on worldly wisdom. The goal is not merely to “survive” but to do anything that you have to do to survive even if it means eventually stabbing all your competitors in the back. And you need to stab them in the back before they stab you, which, indeed, they are trying to do. The result is bitter jealousy and selfish ambition.
          3. worldly wisdom produces sad results
            • James 3:16 "For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice." NIV
              1. you know what’s really sad?
              2. the producers of ‘Survivor’ could go into hundreds of churches across our nation and film episodes of their show as the watch one church member pits themself against another church member in a real-life struggle for dominance and one-ups-man-ship
              3. too many congregations are trying to run their church by worldly wisdom – believing the church to be akin to a Fortune 500 company or a small business
              4. they’ve forgotten that the church already has a Head and that He will give us guidance and answers if we will seek His face


    • "But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him." (James 1:5, NASB95)
          1. "If any lacks" implies that everyone has a deficit (shortage) of wisdom
          2. James says we are to ask God for the wisdom we need
              1. the word ask in this verse means to ask and to keep on asking
              2. we might say it like this , Let him constantly ask a giving God who constantly gives
          3. Godly wisdom is finding out what God thinks about something and then brining our minds and our behavior in line with that
              1. God is not tight fisted toward his children
                  1. He is a giving God!
              2. this wisdom God offers to us, simply for the asking, is not mere knowledge of facts, or the accumulation of information
              3. the wisdom God offers is understanding for living
                  1. it is the God-given ability to make godly decisions and choices in the midst of difficult circumstances
          4. Our Wisdom Needs to Come From the Lord


    • "Fight the good fight of faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called, and you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses." (1 Timothy 6:12, NASB95)
    • "Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. 11Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. 12For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places." (Ephesians 6:10-12, NASB95)
          1. apart from the Lord, I am weak
              1. apart from Him I can do nothing of any eternal significance no matter how strong and talented I may be
          2. you and I are engaged in a spiritual war
              1. it's a serious battle
              2. the Apostle Paul compares it to a wrestling match – a contest in which each wrestler endeavors to throw the other
                  1. the match is decided when the victor is able to hold his opponent down with his hand upon his neck
              3. this is why the Apostle Paul wrote to a young preacher boy named Timothy that he is to Fight the good fight of faith
                  1. the spiritual war we are involved in is the good fight
                  2. it's worth every ounce of energy you can muster up
          3. there are three important principles we find in the Ephesian passage concerning the Armor of God

A. BE STRONG – Eph. 6:10

    • "Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might.
          1. as Paul winds down his letter, he exhorts us, encourages us, commands us as believers to be strong in the Lord
              1. finally, most importantly brothers, here is what you must do!
                  1. don't be strong in your opinions – be strong in the Lord!
                  2. don't be strong in your experiences – be strong in the Lord!
                  3. don''t be strong in your bank account – be strong in the Lord!
                  4. don’t be strong in your career – be strong in the Lord!
                  5. don’t be strong in your intellect – be strong in the Lord!
          2. in our battle against the world, the flesh and the devil the Bible teaches us to lean on God and His mighty power
            • "Trust in the Lord with all your heart And do not lean on your own understanding. 6In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He will make your paths straight. 7Do not be wise in your own eyes; Fear the Lord and turn away from evil. 8It will be healing to your body And refreshment to your bones." (Proverbs 3:5-8, NASB95)
              1. mark it, underline, circle it, memorize it
              2. only by drawing on the power of His Spirit in us, will we be victorious and overcome any and all attacks
                • "Then he said to me, “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel saying, ‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ says the Lord of hosts." (Zechariah 4:6, NASB95)

B. BE COVERED – Eph. 6:11

    • "Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil." NASB95
          1. any good soldier will tell you that's it's essential to have the right battle gear, the right commanding officer, and the right plan of engagement if you’re going to win the battle
              1. if any one of those three elements are missing, victory may be in question
          2. the Apostle Paul tells us that not only is our strength from the Lord, but so also must our strategies come from the Lord
              1. we cannot engage in spiritual battle against rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of . . . darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in heavenly places, if we do it in our own strength, or our authority, or our own methods
          3. to that end we must daily cover ourselves with the battle gear that God has provided Us
            • "Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. 14Stand firm therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; 16in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one." (Ephesians 6:13-16, NASB95)
          4. whatever battle you're in, whatever temptation you face, God will give you the ability to withstand and overcome it
              1. may I be frank with you this evening?
                  1. when it comes to temptation, I hear too many Christians whining, “But I can’t help myself. This temptation is just to strong.”
                  2. if you’ve ever said that or thought that, you’ve just made God a liar!
                    • 1 Corinthians 10:13 "No temptation has overtaken you that is unusual for human beings. But God is faithful, and he will not allow you to be tempted beyond your strength. Instead, along with the temptation he will also provide a way out, so that you may be able to endure it." ISV
              2. the power of God in Christ is infinitely superior to that of Satan and his allies

C. BE AWARE – Eph. 6:12

    • "For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places." (Ephesians 6:12, NASB95)
          1. we must be aware who the real enemy is
          2. The Apostle Paul reminds us that our spiritual combat is not against flesh and blood
              1. it is against Satan, his demonic forces, and the spiritually darkened world-system that he influences
          3. as a pastor, I’ve discovered that there are two prevailing thoughts about the devil
              1. many will underestimate him
                  1. they don’t think he's all that powerful or pervasive and they frequently fall right into his traps and snares
                  2. he knows your spiritual soft spots and that’s were he zeros in
                  3. this is why the Apostle Peter writes . . .
                    • 1 Peter 5:8-9 "Be clear-minded and alert. Your opponent the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. Resist him and be firm in the faith, . . . " ISV
              2. some will overestimate him
                  1. even though Satan is powerful, he is not all-powerful
                  2. event though Satan is cunning, he is not all-knowing
                  3. Satan is no match or equal to Jesus Christ!
                    • ILLUS. One of my favorite Christian anthems is A Mighty Fortress Is Our God, by Martin Luther. In the third stanza he writes:

And tho’ this world, with devils filled,

Should threaten to undo us,

We will not fear, for God hath willed

His truth to triumph thro’ us:

The Prince of Darkness grim,

We tremble not for him;

His rage we can endure,

For lo, his doom is sure,

One little world shall fell him.

              1. that word is Jesus
          1. our fight, the Apostle tells us, is against Satan and a well-organized and systematic hoard of demons
          2. Our Might Comes from the Lord


          1. apart from the Lord, I am poor of spirit
              1. without Him, I have nothing of any spiritual or eternal value even if I should gain the whole world
          2. Jesus commanded His disciples not to store up or horde earthly treasure
          3. at the same time, He commands us to store up or horde all the heavenly treasure we can
              1. things like . . .
                  1. eternal life
                  2. the Fruit of the Spirit
                  3. the joy of our salvation
                  4. the fellowship of the saints
                  5. sincere worship of the living God
                  6. service in the name of Jesus
                  7. walking in the truth of the Scriptures
                  8. ministry to the needy
                  9. witnessing to the lost
              2. these investments—though they seem transient by the world’s standards—earn eternal dividends in God’s Kingdom
          4. but our most important treasure is the Lord, Jesus Himself
              1. He is the treasure hidden in a field
              2. He is the pearl of great price
                • ILLUS. Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Take an example from our culture: what does a man do when he declares his love for a woman and asks for her hand in marriage? He buys her a diamond ring — for some men, the most major purchase they've ever made. As human beings, we intuitively recognize that we put our treasure toward that on which our heart is set.


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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