The moment you surrender your life to Christ, a checkered flag is waved and you’re off to the races … on the greatest adventure of your life. It’s a race that’s already been won, yet one you’re committed to run for the duration of your existence. It’s a race the men of MercyMe have been running for a while, and 23 of those years have been spent making music. Their relentless commitment to faith, music and the gospel shows no signs of slowing down on their ninth studio project, aptly titled LIFER (Fair Trade Services).
With more than 9 million units in cumulative sales, MercyMe has seen 27 of their songs reach No. 1 across multiple Christian radio formats, in addition to garnering four mainstream radio hits. Their landmark song, “I Can Only Imagine,” was the first digital single in Christian music history to be certified platinum and double-platinum. Billboard named LIFER the Christian Artist of the Decade in 2009. In addition, the group has received multiple Grammy nominations, GMA Dove Awards and American Music Awards.
2014’s Welcome to the New proved to be one of the biggest releases of the group’s career, earning them two Grammy nods and four long-reigning No. 1 smash hits at radio. The album continues to be a top-selling title from a band that has been churning out hits for more than two decades.
Millard grasped the concept of the no-strings-attached grace that Christ offers … and it literally changed him from the inside out. And now, LIFER serves as the next natural chapter. If Welcome to the New’s central message was grace, LIFER’s core message is triumph.
“With anything, there’s a point where the honeymoon phase kind of goes away. Life will set in. Life is going to stink at times, and it’s going to be hard to remember that I’m brand new. That’s the way it goes,” Millard said. “We’re going to get this wrong a lot, but there’s never a moment in the life of a believer where Christ will ever say, ‘I’m disappointed in you. You’ve let Me down,’ because there’s no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus.”
The funky groove of the title track might have stretched the band’s sonic muscles, but the message fits MercyMe like a glove. “We’ve been a band for over two decades, so I think it’s OK to use the title LIFER and nobody question it as far as being in it for the long haul,” Millard quipped. “But at the same time, it’s who we are. The term ‘LIFER’ is typically used for someone in the military or in prison. In other words, they ain’t gettin’ out. They’re stuck in there. They’re in for life … It’s the same thing with a believer. It’s not something you can turn on or off or walk away from. Christ is now part of me.”
Many selections were an overflow of the abundant writing the band did for Welcome to the New. The breezy, soulful “Grace Got You” is a gift from that cutting room floor. The driving tribal rhythm of “Hello Beautiful” counters the enemy’s lies with God’s truth. Campfire closer “Ghost” speaks to the irony and mystery of the Holy Spirit, exposing some of the most creative lyrics of the band’s career.
But it’s the stunning “Even If” that is LIFER’s crown jewel. It was the last song written for the album and the first song sent to radio. “If there’s a moment on the record to reach people where they are, it’s ‘Even If.’ We’re ministers first. We’re trying to reach the hurting first. This song wrecked us,” Millard candidly admitted. “It’s just an open wound for me.”
Millard was thinking of his 15-year-old son, Sam, when he penned the song. Sam has been a diabetic since he was 2, and it’s been an uphill climb for the family ever since. One day, Millard shared his frustration with the ongoing thorn in his son’s side with his friend and fellow songwriter Tim Timmons, who battles an incurable cancer himself. Following their conversation, Timmons sent Millard a demo of a chorus he had co-written with Crystal Lewis years ago. Millard took the idea and ran with it, quickly writing the remainder of the cut through tears.
“The whole point of the song for me is the change that Jesus made in my life is so real and so life-transforming that if He went dark, if He went silent from now on, He would still be my greatest hope because of what He has already done,” he shared. “Basically, there’s not a single circumstance, I pray, that can derail me from what Christ is to me and who I am because of Christ.”
“The enemy never lets up,” Millard said, “but we have the Spirit inside of us that is telling us over and over, ‘You are enough because of Christ in you ... On my worst day, Christ is OK with me. He adores me. He’s pleased with me. How is that possible? No clue, but it is,” he affirmed. “That’s the most amazing news of all. That’s the point of the album. That’s the reason we keep making records.”
Content provided by Fair Trade Music Services.