Posted by: rcottrill | April 23, 2012

I’d Rather Have Jesus

Words: Rhea F. Miller (b. _____, 1894; d. _____, 1966)
Music: George Beverly Shea (b. Feb. 1, 1909; d. Apr. 16, 2013)

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal (Bev Shea)

At the age of twenty-eight, while walking in the fields near her home, Rhea Miller recalled her father’s earlier battle with alcohol, and how the Lord set him free. He had made the comment that he would rather have Jesus than all the gold and silver in the world, and all the houses and lands that money could buy.

It was her time of meditation on her father’s words that inspired this fine gospel song. Rhea was an excellent pianist, and she actually wrote a tune for the words. But Bev Shea later saw only the lines of poetry, and provided his own tune–the one with which it is now identified. Over the years, I’d Rather Have Jesus has become Mr. Shea’s signature solo. If you’d like to read an interesting account of how Bev Shea began singing in the first place, check out the connection with gospel song writer Kittie Suffield second item).

Bev’s father was a pastor, and even in his youth he ministered in music in Pastor Shea’s church. But one Sunday morning in 1929 his commitment to Christ was affirmed an strengthened by a small piece of paper. He was seated at the piano, likely preparing some music to be shared in the service that day. His eye caught sight of a clipping on the music rack. His mother often shared with him in this way articles and poems she thought would be a blessing. In this case, it was Rhea Miller’s poem. Bev’s heart was touched by the message of the text, and he immediately wrote some music for it, singing it for the first time in the service that Sunday morning.

The words crystalized his determination to use his gift in the service of the Lord. When an offer came later to become a vocalist on a network radio program, he turned it down. The possibility of a steady job and big money in the entertainment business may have been tempting in those Depression years, but Bev Shea’s sail was set, and he never turned back. His favourite verse of Scripture is: “My lips shall greatly rejoice when I sing to You, and my soul, which You have redeemed” (Ps. 71:23).

In 1939, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth came to Canada, and visited the famous Calgary Stampede. During a special ceremony, Chief White Feather was asked to sing. Being a Christian, he sang I’d Rather Have Jesus as his testimony. It contains the lines, “I’d rather have Jesus….than to be the king of a vast domain.” After his solo, the chief was praised by the King and Queen, at which time he boldly asked, “And would you rather have Jesus?” And the Queen answered without hesitation, “Yes, the King and I both would.”

This is a song about values. It weighs a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ against two particular things: money and possessions (CH-1) on the one hand, and fame and popularity (CH-2) on the other. It echoes the penetrating question: “What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?” (Mk. 8:34-37). What will your answer be? I trust you’ll respond in the words of Rhea Miller:

CH-1) I’d rather have Jesus that silver or gold;
I’d rather be His than have riches untold…

CH-2) I’d rather have Jesus than men’s applause;
I’d rather be faithful to His dear cause…

On one occasion, the Lord Jesus was met by a young man who “had great possessions” (Matt. 19:22), and was “very rich” (Lk. 18:23). The Lord told him sell his possessions and give to the poor, then come and follow Him (Matt. 19:21). Not that being wealthy, in itself, is wrong. But it becomes clear from what follows that the man’s wealth had become a god. He was strongly attached to his possessions, and would not surrender them, even in response to Christ’s call. “Instead, he went away sorrowful” at the thought (vs. 22). We can only hope that eventually he made a radical change in his value system.

1) If Christ has first place in your life, what would you say comes next in importance?

2) What do you do to consistently keep that “next” thing from robbing Christ of His preeminent place?

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal (Bev Shea)


  1. […] Have Jesus, a song that touched his heart and became one of his favourites to sing.  Read more about this song here – (particularly the fascinating performance by Chief White Feather at the Calgary Stampede in […]


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