Last night, after 104 years of life, one of earth’s most beloved saints of old entered the pearly gates for his eternal life. When a person gets to be that old, you begin to wonder if they are going to outlive all of us. George Beverly Shea, or as I’ve always called him, “Uncle Bev”, served his Lord and Savior faithfully. For over half of his life, he served along side Dr.Billy Graham (Uncle Billy to me) leading worship as millions upon millions heard the gospel of Jesus Christ. Uncle Bev was part of the same team my Granddaddy, Dr.T.W. Wilson, was on…the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association Team. Growing up, all of the team kids and grandkids adopted the members of the team as uncles and aunts because our families’ lives were so intertwined with each other as they pursued the mission of spreading the gospel all across the world.
At the age of 23, Uncle Bev composed the music to the song, “I’d Rather Have Jesus.” 23 years old. I wonder if he ever dreamed of how far that music would reach beyond his reach. I’m not sure he ever dreamed that he would sing before Presidents, royalty, and celebrities in additions to the millions of regular folks like you and me. In addition, I’m not sure that he never imagined he would live 81 years past the year that he composed this song. For as long as I can remember, though, whether in front of millions at a crusade, at a local event, or at his own personal organ inside his home, I have listened to his deep, confident voice sing the words to that old song:
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
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
I don’t know many 23 year olds who would rather have Jesus than anything. As a 29 year old, I am challenged to think twice about the things that I want in comparison with Jesus. There are so many times when we get caught up in the trite activities and happenings of everyday life, that we are often left feeling overwhelmed. We chase after so many things. Jobs come. Jobs go. Friends come. Friends go. Physical strength comes. Physical strength goes. Dream vacations come. Dream vacations go. Fame comes. Fame goes. Acceptance comes. Acceptance goes. Beauty comes. Beauty goes. Sooner or later, though, all that this world has to offer goes.
But one thing remains. Nothing compares with that one thing…that one person, rather. Jesus.Jesus. Jesus. He remains when all is peeled away. Jesus loves me, this I know. For the Bible tells me so.
During some of my Daddy’s dying breaths, Uncle Bev hobbled into his hospital room with a walking cane to lean over the bed and sing in his ear, “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” He then said in his comforting, yet booming voice, “He loves you, Jerry.” All Daddy could do was mouth the word, “Yes.”
It’s that simple. Jesus. He’s all we need. He’s the only desire that will satisfy. He loves us. When all that this world has to offer leaves us distracted, He offers us more than we could imagine or deserve. He offers us His perfect love and forgiveness.
Last night, as the thunder rolled in the mountains of Western North Carolina, Uncle Bev finally beheld face to face the one he proclaimed in front of millions that he’d rather have than anything: Jesus. And surely he must have fallen on the knees of his new body and said, “My God, how great thou art!”
I want to leave you with some of the words to “The Love of God”, which Uncle Bev sang at my parents’ wedding and later, my dad’s funeral.
The love of God is greater far
Than tongue or pen can ever tell;
It goes beyond the highest star,
And reaches to the lowest hell;
The guilty pair, bowed down with care,
God gave His Son to win;
His erring child He reconciled,
And pardoned from his sin.
Oh, love of God, how rich and pure!
How measureless and strong!
It shall forevermore endure-
The saints’ and angels’ song.
God’s love reached beyond the grave to bring us eternal life. Friend, if you want to reach beyond your reach, the love of God must be the power that fuels you. Nothing else matters. I would rather have Jesus than anything. That’s why I want to reach beyond my reach. I want you to know Him too. Do you know that Jesus loves you? Do you know that? He loves you so much.
I hope that one day you’ll join in the song that Uncle Bev truly meant with all of his heart and say, “I’d rather have Jesus than anything this world affords today.”
PS…I hope you’ll take the time to watch and listen to this video of Uncle Bev singing, “I’d Rather Have Jesus.” Interestingly enough, this happens to be from the very first Billy Graham Crusade I ever attended…Columbia, SC 1987.