42 I'd Rather Have Jesus

Author-Mrs. Rhea F. Miller, 1894-1966

Composer-George Beverly Shea, 1909-

Scripture Reference-Psalm 71:23; Matthew 16:24-26

For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.     Philippians 1:21

The name of George Beverly Shea is certainly well known to evangelical Christians. Since 1947, he has been the featured soloist with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and has been seen and heard around the world, through his many recordings, television rallies, and the “Hour of Decision” radio program. His singing of gospel music is always characterized with a warmth and simplicity of style accompanied by a rich, bass-baritone vocal quality. Without question, “I’d Rather Have Jesus” is the best-loved song that Mr. Shea sings and one for which he composed the music himself. It is the first song he ever wrote and one which has become his “trademark” to the present time.

George Beverly Shea was born into the home of fine Christian parents in Winchester, Ontario, Canada, on February 1, 1909. His father was a faithful minister of the gospel for the Wesleyan Methodist Church, and his mother was a strong spiritual and musical influence in his life. As young George was growing up in parsonages in New York and New Jersey, his friends and family became very much aware of his fine musical talent and full, resonant voice. He began to sing regularly in his father’s church as well as for services in other local churches. Following high school, George attended Houghton College in New York during 1928-29, but family financial problems caused him to leave after one year and take employment as a clerk in an insurance office in New York City. During this time, he lived with his parents while his father was pastoring in Jersey City. In his book, Songs That Touch the Heart, Bev Shea tells this story:

Once again Mother-my musical guardian-had a part. A lover of beauty, be it a flower, a bird, a poem, an ennobling quotation-whatever-Mother was a collector...she loved to share poetry and she always had some verse in hand copied from a book or clipped from a magazine. It was her practice of leaving such writings on the piano music rack which led to my writing “I’d Rather Have Jesus” when I was twenty years old. The same Sunday morning I read those wonderful words for the first time, I wrote music for them and used the song that same day in my father’s church service. Of course, Mrs. Rhea F. Miller is the catalyst. Without her inspiring lyrics, there would have been no song.... Over the years, I’ve not sung any song more than “I’d Rather Have Jesus,” but I never tire of Mrs. Miller’s heartfelt words.

During the nearly nine years that Shea worked for the Mutual of New York Life Insurance Company, he continued his vocal training and singing in churches and for local Christian broadcasts. One day a director of a network radio station heard him sing and arranged for him to audition for a national program with the Lynn Murray Singers. Bev was thrilled with the prospect of singing on a network radio program, of being heard by large numbers of people, and having a chance to make “big money” for a change. After passing the audition test, Bev Shea just didn’t feel right about accepting this “once in a life-time” offer to be in secular work. “No” was a strange word to such an offer, as positions such as these were rare during those depression days, and thousands of young singers would have leaped at such an opportunity.

On June 16, 1934, Bev married his teen-age sweetheart, Eram Scharfe, and together they raised two children. The family moved to Chicago, where Bev took a position on the staff of radio station WMBI. In June of 1944, Bev Shea realized his ambition to sing the gospel on a national radio program, “Club Time.” A well-known aluminum firm, headed by a devoted Christian businessman, Herbert J. Taylor, sponsored Shea’s program for the next several years, a program heard by thousands of listeners each week. Then during the 1940’s and 50’s, Shea was active, singing in large Youth for Christ rallies throughout America and Canada. And now for more than three decades, Bev Shea has ministered with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Team, around the world as well as on radio and television. In 1956, George Beverly Shea was given an honorary doctorate degree from Houghton College in recognition of his many years of effective Christian ministry.

Whenever Bev Shea speaks to young people, his words of advice, based on the scriptural truths taught in Matthew 16:24-26, are usually these: “God will always guide your life when you give the direction over to Him.”

...If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.

Bev’s favorite scripture verse, one that he generally attaches to his signature, is found in Psalm 71:23:

My lips shall greatly rejoice when I sing unto Thee; and my soul, which Thou hast redeemed.

The power that this song has had in influencing and changing lives for God will be fully evaluated only in eternity. There are countless testimonies by individuals whose lives have teen changed by the singing of this one hymn:

A thousand grim marines sat on a South Pacific Island, during the days of World War II, listening to a gospel message punctuated with gunfire in the distance. When the chaplain sat down, a marine stood to his feet to sing the closing hymn. As the shell-scarred palms swayed nearby, more than half of that company came forward to profess faith in Christ as their Savior. The marine soloist, a former opera singer, had just concluded singing “I’d Rather Have Jesus...”

George Beverly Shea has also written several other songs which have gained popular acceptance-“The Wonder of It All,” and “I Will Praise Him in the Morning.”

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“To the artist, He is the one altogether lovely-Song of Solomon 5:15

To the architect, He is the chief cornerstone-1 Peter 2:6

To the astronomer, He is the sun of righteousness-Malachi 4:2

To the baker, He is the bread of life-John 6:35

To the banker, He is the hidden treasure-Matthew 13:44

To the builder, He is the sure foundation-Isaiah 28:16

To the carpenter, He is the door-John 10:7

To the doctor, He is the great physician-Jeremiah 8:22

To the educator, He is the great teacher-John 3:2

To the engineer, He is the new and living way-Hebrews 10:20

To the farmer, He is the sower and Lord of harvest-Luke 10:2

To the florist, He is the rose of Sharon-Song of Solomon 2:1

To the geologist, He is the rock of ages-1 Corinthians 10:4

To the horticulturist, He is the true vine-John 15:1

To the judge, He is the only righteous judge of man-2 Timothy 4:8

To the juror, He is the faithful and true witness-Revelation 3:14

To the jeweler, He is the pearl of great price-Matthew 13:46

To the lawyer, He is counselor, lawgiver, and true advocate-Isaiah 9:6

To the newspaper man, He is tidings of great joy-Luke 2:10

To the oculist, He is the light of the eyes-Proverbs 29:13

To the philanthropist, He is the unspeakable gift-2 Corinthians 9:15

To the philosopher, He is the wisdom of God-1 Corinthians 1:24

To the preacher, He is the Word of God-Revelation 19:13

To the sculptor, He is the living stone-1 Peter 2:4

To the servant, He is the good master-Matthew 23:8-10

To the statesman, He is the desire of all nations-Haggai 2:7

To the student, He is the incarnate truth-1 John 5:6

To the theologian, He is the author and finisher of our faith-Hebrews 12:2

To the toiler, He is the giver of rest-Matthew 11:28

To the sinner, He is the Lamb of God who takes the sin away-John 1:29To the Christian, He is the Son of the Living God,the Savior, the Redeemer, and the Loving Lord.”