We call certain songs our favorites because the lyrics or the music resonate with us on some deep level. Ironically, we appreciate all the superficial aspects of the song. But, we aren't privy to the experiences that inspire the singer-songwriter to write that music.
Bart Millard, the singer/songwriter and the lead vocalist of the acclaimed band MercyMe, is one musician who carefully crafts many written lyrics based on his personal experiences. And, while I haven't experienced Bart's struggles day by day, his music has spoken truth into my life. Here's a playlist of some of MercyMe's more recognizable songs with deeply personal messages. Read the stories behind each song, you'll appreciate it all the more.
"Say I Won't"
"Say I Won’t" is a call to action: get up and get living. You can overcome this. You can do it. The song, a single from MercyMe's most recent album, inhale (exhale), tells the story of one of MercyMe's best friends, Gary Miracle. He was the band’s first merchandising representative and bus driver when they started 20 years ago. Gary fell into septic shock in December 2019, and lost his arms and legs a month later, in January 2020.
The song’s lyrics start with Gary’s unwavering faith. They then segue to how we live as Christians. In an interview with NRT's Kevin Davis about hit single, Bart says, "In the song, we try to answer some important questions. For example, because life doesn’t go how we want it to go, does that change who we are in Christ? How does it affect our decisions and actions?"
He continued: "We talked to Gary about his 'new normal.' We were pleased that, despite his tragic circumstances, his identity of who he is in Christ hasn't changed. Gary’s story gave us the inspiration we needed to finish 'Say I Won’t.'"
Standout lyric: "I'm gonna run/No, I'm gonna fly/I'm gonna know what it means to live/And not just be alive/The world's gonna hear/'Cause I'm gonna shout/And I will be dancing when circumstances drown the music out/Say I won't"
I see so many people in the world tired and exhausted. I know I won't have to worry about wear and tear when I get home to heaven. Tiredness and exhaustion are the central themes behind MercyMe's hit, "Almost Home," the first single from inhale (exhale).
The inspiration for the song came from a conversation Bart had with a pastor friend of his. The pastor had lost friends and family--young and old--to cancer and other illnesses. Consequently, the pastor either attended or spoke at their funerals. All this tragedy wore out the pastor, making him very tired.
Bart said to Billboard Magazine, "Now is not the time to give up. We’re almost home. There always needs to be something to lift our spirits and keeps us going." Move forward and seize the moments that are ahead. The singer hopes that "Almost Home" is an anthem that can help with that.
Standout lyric: "Brother, it won't be long/Soon all your burdens will be gone/With all your strength/Sister, run wild, run free/Hold up your head/Keep pressing on/We are almost home"
The lyrics of "Even If," the first single from MercyMe's latest album, Lifer, describes a person who is experiencing pain, but says he will hope in the Lord, even if He doesn't remove the person's pain. Bart uses lyrics from the classic hymn, "It Is Well With My Soul," in the song. This smart move adds a knockout punch to "Even If." Horatio Spafford, the hymn's lyricist, was plagued with tragedy: he lost three children, and the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 left him in financial ruin. Despite these tragedies, he stayed with the Lord and sang, "It Is Well With My Soul."
Standout lyric:"I know the sorrow, and I know the hurt/Would all go away if You'd just say the word/But even if You don't/My hope is You alone."
"Word of God Speak"
The lyrics of "Word of God Speak" reflect a person who tries to find the words to describe God, but is unsuccessful. The lyrics challenge the listener to move beyond the "music" and the "noise," embrace the silence, and listen for God's voice. "Word of God Speak," the second song from MercyMe's 2002 album, Spoken For, has received a number of accolades: the Dove Awards for Song of the Year and Pop/Contemporary Song of the Year to name a few. Christian rockers Kutless released their version of the song as a power ballad. Kutless did a fantastic job with their rendition of "Word of God Speak"; however, it lacks the sincere reverence that MercyMe achieved in their original recording.
Standout Lyric: "I'm finding myself in the midst of You/Beyond the music, beyond the noise/All that I need is to be with You/And in the quiet hear Your voice."
"I Can Only Imagine"
Every band has a signature song, a piece that connects the listener to the band. Every time I think of MercyMe, "I Can Only Imagine" is the first song that comes to mind. The lyrics of "I Can Only Imagine" tries to consider what it would be like in heaven, standing in the presence of God. Similar to "Word of God Speak," Bart uses the piano as the main track and sings the song with sincerity and reverence. "I Can Only Imagine" found success on the Christian charts in 2001, and achieved mainstream success in late 2003. Bart's inspiration when writing and composing the song was the death of his father. Watch the 2018 film, I Can Only Imagine, a film based on the story behind the song.
Standout Lyric:"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 can only imagine I can only imagine."
"Bring the Rain"
"Bring the Rain," the third radio single from MercyMe's 2006 album, Coming Up to Breathe, has a similar theme to "Even If." Bart sings about praising God even during tough times. The song reminds me of how many of us mostly pursue God in times of suffering. It also reminds me of how some of us curse God for the tough times. Bart sings with faith that if the only way to praise God is through the pain then bring on the pain. I believe that God gives us the pain to bring us closer to Him. What do you think?
Standout Lyric:"And I know there'll be days/When this life brings me pain/But if that's what it takes to praise You/Jesus, bring the rain."
"Dear Younger Me"
MercyMe's "Dear Younger Me," a hit single from the album, Welcome to the New, resonates with me on so many levels. I was bullied in public school through high school. I blamed that "younger me" for not standing up for himself, and for being teased. "Dear Younger Me" speaks into this blame. The song's theme attempts to reconcile the young child with the older adult by removing the blame and acknowledging that the "younger me" is a child of God.
Standout Lyric: "Dear younger me / It's not your fault / You were never meant to carry this beyond the cross / Dear younger me / You are holy / You are righteous / You are one of the redeemed / You are free indeed."
"Greater," another hit single from Welcome to the New, also tackles bullying." NRT's Kevin Davis interviewed Bart about the song's theme. Bart's son was bullied because he had a stutter. So, Bart told his son that it's the enemy who is to blame, not the bullies. "[The enemy] is taking shots at you because you're something special and he's afraid of something you may do." True words that are very hard to hear. I give Bart props for being Christ-like by giving his son life-giving words.
Standout Lyric: "Bring your doubts/And bring your fears/Bring your hurt/And bring your tears/There'll be no condemnation here / You are holy, righteous and redeemed."
"So Long Self"
Lyrics in many songs grieve the loss of a relationship. The lyrics in "So Long Self," on the other hand, speak about the figurative breakup of one's self. Goodbye selfishness, hello selflessness. The lyrics of the song were inspired by Colossians 2:13: "You were dead because of your sins and because your sinful nature was not yet cut away. Then God made you alive with Christ, for He forgave all our sins."
Standout Lyric: "So long self/Well it's been fun, but I have found somebody else/So long self/There's just no room for two/So you are gonna have to move."
Paul Phillips is a Canadian journalist with over 15 years of experience writing and editing digital and print content. He specializes in health, fitness, nutrition, and travel. He loves music, movies, and, of course, living for Jesus.
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