"I Can Only Imagine" Mercy Me
by Linda Owen

I can only imagine
what it will be like
When I walk by Your side
I can only imagine
What my eyes will see
When Your face is before me
I can only imagine

MercyMe had been a rock band for eight years when its infectious ode to heaven, "I Can Only Imagine," began saturating Christian radio. After spending weeks at number one on the charts, it garnered Dove awards for both "Pop Song" and "Song of the Year," as well as a "Songwriter of the Year" accolade for lead singer Bart Millard. Almost immediately, the group's 2001 debut album, Almost There, was certified gold, and thousands of churches were using "I Can Only Imagine" in worship.

The Dallas-based band which also includes lead guitarist Mike Scheuchzer, drummer Robby Shaffer, bassist Nathan Cochran, and keyboardist Jim Bryson knew their first hit was something special, but they never "imagined" it impacting people the way it has.

Millard hopes both listeners and worshipers recognize that, "The song is not about crossing our fingers and hoping that God is out there somewhere, but it's about resting easier at night knowing that there is one true, living God who is crazy in love with us so much so that he desires us to spend eternity with him."

Millard's lyrics grew out of a period of tremendous personal pain. In 1991, his father died after a long battle with cancer. When people told him that his dad would choose heaven over coming back, the 18-year-old began thinking about what his dad was experiencing in heaven. After that, he found himself repeating the phrase "I can only imagine." He began writing it on napkins, paper bags, and anything he could find. The phrase resonated in his heart and gave him the strength and hope he needed to move on.

Somehow, wondering about that awesome moment when he too would lay eyes on the Lord helped dull the pain of losing his father. This isn't a permanent separation, he told himself. One day we'll be enjoying God's presence together.

Years later, in 1999, when MercyMe was writing songs for its freshman project, Millard stumbled across that simple phrase "I can only imagine in an old notebook. About ten minutes later, the song was written.

"People say it's amazing that it was written in ten minutes, when really it had been on my heart for almost ten years," Millard says. In fact, not many days go by that he still doesn't ask himself those questions that form the chorus of his song:

Surrounded by your glory, what will my heart feel? Will I dance for you Jesus or in awe of you be still? Will I stand in your presence, or to my knees will I fall? Will I sing hallelujah? Will I be able to speak at all?

"I have faith that Christ is real," Millard adds. "Therefore, I ask him questions."

Questions for which every believer will one day receive the answers.

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