Did you know that when you listen to and sing worship songs, you are learning theology? Worship songs provide theological instruction because they declare and describe who God is and what He has done. It’s up to the worshiper to discern what the song is teaching and whether or not it is theologically sound.
Many people choose music because of the style, beat, or tune. The words are secondary to the “feel” of the song. We can even enjoy popular songs when we don’t agree with or condone their lyrics. Alternatively, the message of a song might draw us in, but the music isn’t all that interesting. For example, there are some theologically rich hymns in the church, but the music is almost unsingable. When we find worship songs that teach truths about God AND have a melody that we can sing and a beat that we enjoy, the song can have a powerful effect on us and teach us truths about God.
I’d like to highlight a worship song that we often do at Northland and discuss what it teaches us about God. I’ve chosen “Way Maker,” written by Sinach, a Nigerian singer/songwriter. “Way Maker” was released in 2015, and Northland has programmed this song in worship since 2019.
Sinach, whose full name is Osinachi Kalu Okoru Egbu, states that Genesis 12:1-3 inspired her song. In this passage, God called Abram to leave his home country and go to another land that He would show him. Upon his arrival, God promises to make Abram into a great nation and states that all the peoples on the earth would be blessed through him. We know this promise came true because our Lord Jesus Christ was a descendant of Abraham (see Luke 4:34 and Matthew 1:2).
Let’s look at some of the theology we can learn from this song and find out how it helps us worship God for who He is and what He has done.
Who is God?
Sinach begins by declaring that God is here. The Bible teaches that God is omnipresent. This means He is everywhere. God declares this truth to Moses in Exodus 4:14 when He says about Himself: “I AM WHO I AM.” God then instructs Moses to tell Israel that “I AM” sent him. When we sing the first line of “Way Maker,” “You are here,” we affirm that God is alive and present. He is with us. He is everywhere. This is why the angel Gabriel instructed Joseph, Jesus’ earthly father, to name the baby Jesus and call Him Immanuel, which means “God with us” (Matthew 1:21-23). This is also why Jesus promised His followers that He would not leave them alone but would send the Holy Spirit, who would come and live within those who follow Him forever (John 14:16). God is, therefore, here.
What is God doing?
Sinach attributes six actions to God as He is present among us:
moving in our midst
working in this place
touching every heart
healing every heart
turning lives around
mending every heart
With each line, Sinach helps us respond in worship to God’s activity and presence as we sing, “I worship You.”
When we see God in action, we will worship Him. This is a biblical response. David, the Psalmist, musing upon an unending supply of God’s mighty acts, asks whether anyone can “fully declare His praise?” In Psalm 109:30, David declares, “With my mouth I will greatly extol the LORD; in the great throng of worshipers I will praise Him.” This is why we must continue to share what God is doing in our lives publicly. Doing so invites others to join in worship and praise. God is active in our midst.
We worship God according to His attributes.
In the chorus of the song, Sinach presents four attributes of God. We sing, “Way Maker, Miracle Worker, Promise Keeper, Light in the Darkness,” and summarize these as descriptors of God: “That is who You are.”
These attributes are present in the story about Abram, who is later renamed Abraham. God is a Way Maker for Abraham, who travels from his home country to the land God prepared for him Genesis 12:1. God is a Miracle Worker when He makes it possible for Abraham and his barren wife Sarah to conceive a child, Isaac, in their nineties (see Genesis 17:1-19; 18:1-15; 21:1-8). God is a Promise Keeper who provides a ram in the place of Isaac, whom Abraham was prepared to sacrifice to the Lord in Genesis 22. As for Light in the Darkness, this perhaps points to a Person, born as a descendant of Abraham as the blessing to the whole world, Jesus Christ (see Genesis 12:3 and Matthew 1:1-17 and Luke 3:23-38).
The next part of the song invites us to take what we’ve learned about God and His activities and build our faith upon these truths. Sinach draws us into some statements of faith that we repeat as a sort of mantra:
Even when I don’t see it, You’re working
Even when I don’t feel it, You’re working
You never stop, You never stop working
You never stop, You never stop working
When we sing these lines, we declare what is true even when we don’t see it happening or feel like it will. Sinach thus invites us to step out in faith and believe God based upon who He is and what He has done. Sinach’s lyrics coincide with the kind of faith we read about in Hebrews 11:1: “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” This is the kind of faith Abraham had, and you and I are called to have it too.
After unpacking her song, I feel confident that I can call Sinach a musician and a theologian who teaches us about God and what He does in individuals and the world. She strengthens our connection to the global church and shows us the value of being taught about God by a woman from Nigeria. Now it’s your turn. Why not take the the opportunity to dig deeper into the theology of the worship songs we sing at Northland and see what you can find!