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I Can Only Imagine

by

MercyMe



Songfacts®:  You can leave comments about the song at the bottom of the page.

MercyMe is a contemporary Christian group, and this song was written by their lead singer Bart Millard. In this song, Millard imagines what it will be like meeting Jesus for the first time.

When we spoke with Millard in 2012, he told us that he wrote the song in about 10 minutes, and that it was one of just three songs he wrote where he felt like he was "a spectator watching the song being written" (the others were "Word of God Speak" and "The Hurt & The Healer"). Regarding the song's meaning, Millard stated: "When my father died of cancer in 1991, he left me with the assurance that he was headed to a better place. For several years following his death, I would find myself writing the phrase 'I can only imagine' on anything I could find. That simple phrase would give me a peace thinking about what my dad was finally experiencing. Years later, in 1999, MercyMe was writing songs for an independent project. I remember coming home from a show and being wide awake on our bus at 2 o'clock in the morning. I was trying to write lyrics in an old notebook of mine, when all of a sudden, I stumbled across that phrase. About ten minutes later, the song was written. Some people say it's amazing that it was written in ten minutes, when really it had been on my heart for almost ten years."
Almost There was the band's first album, and this was released as the first single. It was huge hit on the Christian charts, going to #1 and getting airplay on both Christian and secular radio stations.
Amy Grant was offered this song, but when MercyMe's version was successful, she held off on releasing her version, which was slightly re-written and titled "Imagine." Grant combined her version with "Sing the Wondrous Love of Jesus" for her 2002 album Legacy...Hymns and Faith.
In our interview with Bart Millard, he said that this song changed the songwriting dynamic of MercyMe, as he was the only credited writer on the track and didn't like the attention that brought him. Said Millard: "When 'I Can Only Imagine' blew up, I ended up being isolated as far as everybody wanting to talk to me, because I wrote "Imagine" versus merging me to the band. I was in a band for a reason: to have the camaraderie, to go through this together. So it got really tough. I don't know if it got tough for them, but it got tough for me. You know, hey, you've got to do these interviews, the band's going to go over here. I'm like, Man, we did it, we stay together.

So I made sure it never happened again by changing the way we write songs. Instead of me bringing an idea to the table and them adding music to it - almost like, Okay, the melody's there, let me assign the chords that go with it, which really isn't writing music that much - we will go in the studio and create the music first together, and then it's kind of a weird thing. I think it's awesome; it's a bigger challenge for me. But you get in the studio, you start, Well, man, I think the verse should be something like this, it should go this long. You kind of go by feel. Okay, feels like we should go to the chorus, what should the chorus be? We'll hash something out."
Other artists to record this include Jeff Carson, Kathryn Scott, Wynonna Judd and Emerson Drive. (thanks, Donovan Berry - El Dorado, AR)
This won the award for Song of the Year at the 2002 Dove Awards.
MercyMe
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Comments (6):

I can't wiat to meet Jesus. We all need to spread God's word to all people who don't know him.
- Scott, Jackson, AK
Exactly, Rhianna. That's it. Besides, isn't that what purgatory is for? It says in the Bible that there is a state of purification before we go into heaven. Maybe that also includes being prepared to meet God and Jesus. Me being only 13, that sounds like a lot, but you hit the nail on the head. I just had to say something.
- Emily, Around Chicago, IL
It was this song that helped me get through when of all of my Grandparents died within a five year period.
- John, Pelion, SC
It always amazed me that this song was such a popular secular song. In a world where we are constantly taking Him out of everything, we get teary eyed over a song that has the words "I can only imagine when all I will do is forever, forever worship You." Ridiculous.
- kamla, buffalo, NY
Deffinately. It's impossible to know what its going to be like. But i don't think that it'll be as awkward as many people think. I think once we see Him, we'll automatically know what to do upon being in his presence.
- Rhianna, Badonkadonkville, OH
Great lyrics, and music. Makes you wonder what it would be like meeting Jesus
- Scott, Kings Park, NY
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