From Singing of Glory to Singing in Glory: George Beverly Shea Dies at 104


GeorgeBeverlySheaPhotoThe evangelical world grieves and weeps with the passing of George Beverly Shea. Shea was the longtime soloist for Billy Graham during his worldwide Crusades, which led to thousands of professions of faith and countless conversions. The booming voice of George Beverly Shea is unmistakable and bone-chilling. Shea had an impeccable and God-given talent to usher men and women into holy worship of a holy God. Though singing is not listed in the Bible as a spiritual gift, it is undoubtable that this man sang Spirit-gifted. According to the Billy Graham Evangelical Association (BGEA), Shea first started singing with Graham on a radio program in Chicago in 1943. Their article on Shea continues,

“Shea has faithfully carried the Gospel in song to every continent and every state in the Union. Graham’s senior by ten years, Shea devotedly preceded the evangelist in song in nearly every Crusade over the span of more than one-half century.”

For over fifty years, Shea accompanied Graham in taking the gospel to our nation and the nations. This active work of obedience to the eternal Word of God and his devotion to his Jesus who he’d “rather have” until the day he died, were Shea’s greatest accomplishments. George Beverly Shea did earn quite a few earthly rewards, though:

  • Ten Grammy nominations
  • 1965 Grammy Award
  • Lifetime Achievement Award by the Grammy Association (2011)
  • Inducted into the Gospel Music Association Hall of Fame (1978)
  • Inducted into Religious Broadcasting Hall of Fame (1996)
  • Inducted into Conference of Southern Baptist Evangelists’ “Hall of Faith” (inaugural class 2008)
  • 70 albums recorded

Despite these impressive temporal awards that will nevertheless collect dust and rust away, George Beverly Shea desired Jesus and the treasure that he had to offer–treasure of eternally full joy. Shea sang of glory, and the love and desire for the Jesus he sang of flowed from his deep bellows. Shea sang of glory and demonstrated in song and devotion what it means to desire nothing but Jesus.

Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever (Psalm 73:25-26)

For over sixty years, George Beverly Shea sang of the glory of the God of his salvation. He exalted Christ in the Spirit. He faithfully pointed us to a God and Christ who was far more powerful than his deep baritone. And he sent chills up our spines when he bellowed out those first few words of “How Great Thou Art”. Every single time a re-run of a Billy Graham Crusade came on television, my dad would turn up the volume in order to hear those first few words: “O, Lord my God…”

George Beverly Shea will likely go down as the greatest worship leader of the 20th century–and rightly so. He lived his life exalting the glory of God, exulting in the joy of God, and proclaiming the message of God to his nation and the nations. He ran his race. He fought the good fight of the faith. Until his last year on this earth he continued to sing of his Savior and his God. On April 16, 2013, George Beverly Shea stepped into the glory of which he so often sang. He sang of the glory of God in such a way that attested to his intimate knowledge of him. Well, that knowledge just increased by a degree of 10,000 as of last night. He stepped into the glorious and joyous presence of the One he so often exalted. He was welcomed into eternal rest by the God of his salvation. O, and what a sight that must have been! For so long he sang of the greatness, glory, and majesty of God in Jesus and last night he came face to face with the One of whom he sang. He sees even now the glory of God that satisfied him for so many years–and his satisfaction has been increased immeasurably in a matter of moments. What unimaginable joy to look on the Holy One! The Jesus with whom he walked this earth with and sang so boldly of is even greater than he anticipated and he will continue to satisfy him for the next 10 trillion years. The hope he proclaimed is now an unveiled, unmasked, and uninhibited reality! No sin will mar him. No disease will affect him. No frailties will cover him. No death will haunt him. He laughs at death because he is united to the One who defeated death! This is his legacy–love and desire for a glorious Savior represented in the words of Rhea F. Miller that he made famous:

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

It is only fitting that the words of his lifelong friend and partner in the gospel close out our farewell to the greatest worship leader of the 20th century:

I first met Bev Shea while in Chicago when he was on Moody Radio. As a young man starting my ministry, I asked Bev if he would join me. He said yes and for over 60 years we had the privilege of ministering together across the country and around the world. Bev was one of the most humble, gracious men I have ever known and one of my closest friends. I loved him as a brother. My prayer for his wife, Karlene, and his children, Ron and Elaine, is that God will strengthen them during this time. – Billy Graham

My prayers are with the Shea family as they grieve the loss of this beloved man of God.

George Beverly Shea singing “How Great Thou Art” at age 103:

George Beverly Shea singing his testimony (“I’d Rather Have Jesus” – 1965) at age 23:

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