“I’d Rather Have Jesus” was a poem by Rhea F. Miller in 1922. The poem was left on a piano in the Shea home by a mother who wanted her son to find it and change the course of his life. The words did move her son George, and spoke to him about his own aims and ambitions in life. He sat down at the piano and began singing them with a tune that seemed to fit the words. Hearing him sing, his mother asked him to sing it at church the next day. George’s life direction did change — he was offered a popular music career with NBC, but a few years later chose instead to become associated with evangelist Billy Graham and sang this hymn around the world. George Beverly Shea is of course credited with writing the music for the hymn.
Today is George Beverly Shea’s 100th birthday, so it is fitting today to add one of his “signature” hymns to my series Then Sings My Soul: The Hymns of My Youth.
Shea was born in Winchester, Ontario, one of eight children of a Wesleyan Church minister and his wife. He began singing in the church choir in Ottawa, Ontario, from where his family later moved to Upstate New York. From there he went on to work in commercial radio. Shea has been involved with Billy Graham and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association since 1943, with the inauguration of Graham’s “Songs in the Night” radio program. Since the beginning of Graham’s crusade ministry, Shea and Cliff Barrows have been the nucleus of the crusade musical team. At 100 years of age and no longer touring as he was, he still sounds pretty spry.
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 a 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 lilies of rarest bloom;
He’s sweeter than honey from out of the comb;
He’s all that my hungering spirit needs,
I’d rather have Jesus and let Him lead.
Happy 100th Birthday, George Beverly Shea!
This is a beautiful song. The way the tune rises and swells on the chorus stirs the emotions.
I think I’ve heard Alison Krauss and The Cox Family do a nice job with this song. The one thing that bugs me though is that I always thought the chorus went “AND be held in sin’s dread sway.” In other words, having Jesus would be preferable to owning kingdoms if one was bound by sin. As it is written in your post and as Alison Krauss sings it, “OR be held …” doesn’t have quite the impact because who wouldn’t rather have Jesus than sin? On the other hand, if the if that “dread sway” came attached to a kingdom, now that would be more of a temptation.
I’m enjoying your series. Most of these songs I remember from my youth as well.