(I received a little e-note from Robert today. “Thanks for the insightful discussion of Bev Shea’s signature song. As today is his 101st birthday, I’ve posted an article about him, plus a video clip of the song, on my daily blog on hymn history, Wordwise Hymns. I invite you to take a look. God bless.” Check out his site if you are interested in some of the stories behind the great hymns of our faith. Here is the article about Mr.Shea and his signature song.)
I have been doing this church thing for a lot of years. I have sung hundreds of songs over the four decades or so that I have been darkening the church door. Some songs have great meaning to me. Some lyrics moved me to deep worship of God. Some times I really meant what I was singing. Other times I was singing through the motions while thinking about lunch and when the kick-off was going to happen. Gotta think that Satan loves the ADD brain.
One song that has always made me uncomfortable came up on the iPod today. The song was put to music by the legendary George Beverly Shea in 1932. The words were a poem written by Mrs.Rhea Miller in 1922. Shea recalled the moment.
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.”
Thanks to Mr.Shea I found myself going through a rather uncomfortable self-examination today.
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.
What a timely verse for times like these. As I watch my worth dwindle daily can I really say that I would rather have Jesus than silver or gold? Maybe our economy will make that decision for me. Do I mean it when I sing that I’d rather be led by his nail pierced hand? Am I prepared to make Jesus more than an “activity” in my busy life? What would I have said if I was the young rich man described in Matthew? Here is the text from The Message.
Another day, a man stopped Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?” Jesus said, “Why do you question me about what’s good? God is the One who is good. If you want to enter the life of God, just do what he tells you.”
The man asked, “What in particular?”
Jesus said, “Don’t murder, don’t commit adultery, don’t steal, don’t lie, honor your father and mother, and love your neighbor as you do yourself.” The young man said, “I’ve done all that. What’s left?”
His response has always surprised me. I think I would have begged for mercy after that list that Jesus outlined. But the young man thought he was doing just fine. And then Jesus exposed his heart.
“If you want to give it all you’ve got,” Jesus replied, “go sell your possessions; give everything to the poor. All your wealth will then be in heaven. Then come follow me.”
That was the last thing the young man expected to hear. And so, crest-fallen, he walked away. He was holding on tight to a lot of things, and he couldn’t bear to let go.
I have held on tight to a lot of things. As I get older I wonder why..
As he watched him go, Jesus told his disciples, “Do you have any idea how difficult it is for the rich to enter God’s kingdom? Let me tell you, it’s easier to gallop a camel through a needle’s eye than for the rich to enter God’s kingdom.”
The disciples were staggered. “Then who has any chance at all?”
Jesus looked hard at them and said, “No chance at all if you think you can pull it off yourself. Every chance in the world if you trust God to do it.”
I can do that. I can trust God. I have no choice because I have a long and spectacular track record of not being able to live this journey on my own ability. The song continues.
I’d rather have Jesus than men’s applause;
I’d rather be faithful to His dear cause;
I’d rather have Jesus than world-wide fame,
I’d rather be true to His holy name.
Given the sales of my books I am pretty safe from the world-wide fame snare. But I do crave men’s applause if I am not careful.
He’s all that my hungering spirit needs,
I’d rather have Jesus and let Him lead.
Perhaps the uncertainty in the world will cause all of us to evaluate our dependence on Christ. I hope that I will continue to grow in my desire to echo Paul and his words to the Phillipians.
“What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ.”
So can I sing the words of this classic hymn and mean it? I am getting closer as I learn (slowly) to put my full weight on the truths of identity in Christ and grace.