Rejoice, the Lord is King: Feeling Follows Action

Dan Forrest’s gorgeous and jubilant arrangement.

Today, I felt like the human equivalent of an eye roll. I’m usually a morning person who hops out of bed and goes on a refreshing run before savouring a second cup of coffee. Today, it took everything just to get up and get out the door. After several months of intense stress, my body finally gave up on me, and I spent most of the day getting progressively grouchier.

The oppressive Arizona weather, malicious social media interactions, horrible headlines…it all was just too much. I found myself journaling sadly at my favourite coffee shop, lamenting the blatant division within the Church and my heartbreak at the state of society.

When I returned home from my first job, I set to work recording music for my second job as a church pianist/organist. Although the piece I chose to record is one of my favourites, I was not feeling it. I was grumpy and frustrated and very nearly burst into tears and called it a day.

But then I remembered the text of the hymn I was playing:

Rejoice, the Lord is King:
Your Lord and King adore!
Rejoice, give thanks, and sing,
And triumph evermore:

Lift up your heart,
Lift up your voice!
Rejoice, again I say, rejoice!

Jesus the Saviour reigns,
The God of truth and love;
When He had purged our stains
He took His seat above…

Lift up your heart,
Lift up your voice!
Rejoice, again I say, rejoice!

His kingdom cannot fail,
He rules o’er earth and heav’n;
The keys of death and hell
Are to our Jesus giv’n…

Lift up your heart,
Lift up your voice!
Rejoice, again I say, rejoice!

Rejoice in glorious hope!
Our Lord the Judge shall come,
And take his servants up
To their eternal home.

Lift up your heart,
Lift up your voice!
Rejoice, again I say, rejoice!

Charles Wesley (music by John Darwall)

In this hymn, “Rejoice!” is both a response and a command. Often we think of worship music as an emotional response to the Gospel, as natural as a serenade between lovers. This may be true. However, as with any enduring love, we cannot rely upon feeling alone in our worship; instead, feeling more often follows action. This is the very reason for the liturgy, which provides a form for worship that, through repeated action, instills in us a more steadfast love that endures even when the spontaneous rush of emotion fades.

I’m grateful to my parents for having taught me this lesson very young and to the liturgies of my churches for solidifying this. In any relationship—with art, friends, family, and God—I am constantly convicted of the fact that my emotions are fickle. I do not always feel like writing that letter, cleaning those dishes, practicing that music. I do not always feel like rejoicing. And yet, each time I set my pen to the page, I develop greater love for my far-away friend; as soon as I set to my chores, I cultivate active care for my housemates; when I practice diligently, I increase in my love for music.

Today, in repeatedly playing and singing this hymn, I came to truly rejoice. Even the structure of this song emphasises repetitive training; it sets out the glorious reasons that God deserves our praise and then returns to a relentless refrain of “Rejoice! Again, I say, rejoice!” By the fourth time, I found that I actually meant it. Just as practicing the piano leads me to truer musicianship and a more profound love for music, repeatedly practicing praise brought me to actually rejoice.

Feeling follows action.

I am still exhausted. I am still a little grumpy. Even as I listen to my recording, I sense that I could do better. And yet, when I reached the final cadence after far too many attempts, I felt that I had done what I ought, for I was truly rejoicing.

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