‘I Can Only Imagine’ reveals truth of MercyMe ballad

  |  Source: Baptist Press

Priscalla Shirer portrays Mrs. Fincher, who encourages a teenage Bart Millard in the theatrical story behind his crossover Christian megahit "I Can Only Imagine." (Lionsgate/Roadside Attractions Photo)

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LOS ANGELES (BP)—Everyone needs a Mrs. Fincher in their lives, actress Priscilla Shirer said of her character who stirs up the gift in MercyMe lead singer Bart Millard in the upcoming movie I Can Only Imagine.

“She’s like a Moses who calls out Joshua and says: ‘This is what you are capable of doing. You don’t know it, and you don’t see it, but there’s a gift there, and I’m going to make you use it whether you like it or not,’” Shirer said in an interview.

The character she portrays is based on Millard’s high school choir director in Greenville, Marsha Fincher.

As seen in the movie, Mrs. Fincher served as a light in Millard’s early years, which were hardened by a mother’s desertion and a father’s abuse.

Story behind the popular song

Millard’s personal story eventually led to Christian band MercyMe’s crossover megahit “I Can Only Imagine,” the subject of the movie opening in theaters March 16.

“Everybody needs someone who sees in them what they do not see in themselves and gives them an opportunity to operate in that gifting, even when they would prefer to sulk in their devastated dreams,” Shirer said.

The movie benefits from the popularity of the song that, according to movie presenters Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions, is the most-played radio single in Christian music history.

It is the fourth feature film of co-directors and brothers Jon and Andrew Erwin of October Baby and Woodlawn fame, and in addition to Shirer, casts Dennis Quaid and Cloris Leachman. J. Michael Finley, who debuted on Broadway in Les Miserables plays Millard, with country music star Trace Adkins as a music industry professional.

Tool to spread the hope of the gospel

The faith-based movie is an important tool in spreading the hope of the gospel, said Shirer, a Bible teacher through her international Going Beyond Ministries, and award-winning author of New York Times best sellers The Resolution for Women and Fervent: A Woman’s Battle Plan for Serious, Specific and Strategic Prayer. She also starred as Elizabeth in the 2015 box-office hit and Christian film War Room.

I Can Only Imagine “reminds you of the power of God to transform the worst of circumstances into something that can bring glory to him and can actually transform many, many people for the kingdom of God,” Shirer said.

Viewers should leave the theater knowing “anything is possible—that the power of God can change the worst circumstances in your home,” she said.

Story of forgiveness

Shirer, the daughter of Tony Evans, founding pastor of Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship in Dallas, and his wife Lois, said she did not experience the childhood tragedies Millard shares in the movie. But the movie’s messages of forgiveness, love and triumph still personally resonate, she said.

“Just that sense of redemption, that sense of forgiveness that’s possible, even when someone’s hurt you, when you’ve been devastated by the people you trust the most,” are what resonate, Shirer said.

“While that’s not my story, while I had parents very much that walked in integrity, still do, loved us and raised us well, that does not say that there haven’t been in my life other people who I trusted, people who betrayed or who talked about, or who did what to me amounted to the worst of abuses,” she said.

Redemptive possibilities

Millard’s story displays the redemptive possibilities that exist for everyone struggling with forgiveness, Shirer said.

“We can either live in that callousness, we can live in that resentment, we can refuse to forgive and carry that with us, or allow the healing power of God’s grace … to be an illustration of how we need to treat others,” she said.

“So, when we see that displayed in this story on screen through I Can Only Imagine, it’s going to remind us in our own lives, and it reminds me in my own life, of the times when the Lord has reminded me of his grace toward me, and continues to encourage me to dispense that grace to others.”

The movie offers church and personal resources at ICanOnlyImagineResources.com, including a Bible study and companion journal, sermons, videos and church campaign materials.

‘A song that moves people’

The movie can reach those who don’t regularly attend church, Shirer said.

“‘I Can Only Imagine,’ the song, has touched so many people,” Shirer said. “Folks that don’t know left from right in the Scriptures, Old Testament from New Testament, maybe they’ve never been to church—they have heard the song. … They know it moves them. Bart Millard wrote a song that moves people.

“Because they’ve heard the song and they love the song, they’ll be drawn to know why the guy wrote the song. If you ask Bart Millard, ‘How do you know God is real?’ he says, ‘Because if my daddy could go from being the monster he was … to the man he became during the last two years of his life when he gave his life to Jesus, then I know there must be a God somewhere.’”

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