I endured two decades of regular suffering, including twice leaving churches, the deaths of my parents, frequent job loss, health and financial woes, and more. After my mom died, I prayed to God for where I should turn to find greater resilience. Not to be flip, His answer was to read the book of Job.
John Calvin preached over 150 sermons on Job. Forty million people, mostly Christians, died in the wars of religion over the next century during the General Crisis, usually at the hands of other Christians. The message of Job was useful to them, so it must be useful to us.
In the last six years, I have found solace in many parts of the Bible, but I keep returning to Job. Each time, I find new insight. For one, I found about thirteen different ways to communicate with God described in its pages, including prayer, fasting, meditating on God's words, offering sacrifices, suffering, listening to wise elders, interpreting dreams and visions, the mediation of angels and theophany. The book is about how to communicate with God clearly. It trains the person who is spiritually hard of hearing how to listen to God.
During the first six months of my study of Job, I got nothing. I nearly gave up. Then I noticed these verses:
He alone stretches out the heavens
and treads on the waves of the sea. (Job 9:8)
When he passes me, I cannot see him;
when he goes by, I cannot perceive him. (Job 9:11)
He would crush me with a storm
and multiply my wounds for no reason. (Job 9:17)
“My days are swifter than a runner;
they fly away without a glimpse of joy.
26 They skim past like boats of papyrus,
like eagles swooping down on their prey. (Job 9:25-26)
Taking those verses together, I had an image of Jesus walking on the waves while the disciples huddled in fear in their flimsy boat. I googled the passage and found that St. Chrysostom made the same connection as I. From then on, I began to see Jesus on every page of Job. Since that day, the Word has spoken to me more clearly than ever before. I also feel God's presence through sermons at church that touch me strangely, or Christian songs that say what I need hear at the moment, or answers to prayers for healing (like pain relief in the middle of the night after breaking my arm).
But reading Job is not the answer. Listening to God is the answer. I asked God where to turn and felt directed to Job. So I would say that the Protestant thing to do is to ask God what you should do to get close to Him. Personalized advice trumps religious systems. Earlier in my life, when I was struggling with depression, the answer was different: visit the sick. By visiting a sick woman in my church (at the request of my pastor, who addressed the whole church, not me personally), God rewarded my obedience. He baptized me with the Holy Spirit and relieved me of my depression, replacing it with joy.
Back to Job, the lesson is to practice every means of communication that you know how (and which Scripture does not condemn). You do not know which will produce results. During the three years prior to studying Job, I prayed and fasted one day a week with the same prayer, "Lord, show me your glory." I believe that a renewed desire to read the Word and an ability to see in its pages mysteries and blessings that I had long overlooked was the direct result of that fast.
Sometimes, the only thing to be done is to listen and wait. On several occasions, I prayed intensely for healing, for answers, or for other concerns. Sometimes these prayers lasted hours, other times days or years. On at least three such occasions I got to a point where I stopped praying, not because I thought it was worthless, but because I felt that I had been heard. The first was when I applied to a mission agency to go to Romania, but was turned down. I prayed for a half hour, then stopped to praise God and sing a hymn. Before I finished the last verse, the mission agency called; they had changed their mind.
The second time, I lost hearing in my left ear. After a month with no hearing in that ear, while reading Exodus 4, I got the sense that God knew why I had lost my hearing and trusted His will for me, whatever that might be. I stopped praying for healing and felt at peace. Two days later my hearing returned.
The third time was when I fasted for three years. I only stopped the fast because I felt that I had been heard. Based on the things that have happened since then, I know I was right. So learn to pray without ceasing, but also learn to trust in God during the times of waiting. Sometimes faith means accepting that God has made his decision and moving on.
Another place that I turn is to Proverbs. As a new believer, I made a New Years' Resolution to get wisdom. Every day during 1988 I read from the wisdom books. The first six months it was just Proverbs. After that, I read Psalms, Job, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs and James. I did not immediately become wise. That is the point. You need to lay the groundwork for understanding God and his ways.
The heart of a wise life is to value what is valuable. Jesus said to lay up treasures in Heaven. What are those spiritual treasures? I spent two decades looking, giving up, and looking again. The Gospel of Matthew was helpful in my search. So was Psalm 119.
My last bit of advice is not Protestant, it is Christian. Though a Baptist, I read the works of Catholics, Lutherans, Baptists, Orthodox and others. I find inspiration in the lives of saints, like Saint Francis. As I prayed to the Lord for guidance about Job, such as whether to trust in the opinion of St. John Chrysostom, I walked past Harvard's Memorial Hall and looked up at the building, only to see a bust of Saint Chrysostom looking down on me!
At the beginning of January, 2023, lying in great pain on my bed awaiting surgery two days later for a broken and dislocated upper right humerus, I praised the Father for rescuing me from drowning in a frozen lake days before. Earlier that day, I had shared with my pastor how Jesus was the one who best kept the Fifth Commandment to honor his father and mother. As I honored God the Father in my prayer, my pain diminished, but remained. Then it was like Jesus stepped in, to do something this Baptist would never have done. As I had shared, Jesus honors both his Father and his mother. I saw a woman's face, filled with compassion, and she pulled me close to her her to comfort me. She said not a word, and my pain was gone. The pain would be gone the rest of the night, allowing me to sleep. I believe that Jesus honored his mother, Mary, by sending her with healing power to comfort me in my hour of need. Because he honored her, so shall I, though I am a Baptist. Surely I did not deserve such a visit from the mother of my Lord, nor did I expect or pray for it.
All I can say is this:
16 And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love.
Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. (1 John 4:16)
The most important thing is to rely on God's love. Expect it. Crave it. Seek it. You have no idea what faith can do.