Lately I’ve been contemplating the phenomenon behind “I Can Only Imagine,” the best-selling Contemporary Christian song of all time.
Bart Millard, the lead singer of the Christian band MercyMe, wrote this song in 1998, seven years after he lost his dad to pancreatic cancer.
The song’s title and lyrics reflect Millard’s imagining what his dad was experiencing in Heaven in the presence of Jesus.
“I Can Only Imagine” was first included in MercyMe’s 1999, independently-recorded album, The Worship Project.
But in 2001, it was released as the lead single on their major-label, debut album, Almost There, which, to date, has enjoyed triple-platinum success.
Two years later, the song crossed over onto pop radio charts after stations were flooded with requests for the song.
People everywhere wanted this faith-based song played in the secular arena because of the hope that it infused.
Hope not only for those who had lost loved ones, but also for anyone who was going through really tough times—for whatever reason.
Since 2003, when “I Can Only Imagine” launched MercyMe into the Contemporary Christian limelight, the band has enjoyed much success, producing several albums with number one hits.
(Last summer, I had a ball reviewing every grace-saturated song on their most recent album, Lifer.)
And now, seventeen years after the release of ‘Imagine,’ the movie (by the same name) based on its backstory surprised Hollywood, making around $17 million its opening weekend.
This film depicts the heart-breaking physical, verbal, and emotional abuse that Bart suffered for years at the hands of his dad, Arthur Millard.
It also portrays the incredible transformation Arthur underwent after he found out he had cancer and asked God to save him.
You can only imagine what kind of impact this had on Bart’s faith, seeing God change his dad from a “monster” into the father he had always wanted.
This movie is a wonderful redemption story. I cried more the second time I saw it than I did the first.
If you want to learn more about it, just Google it and you will find numerous articles and videos to enjoy.
My purpose for the rest of this post is to zero in on what I believe is the real reason behind the impact of this remarkable song.
What sets this song apart from other Christian-based songs?
I don’t think we have to look any further than one word in the song’s title.
Imagine means “to form a mental image of (something not actually present to the senses).”
Every believer in Christ is banking their eternity on Someone they have never actually laid physical eyes on—Someone they have put their faith in.
Hebrews 11:1 tells us that faith is …
- “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (KJV).
- “being sure of the things we hope for and knowing that something is real even if we do not see it” (EXB).
- “the confident assurance that something we want is going to happen, the certainty that what we hope for is waiting for us, even though we cannot see it up ahead” (TLB).
Faith is knowing that what we hope for—that which we cannot see with our physical eyes—will someday manifest in physical reality.
Last week on Twitter, I was challenged by someone whose handle included the word atheist.
That person asked me to justify my faith in God, to give proof of His existence without quoting Scripture or divulging personal experience.
After going down a few religious rabbit trails, my final reply to that person was: I don’t have to justify my faith. Christ’s Spirit lives in my heart. It’s a love relationship I’ve experienced with Him for years that will last forever. I’m sorry you don’t have the Hope that I do.
The common thread in my Twitter conversation and the above Biblical descriptions of faith is that believers in Christ have the incredible hope that this world is not all there is because of their faith in Christ.
The hope that someday soon, we will be experiencing Jesus face to Face forever.
Even though it’s difficult to wrap my mind around how wonderfully glorious that will be, I still try to.
And the thing is, believers aren’t limited to only imagining what it will be like when we stand face to Face with Jesus.
Right here, right now, we can ask the Spirit of Christ within us to inspire our imaginations and cause us to see, experience, and enjoy Him.
In a sense, we can experience Heaven right now, because we are one spirit with Him, already seated with Him in Heaven (1 Cor. 6:17; Eph. 2:4-7).
When I began to “see” Christ in me, with me, smiling at me, embracing me, dancing with me, loving me perfectly, and hearing Him speak life-giving words to me, it was like that scene in The Wizard of Oz where Dorothy walks out of her black-and-white surroundings into the vibrant world of Technicolor.
Relating to Christ in my mind’s eye has added a whole new dimension to my life. I guess you could say that I now I see my life in Christ in high definition.
And I’m convinced that this is the key to believers enjoying Heaven on earth in the here and now.
I’m also convinced that experiencing Christ’s cherishing love in our mind’s eye is what catapults us into the expression of His love in this world.
The success of “I Can Only Imagine” is proof positive that pictures of us relating to Christ in our mind’s eye touch our emotions and affect our lives in ways that rows of black print on white paper simply cannot.
God longs for us to experience the positive emotions that result from believing spiritual truth.
And the quickest way to believe that something is true (real) is to see it.
You’ve likely heard the old adage: Seeing is believing.
I’m not talking about seeing with our physical eyes, but picturing spiritual truth in our mind’s eye through the power of Christ’s Spirit.
In the song, “I Can Only Imagine,” Millard pictures himself seeing Jesus for the first time—what his reaction will be when he actually lays physical eyes on the Resurrected Christ.
And every time we listen to this song, we too picture ourselves standing before Him.
Jesus wants us to see His continual smile toward us—a smile that can never be erased by something we do or don’t do.
Our initial yes when we first believed in (into) Him sealed His forever smile toward us.
Dearly beloved, you can bask in the warmth of His forever smile toward you right here, right now!
The best news you will ever hear and believe is that He rigged this so you can’t mess it up!
And when you see Him smiling at you, taking great pleasure in you, you will begin to feel the truth of His unending, cherishing love for you.
And when you see and feel His no-strings-attached love for you, you are motivated to love yourself, love Him back, and love others.
That’s when life on planet earth becomes sweet and you begin living in the fullness of what you will get to enjoy throughout Eternity.
Dearly beloved, are you enjoying Jesus’ cherishing love for you through seeing Him loving you right here, right now, in this present moment?
If you enjoyed this post, then I believe you would savor my debut Bible study, His Banner Over Me Is Pursuing Love.
This is an intimate, interactive study on the first two chapters of the Song of Songs, dynamically designed to help believers in Christ—both men and women—enjoy wondrous delight in intimacy with Him.
If you want to learn more, check out my book page.
Until next time,
Live Christ—Live Happy!
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Kim K. Francis
P.O. Box 357
Perryton, TX 79070