I am the song leader in my church. I am not very proficient as a musician or a choral director. I pray that, someday soon, God will send someone more capable, to take this ministry from me. But for the time being it is my responsibility to select the music and lead the congregation in the singing every week.

I take that responsibility seriously. The hymns and songs that I select must be doctrinally sound, they must be appropriate for worship with a God-centered worldview, and, withing those parameters, I try to select music that will reinforce and, support the text and subject of my pastor’s messages.

Some of us have been singing the hymns for years; the words roll off our lips but the messages often don't engage our minds or penetrate our hearts. With the apostle Paul, I want the congregation to "sing with understanding."

So for the past couple years, it has been my practice to select one hymn each week, research it, and then highlight it with a short introductory commentary so that the congregation will be more informed regarding the origin, the author's testimony, or the doctrinal significance of the hymns we sing.

It is my intention here with this blog, to archive these hymn commentaries for my reference and to make them freely available to other church song leaders. For ease of reference, all the hymn commentaries in this blog will be titled IN ALL CAPITAL LETTERS. Other posts (which will be music ministry related opinion pieces) will be printed in lower case letters.

I know that some of the comments contain traces of my unique style, but please feel free to adapt them and use the content any way you can for the edification of your congregation and to the glory of God.

All I ask is that you leave a little comment should you find something helpful.

Ralph M. Petersen

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Sunday, April 23, 2017


Martin was an alcoholic who hated God; he wanted nothing to do with church or any kind of religion.   But his wife, Bertha, was a Christian who faithfully prayed for her husband’s salvation, for years.
Eventually, the light of the Gospel penetrated Martin’s heart.  God saved him and then delivered him from the grip of alcoholism.  At the time of that event, he publicly declared, “I would rather have Jesus than all the gold and silver in the world, and all the houses and lands that money could buy.” 

Later, Martin became a pastor.

He and Bertha had a daughter, named Rhea, who married Howard Miller, one of the young men in his church.

Howard was studying for the ministry and eventually pastored until he was recruited to serve as Dean of Religion at Northwest Nazarene College in Idaho.  In 1940, he was elected a General Superintendent of the Nazarene denomination. 

After his death in 1948, Robert’s wife, Rhea, began teaching piano lessons to make ends meet.  But she had an unusual goal for her vocation; she taught, without charge, children of pastors because, by the time they reached maturity, she wanted them to have learned skills they could use to serve God in His church.

One day during her devotions, Rhea recalled those words her father had spoken at the time of his conversion, and she crafted them into a poem which is the song we have today.  Some sources indicate that she probably wrote a music score too, but her song remained unknown until a new score was composed years later.
George was born in 1909.  His father was a Wesleyan Methodist pastor in Canada and then later in New York.

As a young boy, George had a natural affinity for music and taught himself to play some chords on the piano.  He became a Christian at the age of 18 and, for a while, he attended Annesley College in Ottawa and later transferred to Houghton College in New York where he studied music until his funds were depleted.  He dropped out of school in 1929, the year of the stock market crash and the beginning of the Great Depression, and landed a professional position as a medical clerk for the Mutual Insurance Company of New York. 

While working there, he met Fred Allen, the host of a national radio talent show.  Upon learning of George’s singing talent, Allen arranged for an audition.  A few weeks later George was singing on the National Broadcasting Company where he took second place and was offered a substantial salary to sing on the radio.

He was well on his way to fame in the broadcasting industry but shortly after that, something happened that changed the course of his life.  He tells about it in his book, How Sweet the Sound:

“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.  

"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 deep feelings of my heart.”

So, right there, that morning, George worked out the melody and wrote the music score.  When his mother heard his singing, she encouraged him to sing the new song in church the following Sunday.

George turned from secular entertainment to using his voice for the gospel in Christian radio and television broadcasting and, from there, George Beverly Shea caught the attention of a young evangelist who recruited him as a gospel soloist for his Billy Graham Evangelistic Association in 1947.  

I’D RATHER HAVE JESUS became George Beverly Shea’s testimony and signature song which he sang at the close of the Billy Graham crusade meetings for about fifty years.   

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