Text: Rhea F. Miller (1894-1966) Tune: George Beverly Shea (1909-2013)
1. 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 land 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
2. I'd rather have Jesus than worldly applause
I'd rather be faithful to His dear cause I'd rather have Jesus than worldwide fame Yes, I'd rather be true to His holy name
3. 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
Today’s Bible passage is the story of Jesus speaking with the rich young man who has rushed up to him and asked what he should do to inherit eternal life. Jesus looks on him and loves him, the Gospel of Mark has it. Jesus quickly sees the issue. The young man is obsessed with owning things, having them in his possession. He does not see it as a way of life. Jesus turns the conversation into how the young man must live and manage his wealth. Because he cannot obtain salvation for himself as a kind of possession, he turns "empty away" as the King James Version had it. So while he is loaded down with things, his spirit is empty.
We know that feeling. All of us remember getting the much coveted toy, and finding after only a few days, it was tiresome, and we wanted more of the same. None of which was ultimately satisfying. As Christmas is approaching and we are being warned there will be shortages of everything due to the delays from COVID 19 and the incredible blockage at the ports on the West Coast especially, we may discover Christmas is about life, not possessing anything. Maybe a good lesson, but there will be parents yielding to many temptations maybe even violence to get their kid the coveted Christmas toy, whatever that will be.
It may be a hard lesson to teach to the young ones in our midst, they have already had a hard two years due to COVID. But it is a lesson we might be able to teach by giving the kids a life, not things. Being with them, celebrating the season with activities that will be remembered much longer than the broken toys that become detritus in the basements of our lives.
The hymn was written by a pastor’s widow who had dedicated her life to teaching pastors’ children how to play the piano so they would be able to help in congregations when a musician was needed. While her mother was a sturdy and faithful Christian, her father was an alcoholic who stole money from everyone in the family to get money to support his habit.
One day he was taken by the Gospel and his life turned around completely. The family was stunned and thankful. Rhea heard her father’s testimony one day that he now understood that he would rather have Jesus than anything, wealth, riches, fame or power. As he spoke, she realized that his testimony was a hymn, and she wrote it down, making it into poetry.
George Beverly Shea, a pastor’s son from Canada, was 23 and at home briefly. A student of music, who was finding his way in the musical world, he saw the poem his mother had put on the keyboard, and as he read it, this tune came to him. As they say, the rest is history. It became a favorite first with the Billy Graham association and its Hour of Power, and then in the hundreds of revivals Billy led all over the world.
On hearing the story of this rich young man whom Jesus loved, we can sing it as he might have. Here he was standing before the Lord of Life, his creator, and he walked away toward the things his creator had given, and he coveted, not the author of all that is. Jesus is all that our hungering souls will ever need.
This is a big favorite in the repertoire of the Gospel songs in America and many a Lutheran attending Sunday evening services, or Wednesday night Bible study, probably heard it several times a year, sung by the local soloist.
Shea sang it thousands of times with his rich bass baritone. After How Great Thou Art it is probably his song—especially since he wrote the tune. He probably is the singer who sang before more people than any other singer in history. His records sold in the millions. He won a Grammy for his Lifetime Achievement Award
George Beverly Shea, singing and telling about his finding it
George Beverly Shea telling the story of the song
The Gaither Family
Another Gaither version with a basso profundo!
Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir/riffing on the old tune
Sonnet from my book Jesus the Harmony
JESUS AND THE RICH YOUNG MAN
The rich young man could buy anything,
Have whatever his youthful heart desired.
He wanted eternal life, like a gold ring, A commodity to be sold to the richest buyer.
Jesus changes the terms. It is a way Of life, a house you enter, a place to live,
Following the commandments every day. It cannot be bought; it is something Jesus gives,
Something only those who lose can find.
When he has sold his stuff, given to the poor,
Then he will get it, the changing of his mind.
His clutter gone, he can open the door To a treasure trove in heaven, where he will get
Forgiveness of all his unacknowledged debt. Matthew 19:16–22; Leviticus 18:1–5; Nehemiah 9:29–30
Copyright 2021 Fortress Press
Available on Amazon