Composer Rhea F Miller, Music George Beverly Shea
I’d rather have Jesus than silver or gold,
I’d rather have 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
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
The power that this song has had in influencing and changing lives for God will only be fully evaluated in eternity. I remember singing this hymn in 1986 when I first met the Lord. Over the years, I have heard many similar testimonies. There are countless other testimonies by individuals whose lives have been changed by the singing of this one hymn; “I’d Rather Have Jesus”.
The song has an interesting history. There was a woman named Rhea F. Miller who wrote a poem in 1922. Nothing much is said about her and the poem thereafter, but came 1932, a copy of that same poem was placed on the top of an organ in a family home in New York. Seated at the organ was a 23-year-old musician named George Beverly Shea. This act became a turning point in the life of the musician George Beverly It stirred deep longings in his heart. He tells the story in his latest book, How Sweet the Sound:
“At the age of twenty-three, I was living at home with my parents, continuing to work at Mutual Life Insurance and studying voice. Going to the piano one Sunday morning, I found a poem waiting for me there. I recognized my mother’s handwriting. She had copied the words of a poem by Mrs. Rhea F. Miller, knowing that I would read the beautiful message, which speaks of choice. As I read these precious words:
I’d rather have Jesus than men’s applause.
I’d rather be faithful to His dear cause.
I found myself singing the words in a melody that expressed the feelings of my heart.”
The words of Mrs. Miller’s poem caught young George’s attention. The words on the paper rang true to the cry of his heart. And so, he set them to music. Upon hearing her son singing this testimony of commitment, George’s mother came in from the kitchen, with tears in her eyes, and encouraged him to sing the new song in church the following Sunday.
As the congregants listened to George’s deep voice sing out I’d Rather Have Jesus, than silver and gold, little did they know that the song was destined to become one of the most well-known of all contemporary Christian songs.
Very soon he developed a radio music ministry with the purpose of sharing the Good News of Christ. A few years later, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association was formed in the 1940’s. George then joined forces with another young man called Evangelist Billy Graham. They asked George to become the soloist. Together they traveled the world. Billy would preach and George would sing. His two favorite songs were How Great Thou Art, and his signature song, I’d Rather Have Jesus.
After many years with this world wide ministry, Dr. Shea officially retired but continued to accept invitations to sing God’s praises especially with the Gaither Homecoming. He mades his home in Montreat, NC, which was near the home of his friend Billy Graham.
On February 1, 2009, Dr. Shea celebrated his 100th birthday. His family and friends were united in festivities full of music. Among the many hymns that he has made famous, “I’d Rather Have Jesus” was a meaningful part of the rejoicing.
Selected writings about this hymn:
~I’d Rather Have Jesus (2)
When King George VI and the queen visited Washington, DC, a state dinner was given in their honor. Chief Whitefeather, an Indian, began the program by singing the British anthem. After the applause the chief sang, to the surprise of those present, the hymn whose opening words are, I’d rather have Jesus than silver or gold!
Later in the evening, the chief sat near the king and queen. Tactfully he asked the queen, Do you believe on Jesus? The queen replied graciously, He is the Possessor of my heart, and of my husband’s also! The king, smiling, added, I’d rather have Jesus than silver or gold!
~I’d Rather Have Jesus (3)
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 —Earl C. Willer.
~I’d Rather Have Jesus (4)
George Beverly Shea yielded his talents and his life to the service of Christ at a very early age. Because he realized that in this life only what is done for Christ is of any lasting value, his singing has been a blessing around the world.
I wrote ‘I’d Rather Have Jesus’ in 1933, said Shea. As I sat one evening playing the piano, my mother brought to me a piece of paper on which was written a poem by Rhea Miller. She thought it to be a very wonderful poem and wanted me to read it. She then asked me to try my hand at writing a melody for it. I began to play as a melody came to me. I then sang and played for the first time ‘I’d Rather Have Jesus.’
When the rich voice of George Beverly Shea is but a memory, many happy Christians will still be singing his song.