I’d Rather Have Jesus

April 18, 2013 — Leave a comment

GeorgeBeverlyShea2
In my previous life, I was a worship leader for about 24 years. And even though I was the guy that was brought in to “make us more contemporary” (read, “whipping big”), I’ve always held some of the classic hymns and songs of the faith close to my heart. Not only that, but there have been a couple of “old school” worship leaders that I have always looked up to and admired for their love for Jesus and music: Bill Gaither, Cliff Barrows, and George Beverly Shea.

I just read that Mr. Shea passed away yesterday at the age of 104. Mr. Shea was often reported to have sung before more people than any other person in history — an estimated audience of 220 million in a career that spanned seven decades. As late as 2006, when he was 97, he performed before a crowd of 81,500 people in Baltimore. What a reach and impact! In 2011, when he was 102, Mr. Shea received a Grammy for lifetime achievement. He accepted the award in person and is believed to be the oldest Grammy winner of all time. As my sons would say, “Like a BOSS!”

If you’ve ever sung “How Great Thou Art,” you’ve probably sung it like Bev. The original lyrics of the Swedish hymn were:

“O Lord my God,
when I in awesome wonder
consider all the works Thy hands have made,
I see the stars,
I hear the mighty thunder…”

When Billy Graham preached to more than 2 million people during a prolonged crusade in New York City in 1957, Mr. Shea sang his signature number on more than 100 consecutive nights using his now, widely accepted, lyrical change:

“O Lord my God,
when I in awesome wonder
consider all the worlds Thy hands have made,
I see the stars,
I hear the rolling thunder…”

Until I read this recently, I didn’t ever know that those words were Bev’s fingerprints on one of my favorite hymns.

One of George Beverly Shea’s trademark hymns was “I’d Rather Have Jesus.” Mr. Shea wrote the music to “I’d Rather Have Jesus,” when he was 23.

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.

Refrain:
Than to be the king of a vast domain
And 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 worldwide 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 the comb;
He’s all that my hungering spirit needs;
I’d rather have Jesus and let Him lead.

We’ll miss you Bev – but we’ll see you soon. Until then, may we all be true to His holy name.

Pat Callahan

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I'm a picker. I'm a grinner. I'm a lover. And I'm a sinner. I make my music in the sun.

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