Keeping the Hymns Close By

I’d Rather Have Jesus

Author Rhea Miller, 1894 – 1966
Composer – George Beverly Shea, 1909 – 2013
Scripture Reference – Psalm 71:23; Matthew 16:24-26
Words written in 1922; music composed in 1929

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

George Beverly Shea

George Beverly Shea, “America’s beloved gospel singer,” was the featured soloist with the Billy Graham evangelistic team from 1947 – 2005. He was born in 1909 in Winchester, Ontario, Canada where his father served as a pastor and his mother was the church organist. The family moved to the United States and his father pastored churches in New York and New Jersey. 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 but family financial problems made it necessary for him to leave college and work in an insurance office in New York City. He continued singing in churches and for Christian radio programs.

Unexpectedly, he was offered an audition for a secular singing position in New York City and passed the test. The opportunity for a substantial salary and wide recognition made his decision very difficult but he declined it. During this time, he lived with his parents. In his book, Songs That Lift the Heart, he tells this story:

Once again Mother –my musical guardian—had a part. 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 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.

Shea married his teen-age sweetheart, Eram Scharfe, and together they raised two children. The family moved to Chicago, where he served on staff at Moody Bible Institute’s radio station, WMBI from 1939 – 1944. In 1944 he began his ministry as a featured soloist on Billy Graham’s radio program, ‘Songs in the Night”. The program still airs today on KHCB with Erwin Lutzer. When Billy Graham began his worldwide evangelistic crusades in 1947, he asked George to be his gospel singer and they served together in ministry for over 55 years. He sang this hymn around the world and was the soloist on Graham’s radio program, the “Hour of Decision” that aired on KHCB for many years.

Shea has also written several other songs including “The Wonder of It All,” and “I Will Praise Him in the Morning.” He died in 2013 at the age of 104 and was buried on the grounds of the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Taken from 101 More Hymn Stories Copyright © 1985, 2013 by Kenneth W. Osbeck. Published by Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids, MI. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Taken from Amazing Grace: 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions
Copyright © 1990, 2002 by Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids, MI. Used by permission. All rights reserved.