Thursday Pulpit: An Unforgettable Song | Opinion


I was recently exposed to the best-selling song of all time in the history of the Christian music genre. I figured “How Great Thou Art”, “Battle Hymn of the Republic” and other familiar hymns would be hard to match. Nevertheless, the story of Bart Millard and the song he wrote for an abusive father, “I Can Only Imagine” made such an impression on me that I want to share his story. The source of my information comes from repeatedly watching the movie and song of the same name.

Bart was a product of the South whose father had convinced him that he was simply “not good enough” for anything he might attempt in life. He was often severely beaten by a father, who in the film’s portrayal of the true story was played by Dennis Quaid. Father’s Mother was played by Cloris Leachman, both of whom effectively helped portray the emotional challenges of Bart’s youth. His father’s behavior was ultimately responsible for his wife leaving him and his son, Bart.

Bart’s peculiar vocal skills were first discovered by a high school music teacher who convinced him to try an “Oklahoma” musical production. He then joined a band called “Mercy Me”, whose name comes from his grandmother’s response when he said he planned to make his way in life as a musician/singer. “Pity me,” she said.

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Bart’s father, while Bart and his gang struggled on the road, was diagnosed while still relatively young with an incurable version of pancreatic cancer. What Bart, who had long since left this abusive family background, did not know was that his father had found Christ and had become a “believer”. Once Bart found out about his father’s new life, he spent the final months of his father’s shortened life in forgiveness and celebration of their common Christian bond.

After his father’s death, Bart, whose band “Mercy Me” was about to give up on his dream of a successful shared music career, wrote the music and lyrics for “I Can Only Imagine.” As I stated before, this song became the best-selling Christian genre song in history. It provided an opportunity to tell his story and sing his song to the President of the United States and members of Congress at their annual prayer breakfast in 2018. Before singing on the occasion, Bart told leaders of our country that “if the gospel can change this guy (i.e. his father), it can change anyone.

I encourage anyone reading this article to find access to the movie (likely available on YouTube) and at the very least listen to this amazing music – Alexa is a great provider. When Bart’s song was first delivered to radio stations, it was tagged with these words from its producer – “We dare you to listen to this song just once.” And the rest is history! Accept my challenge and see if you can hear “I Can Only Imagine” just once. I’ve heard it several times and I’m always up from the experience. Here are the inspired lyrics:

Surrounded by your glory, how will my heart feel

Will I dance for you Jesus or in awe of you be still

Will I stand in your presence or on my knees will I fall

Will I sing hallelujah, can I speak at all

Dr. David E. Brown serves as regional director of public affairs but previously served as president of the Napa Stake of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which includes 10 congregations — four in Napa, one in St. Helena, one in Sonoma, two in Vallejo and two in Benicia.


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