Singer Amy Grant recently explained her decision to return the most popular Christian song of all time to the artist who wrote it.
That generous gesture changed the course of Bart Millard and his band MercyMe’s careers and is portrayed in the new Christian hit film “I Can Only Imagine” — with a little bit of Hollywood license.
“Imagine” looks at Millard’s childhood, marked by his parents divorcing and the boy experiencing years of abuse at the hand of his father, portrayed by Dennis Quaid. It goes on to show God’s hand in restoring father to son as they both experience a journey of faith.
Millard wrote the song for his father following his death from cancer.
After hearing the tune, Grant loved it so much she wanted to record it.
In an interview aired on Contagious Encouragement earlier this month, the Christian artist recalled, “I think about when I heard that song you know my life had sort of been in upheaval.”
“That song found me at a time when I really … it was healing,” she said.
As Grant prepared to perform “I Can Only Imagine” for the first time in public, a different idea came to her.
She told Millard, “This song is a career song, it’s going to change your life,” and she did not want to take that moment from him.
Grant’s thought was to have the MercyMe frontman perform it with her and her husband Vince Gill on stage instead.
He was standing just off stage, when Grant began to sing.
“The grin on my face was quite literally ear to ear,” Millard wrote. “This was, without a doubt, the single greatest moment of my professional life. All the countless nights I had lain awake envisioning better days and a brighter future, and now this reality I was experiencing outdid them all.”
“I was frightened, but ecstatic. Nervous, yet peaceful. Proud, while humbled. For the first time ever in my life, reality was outrunning my imagination,” he added.
Millard remembered soaking in the moment listening to Grant — a hero of his since his youth — sing his song.
“As Amy was finishing the first chorus, it was my cue. Just as we had planned, I stepped out onto the stage, into the spotlight, and into a surreal moment. I walked to the mic, stared out into the sea of faces, drew in the deepest breath I think I’ve ever taken, and sang: ‘I can only imagine when that day comes …'”
Millard suddenly in “some sort of holy convergence” felt like he was performing the song for an audience of two: his dad and God. The movie powerfully re-creates this moment.
“I envisioned my dad watching, smiling, taking in all that he had prayed for and believed for me, while my Heavenly Father was also watching, smiling, accepting my offering of giving Him the glory He so richly deserved,” wrote the singer.
MercyMe’s “I Can Only Imagine” would go on to earn triple platinum status and win the 2002 Dove Award’s “Pop Contemporary Song of the Year.”
The group has had numerous No. 1 hits on the Christian pop charts since.
Grant told CBN News she was very happy for Millard’s success.
“(N)obody sings that song like Bart,” she said. “Everything worked out the way it was meant to be.”
Box Office Mojo reported that the movie “I Can Only Imagine” held steady in the No. 3 spot in its second week of release, coming in just behind “Black Panther” in ticket sales and besting such major studio releases as “Tomb Raider” and “Wrinkle in Time.”
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