I have read and reviewed many books in 2014. This was the first year that I began receiving review copies from publishers. I have read some excellent books, some not so excellent. But among all of the great books I read in 2014, none captivated and thrilled my soul the way Matt Papa’s new book Look and Live has done. Papa is a songwriter who has entered the book-writing world with a bang via Look and Live. Papa seeks to both show and urge you to behold the soul-thrilling, sin-destroying glory of Christ.
Look and Live is all about worship, and how every person walking planet earth is a worshiper. Papa does not try to convince you that you should begin worshiping, but that you should instead reorient the aim of your worship. This is because worship is natural to men and women. “We cannot not worship. We are worship machines” (29).
Papa says this is because there is essentially a God-shaped hole in the heart of every human. We all desire joy and satisfaction, and we all seek it in various ways. Where we seek satisfaction, what we behold, is what we worship. Discontent, despair, and disillusionment all come from aiming our worship at gods that cannot bear the weight of worship. Papa writes, “We were created by God and for God, and until we understand that, we are restless, brokenhearted glory chasers, always seeking something more” (33).
How are we to reorient or re-aim our worship? By attending church more often? By serving more in our church? By giving more money? No. Papa says the goal in reoriented worship is not more effort but more gazing. He writes, “No willpower, sheer human grit, or determination will overthrow that pseudo god…Idols are never removed. They are replaced. Displaced. They are not suppressed. They are eclipsed” (77). We change not by working harder and abandoning pleasure, but by experiencing a greater Thrill (79).
So, Papa’s task is great and weighty; to show readers how to find lasting satisfaction and how to shatter the thousands of idols that have captured the gaze of their soul’s eyes. Or, in his words, Papa writes to “help you overcome idolatry and certain sadness by pointing you to the all-satisfying, sin-destroying glory of Jesus” (15).
He accomplishes this lofty task by meditating on the glory of God in the cross, creation, obedience, mission, and suffering. Papa begins his journey by reflecting on the glory of God before exploring each of the above-mentioned topics and how they relate to the glory of God. The center of the book and the center of the message of the book is the cross of Christ. Chapter 4 is a glorious reflection of the soul-thrilling sacrifice of Christ that brings void-filling joy to the heart. This chapter is the best example of Papa’s poetic brilliance and theological depth. He takes a cherished reality among all Christians, the sin-destroying death of Christ, and exposes it in a fresh way while relying on the witness of Scripture and church history.
This chapter is a shining example of the rest of Look and Live, which is what makes it one of the best books I read this year. Papa conveys old truths in new ways. He creatively says things that have been said before. Papa does not create his own doctrine of the glory of God. He relies on the pens of both reliable dead guys and living guys who have seen and savored the glory of God. He simply says what has already been said in a beautiful and fun way. Here is just one example:
“’What about all those unanswered prayers, God? What about me finally getting what I want? Why?’
Look at the cross. Behold the Uncreated, Unrecognizable One, hanging there in your place…Look at His torn and battered flesh, and know that He will answer your every request with infinite tenderness and wisdom. Hear Him groaning in agony, and know that if you ask Him for bread, He will give it, and if you ask Him for a stone, He will not give it” (102-103).
Passages like this make chapter 4 of Look and Live one of the most beautiful sections of prose I read in 2014. The most commendable aspect of Look and Live is that you will leave its pages excited about the gospel and thrilled to spend more time with Jesus. Papa is a man clearly in love with Jesus and he effectively presents Him in such a way that He is seen as irresistibly insatiable.
We were each made to crave. This very moment you are worshiping something. One of the greatest battles of my Christian life thus far has been fighting idolatry. I see the flickering glory of many gods vying for my hearts attention and affection, yet they each crumble under the weight of my worship. I needed this book. In Look and Live, Papa reminded me that only God’s glory is weighty enough to not crumble under my worship. And only God’s glory can fill the void of my joy-seeking heart.
Pick up Look and Live and learn to behold the glory of Christ for the sake of the death of your sin and the satisfaction of your soul. After reading Look and Live, you will learn how to “Make your life one unflinching gaze at the glory of God” (246).
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
Mathew Gilbert is a student at Boyce College (B.A. Biblical and Theological Studies). He is the author of the forthcoming book Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God (CrossBooks). Mathew lives in London, KY with his wife, Erica, and their dog, Simba. You can follow him on Twitter @Mat_Gilbert.