A former pastor, an older, distinguished Southern gentleman with a deep bass voice, used to pronounce longsuffering with an extended “o”: looooooooooongsuffering. His point was, of course, to illustrate that longsuffering is suffering long.
Newer Bible translations render this word “endurance” or “patience,” and both of those are perfectly accurate. But I like the old word, longsuffering, because it’s a reminder that suffering of whatever nature is hard.
That last thought was a bit of a revelation for me (more like a “duh” moment, actually). I realized I’d been thinking that if I endured something hard for a while, then it wouldn’t “feel” hard any more. Longsuffering would give way to sweetness and ease. When whatever I was enduring still felt hard, I wondered what was wrong with me.
But “longsuffering” indicates it is still hard. And we still need grace to endure. Praying for it doesn’t make it easy, but bearable.
Like long-term physical issues. Or caregiving. Or trying neighbors or coworkers. Or difficult circumstances with no resolution in sight. Or extended loneliness.
Or even our own selfishness. Does anybody else get discouraged by the thought that our selfish nature will always be with us and we’ll have to keep fighting it until we get to heaven?
Sometimes my worst reactions are to little things hardly worth the name of “suffering” and certainly not long. Amy Carmichael once wrote:
The hardest thing is to keep cheerful (and loving) under little things that come from uncongenial surroundings, the very insignificance of which adds to their power to annoy, because they must be wrestled with, and overcome, as in the case of larger hurts. Some disagreeable habit in one to whom we may owe respect and duty, and which is a constant irritation or our sense of the fitness of things, may demand of us a greater moral force to keep the spirit serene than an absolute wrong committed against us. (1)
Thankfully, God is longsuffering with us.
The Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth (Exodus 34:6).
Thankfully, we can pray for His longsuffering in us:
For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God; Strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness (Colossians 1:9-11).
Longsuffering with joyfulness, it says. Yes, there will be great joy when whatever we’re suffering is over. But God gives joy in it as well. Maybe not joy for whatever it is in itself, but joy that God is with us, helping us, teaching us through it. “We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope” (Romans 5:3-4).
Wait a minute, you might say. Didn’t Jesus say His yoke was easy and His burden light? Yes, He did, in Matthew 11:28-30. One aspect of His yoke being easy is that the Pharisees had added on or expounded upon the Old Testament law, making it extremely burdensome. People couldn’t keep the OT law as it was. Jesus’s yoke was easy in the sense that He kept the law in our place and took the punishment for our sin upon Himself. Another aspect of His yoke being easy is that He helps us bear whatever He allows. He calls us to cast all our cares on Him and come to Him for help. Those who don’t know Him don’t have that help.
But He never indicated the Christian life is a bed of roses.
There are several reasons in Scripture why God allows suffering of various kinds. And it’s okay to say it hurts or it’s hard. But “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises” (2 Peter 1:3-4a). All things.Through the knowledge of Him. Get to know ever better our great high priest who “sympathize[s] with our weaknesses . . .who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4: 15-16).
I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:8-11, NASB)
(1) Houghton, Frank. Amy Carmichael of Dohnavur. (Fort Washington, PA: Christian Literature Crusade, 1983), 86-87.
All Bible references are from the ESV unless otherwise noted.