George Beverly "Bev" Shea died last week at the age of 104. An insurance man throughout his 20s, he eventually moved to Chicago, where he began singing on the radio in 1939. One day in 1943 Billy Graham, a 21-year-old college student, stopped by. "I hear you sing on the radio," he told 31-year-old Bev Shea, and wanted to meet you." Later, when Billy Graham began his preaching ministry, he invited Bev Shea to join him as his song leader. They were a team for 60 years!
One of the songs Bev Shea was known for was the hymn, How Great Thou Art, which was sung regularly at the crusade. It is one of the world's favorite hymns and was written by Stuart K Hine, inspired by a Swedish poem and his own experiences of God's greatness. According to Manna Music, which holds the copyright, "there have been over seventeen hundred documented recordings of How Great Thou Art. It has been used on major television programs, in major motion pictures, and has been named as the favorite Gospel song of at least three United States' presidents."
I'm not sure you can sing How Great Thou Art without being moved to worship. I was on a hayride, shivering in a horse-drawn (or perhaps a tractor-drawn) wagon at Warm Beach Camp as a young teen, looking into the starry sky as we made our way through the camp. Someone started to sing, "Oh Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder, consider all the worlds thy hands have made, I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder, thy power throughout the universe displayed. Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to thee, how great thou art, how great thou art!" What other response could we give if not worship?
You can hear well over 500 renditions of How Great Thou Art on YouTube, sung by Elvis, Mahalia Jackson, Carrie Underwood, the Gaithers, 10-year-old Rhema Marvanne; the Selah version, which includes a verse in Congolese; a video of a young man accompanying himself on the guitar with the words set to the tune of Danny Boy; renditions in Navaho, Cree, Chinese, Hmong, and many other languages; and played on all kinds of instruments -- handbells, guitar, piano, organ, pan flute, glass harp.
The thing that impressed me the most about the videos I saw was this -- each one was filled with a deep sense of worship. Each was the offering of a personal song to Jesus, presented humbly with awe, or boldly with palpable gratefulness, but all from the heart. Each musician was transported to a private place, it seemed, even if some of them were before hundreds of people.
Here are a few of the videos that I saw, each of which touched my heart. If this isn't enough versions for you, you can always find a few others on YouTube!