Hymn Story of the Week: I'd Rather Have Jesus

The author of this week’s hymn, George Beverly Shea, should be familiar to many of you. His rich, warm voice is well-known in the Christian world. You probably know the song, as it became famous through its use in Billy Graham’s crusades. The story of his hymn I’d Rather Have Jesus is told by Earl Willer.

“It was in the thirties. Business curves were still heading downward and there was rumor of a salary cut at the New York insurance office where twenty-two-year-old Beverly Shea was employed as a clerk. Possessor of a deep melodious voice, the young man was offered a radio contract and immediately saw opportunities for fame and possible riches in his regular appearance on a secular program.

He had been pondering the matter for several days when he sat down to the piano early one Sunday morning to rehearse a hymn he was to sing in church that morning. As he played and sang his eyes fell on a piece of paper, on which was written:

I’d rather have Jesus than silver or gold
I’d rather be His than have riches untold!

The poem, by Mrs. Rhea Miller, had been placed where Beverly would see it by his mother, a minister’s wife, who knew of the offer her son was pondering. Above all, she wanted her son, a Christian, to become wholly consecrated to his service.

As his eyes raced over the words, the sentences I’d rather have Jesus than men’s applause and I’d rather have Jesus than worldwide fame struck his very heart. His fingers unconsciously left the tune he was rehearsing and began to find this melody which is today known to millions.”

Shea is still alive at the age of 100! He is considered the first Christian singing star, and the Guinness Book of World Records has him as the world record holder for singing to the most people at one time, with “an estimated cumulative live audience of 220 million people” (Wikipedia).

However, I’m sure George Beverly Shea would still say, “I’d rather have Jesus.”

I'd rather have Jesus than silver or gold,
I'd rather be His than have riches untold;
I'd rather have Jesus than houses or lands,
I'd rather be led by His nail-pierced hand.

Than to be the king of a vast domain
Or be held in sin's dread sway;
I'd rather have Jesus than anything
This world affords today.

I'd rather have Jesus than men's applause,
I'd rather be faithful to His dear cause;
I'd rather have Jesus than world-wide fame,
I'd rather be true to His holy name.

He's fairer than liles of rarest bloom,
He's sweeter than honey from out the comb;
He's all that my hungering spirit needs,
I'd rather have Jesus and let Him lead.


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