My title may seem like a silly combination of letters, but it was actually the name of a day camp where I served as a counsellor many years ago. The letters stand for the title of a famous hymn written by Rhea Miller and put to music by George Beverly Shea entitled I’d Rather Have Jesus. This song was the camp song at Camp Id-Ra-Ha-Je – sung every morning at flag raising after the buses arrived at camp for the day.
Here are the words in two of the verses and the chorus:
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
Or 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 [Chorus]
There is a popular game called “Would You Rather?” which presents players, one at a time, with a set of – let’s say unusual – choices. The player chooses one of two possibilities and the rest of the players guess which one they chose. The winner of the game is the one who guesses the other players’ choices the best.
Like that game, our lives as Christians are also made up of a series of choices – “Would I rather _______ or ______?” Unlike the game, however, these choices are serious because they determine the course of our lives and our relationship with God. The problem today is the choices are becoming costlier. In the past, in America, most of us did not have to choose between Jesus or a career – we could have both! We could follow Jesus without breaking any laws. We could speak Biblical truth about what is right and wrong without fear of losing our freedom, or even a friend. Ever since those camp days, this song has been meaningful to me – but it has taken on greater significance lately as I seek to navigate a culture increasingly hostile to Christianity.
Unlike the experiences of Christians in the past, these choices are not between life or the death. These choices are subtler and quieter and therefore more dangerous. They may be choices between security or poverty, pleasantness and unpleasantness, being well thought of or becoming “deplorable.” Most of us will probably not be tried by an angry magistrate, but rather in the court of a public opinion that has been skewed against God and His Word. The price we pay will be paid by arguments around the dinner table, losing friends on Facebook, being demoted or fired from our job, or being banned from Twitter.
Jesus makes it clear what we are to do when confronted with this choice (Mark 8:33-38; Luke 9: 23 – 26) – forget any self-interest (deny our self), embrace the reproach (take up our cross), and follow Him (continue to live, think and speak as He taught us). There are times that will come when the choice will be clear – “Would I really rather have Jesus than men’s applause, or not?”
There is a third verse to this song and it gives us the reason we should “rather have Jesus” at these times. When you make that choice for Him, in little choices or in great, this is what happens:
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 [Chorus]
You will grow in the knowledge of His beauty and sweetness! He will fill the empty holes the world leaves and you will have the joy of following Him. Hard times may be ahead, but those times can also be sweet when we enter into the adventure of knowing Him in the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His suffering!