BOOK REVIEW: A better way to live

In August 2016 Melbourne was named the world's most liveable city. Again. For the sixth year running.

For the almost five million people who call Melbourne home, on the surface they're not looking for a different way to live. In fact most Australians, again on the surface, have it pretty good. Another way to live is of no interest to me. But what about a better way?

It's into this world that Graham Hooper writes, with the publication of his second book A better way to live: 52 studies in Proverbs and Psalms. Hooper writes from the conviction that even the most seemingly happy and content people don't have it all if they don't have God. That knowing Him means knowing not just another good way to live, but a better way. Indeed, the best way. He writes to remind those people who do know God of this; don't forget that His way really is better.

Part commentary, part pastoral reflection, Hooper writes from years of personal experience reading the Psalms and Proverbs. He opens with a lovely story of these "two valuable friends" that have been "a constant travelling companion" as he has moved around the world for work. They're always in his overnight bag, or squeezed into the back pocket of his jeans. "Together they show us a better way to live, an authentic alternative to the secular and materialist life promoted by popular Western Culture" (p. 1)

What follows are 52 short chapters which explore some of the key themes of first Proverbs then the Psalms. Short in length, each chapter can be read in 2 or 3 minutes, and the whole book in a day or two. But to do that would be a mistake. Instead, each chapter concludes with a series of questions, inviting the reader to reflect further on the issues raised. Reading one chapter each day, perhaps on a morning commute, would be rich and rewarding way to make your way through this book.

Rather than working his way through each chapter of the Psalms and Proverbs from beginning to end, Hooper instead shares his reflections on these two books thematically. There is a section on communication, another on relationships, one on making right choices, others still on worship, prayer and understanding.

Woven into each of these sections are countless stories from Hopper's life which provide practical examples of how the truths of these two Old Testament books apply to the nitty gritty of daily work, home life, parenting, church, ageing and so on. There's the colleague who finds comfort in knowing his mother with Alzheimer's is known by God, even if she possibly no longer knows Him (p. 102). Or the advice to apply Proverbs' warnings about words to our tweets and texts (p. 58). There's practical wisdom for when it comes to listening: "I've learned that not everyone who asks me a question wants to hear my answer" (p. 59). And simple tips regarding personal Bible reading: "When I go through dry times, I deliberately vary my routine" (p. 94). In short, Hooper practically shows us how the Psalms and Proverbs truly do give us a better way to live.

I recognise it wasn't Hooper's purpose - this book is clearly aimed at Christians - but one thing I would love to have seen him do in this book was also explore how the truths and stories it contains might be shaped with a non-Christian in mind; how could it not simply remind Christians, but also convince non-Christians, that knowing God truly is a better way to live? I think that could make a great sequel!

This is a great, easy read that will encourage you to discover the Psalms and Proverbs afresh; it’s certainly had that effect on me! In a world that often tells us otherwise, it’s good to be reminded that God’s way truly is a better way to live.

MORE: Read a review of Graham's first book Undivided