I’D RATHER HAVE JESUS                                                            written in 1922

The Story

When the mother of George Beverly Shea (1909-2013) put a poem on her family piano, she had no idea what would happen. Most likely she wanted her son to read the words of that poem and make some changes in his life’s direction. It looked as if he was headed for a career singing popular music on NBC. He had impressed everyone who had heard him, and he later admitted he was lured by the possibilities.

Then he saw that poem on the piano, and he was moved by the words. He sat down at the piano and began singing those words to a tune that came to him as he sang. George didn’t know it at the time, but his mother was listening in the next room. And she asked George to sing that hymn that same way in church the next day.

So, the words by Rhea Miller (1894-1966) and the tune by George Beverly Shea were cemented together. (By the way, American hymnals show Rhea Miller as the author of this song, but Swedish sources attribute the original to Prince Oscar, who, in 1888 relinquished his royal title and right to succession in order to marry a commoner who had influenced his religious beliefs. Afterward he was active in Christian service.)

Bev Shea’s life direction also did change as a result of that poem on the piano… just as his mother had hoped and prayed. A few years later he became associated with evangelist Billy Graham and sang this hymn around the world.

The Song

            Read this hymn, and – today – evaluate whether you would rather have Jesus than anything else.

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 worldwide fame;
I’d rather be true to His holy name.  (Refrain)

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.  (Refrain)

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