Bart Millard, lead singer of the Grammy-nominated band MercyMe, is more passionate than ever about the message of God’s grace. But to discover this newfound vigor, he had to confront the shame, hurt, and anxiety in his own life. In his new book with Andrew Farley, The Hurt and the Healer, Millard explores the radical freedom that comes when we accept Christ’s work on the cross and begin to live without shame. Here, we discuss his journey and the truths he believes can help free us all from life’s deepest hurts.
JM: In The Hurt & The Healer you say that “our identity is not our shame.” Can you unpack that for us?
BM: I preached for years that you can’t earn God’s favor. But for whatever reason, it was all so robotic for me, and all I was really trying to do was earn it. I was doing everything that religion told me to do. I was trying to get a high score. But no matter how many records were sold or people were impacted, I didn’t seem to feel like I was inching closer to God. And, meanwhile, my family life was hanging by a thread. Sure, I would have told you that I was trusting Jesus for salvation and heaven, but the reality was that I was still working overtime to gain God’s approval on a daily basis!
Essentially, my identity was completely MercyMe. Then, I began to realize that the same Spirit that raised Jesus Christ from the dead lives in me.
JM: What does it look like on the ground, in daily life?
BM: Today, I’m healthier than I ever have been. And MercyMe probably has a longer life ahead now because of that.
My wife and I, our new motto is: “We don’t care anymore.” In other words, we’re not concerned with what people think we should be. We now realize that we won’t get it all right, but Somebody else did on our behalf. And it feels like the biggest exhale I’ve ever had in my life! This book that Andrew and I have written together is about how anyone can release the people-pleasing and even the legalistic God-pleasing and begin to rest in the finished work of Christ.
JM: How’d you end up connecting with best-selling author Andrew Farley to partner on this book?
BM: When I read Andrew Farley’s book The Naked Gospel, it changed my life. So I started tweeting about his book that had transformed my view of the gospel. It was through Twitter that Andrew and I got connected, and we decided that it’d be fun to write a book together. At the time, MercyMe was getting ready to release The Hurt & The Healer album. So it just made sense for that to be the title of the book. Andrew and I both wanted to write about how Jesus can be the healer of our hurts no matter what we might be going through.
JM: Because we sort of seem to be wired as achievement-based, anxiety-ridden people, is it really possibly to live differently?
BM: The main thing that I took away from The Naked Gospel is that there’s nothing that I can do, good or bad, to make God like me more, or less.
I missed the point growing up. I grew up in a church full of great people, and I’m grateful for that. But there sure seemed to be a laundry list of things to do in order to grow:
“You need to have more quiet times.”
“You need to do more witnessing.”
“You need to give more money.”
So my whole life, I tried to be an overachiever. I tried to do those things better than everyone else. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with studying the Bible or sharing your faith or supporting a ministry we love. But we don’t “do” in order to get even an inch closer to God. We’re close to God by what Jesus did, not something we’re currently doing.
I came to Christ when I was 13 years old, but somehow I missed the fact that I didn’t have to get God’s attention, because I already have it! I’ve been learning that God is basically shouting from the rooftops: “I have been pleased with you since the day you called My name, and I’ve never stopped.”
So I have to ask: “Why am I just getting this now?” And the more I talk to people, the more I realize that 99% of the church’s issues are trust-related. Somewhere along the way, we don’t trust that God did enough, or maybe we don’t trust that He truly did it for us, individually and personally. When you give up and surrender to the fact that God is real; that He has your best interests at heart; and that His Spirit will never leave you, no matter what, it’s like you become a kid with a power tool. You become dangerous.
JM: There are a lot of folks living with a lot of hurts. Is there hope in this book for those who are suffering?
BM: Yeah, I was the kid that sat in church and thought there was something wrong with me. I was hurting and maybe didn’t even realize it fully. We’d have missionaries come through, or there’d be passionate revival weeks, and people would say, “This is something worth dying for!”
I couldn’t relate. Yeah, it was worth writing songs for. But dying for? I just wasn’t there. But through understanding the grace of God in a deeper way, I began to realize that hypothetically I could spend the rest of my life sabotaging everything, and yet his grace would still be enough for me. I think that, in the past, I had almost pushed the limits just to test whether God or others would remain in my life. But now that I understand the finished work of Jesus, I realize that I can’t screw this up. I am in this for the long haul. God is saying, “I am yours, and you are mine, forever.”
All of a sudden, I’m done trying to tell people to stop sinning. Now, I want to tell them about their identity in Christ. And, for the first time, I have something to say that’s not only something people need, but it’s something that people long for. We Christians have a big problem with complicating an incredibly simple gospel. There’s simply no laundry list to “get right” and “stay right” with God. We don’t have to try to clean up for God. That’s what the blood of Jesus thoroughly and powerfully accomplished on our behalf.
In the last year or two, the light has switched on for me. I finally get it. This is the kind of grace that brings true healing into our broken lives. And this is something worth dying for!