George Beverly Shea died last evening at 104 years of age.
Shea first sang at a Billy Graham crusade in 1943 and did so faithfully thereafter for almost 60 years. Since they shared in this crusade ministry, Shea sang to as many as Graham preached.
Upon learning of his death Graham wrote,
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.
David Neff, editor in chief of Christianity Today, noted that “the song most associated with Billy Graham is ‘Just As I Am,’ but Bev Shea’s signature tune is clearly ‘How Great Thou Art.’” These two songs depict their unique gifting and calling in their common ministry of the gospel: one speaks/sings of how great God is, and the other calls people, just as they are, to come to this God through the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Associated Press also identified this song as representing something much more: “Shea’s rendition of ‘How Great Thou Art’ came to define the faith of a Protestant generation that Graham helped bring to Jesus Christ.”
Paul Davis, Shea’s authorized biographer (George Beverly Shea: Tell Me the Story), concluded that “The history of George Beverly Shea, in many senses, is the history of Christian music in the 20th century.”
Shea summed up the musical ministry with which he was blessed by God in this way: “The Wonder of It All.”
Though there are few in the older generation that would not have known Shea, there are likely few of the present generation that do know him. On the one hand it is important to know our history, and to learn of those who have served the Lord faithfully. Shea is one of those dear saints. And yet on the other hand, we cannot live in the past either, but must seek to minister effectively and fruitfully to our own generation. As noted of David, Shea served the Lord faithfully in his own generation (Acts 13:36). May we do the same, by God’s grace and for God’s glory.
What a wonderful testimony . . . and a long life lived well for Christ and the gospel!