Escaping the Snares of Self
“Flattery is like perfume. Sniff it; don’t ever swallow it!” — Alistair Begg
Thursday, September 23, 2021
By Rebecca Davis
Reprinted from American Family Association
“Do you pray for your pastor? Not just before he preaches, but do you pray for him to escape the snares of himself,” asked pastor Alistair Begg at the recent Sing! 2021 Conference in Nashville, Tennessee. Begg, senior pastor of Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the voice of Truth for Life radio program that airs daily on American Family Radio was one of the keynote speakers at the annual conference that focuses on the transformative power of gathered worship.
His question hit me hard. Yes, I pray for my pastor. After all, he’s my husband. But my “pastoral” prayers usually consist of asking the Lord to help my husband speak the truth with boldness while guarding him from error and keeping him faithful to the Word. (I learned this specific prayer from John Piper years ago.) But I have to admit that I’ve never really prayed “for him to escape the snares of himself,” at least not in those words.
So when Pastor Begg asked that question, it kind of shook me. What did he mean exactly? How does someone escape the snares of himself? Then he went on to explain the importance of humility in a pastor’s life as well as in the life of any believer.
“Absence [both] from the mind of Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit in humility is what causes pastoral failure,” Begg said. And I think it would be safe to attribute that to failure in a believer’s life as well.
So how can you (as a believer and as a faithful church member) and how can I (as a believer and as a pastor’s wife) cultivate humility in our own lives and pray for the Spirit to cultivate humility in the life of our pastor?
Here is how Begg answered that question:
- Always reflect on the wonder of the cross of Christ.
- Begin every day by acknowledging your dependency on God.
- Identify the grace of God in other people.
- Invite and pursue correction.
- Meditate, read, and sing about God.
- Respond humbly to trials.
- As the day ends, give glory to God.
- Receive the gift of sleep, and rest in the sure knowledge of His providence.
After all, “God is at work beyond us, before us, and around us,” Begg added. Then he paraphrased a quote from preacher and theologian Charles Spurgeon: “If you seek humility, try hard work.”
According to a blog posted by The Spurgeon Center for Biblical Preaching at Midwestern Seminary, here is the full context of Spurgeon’s words:
“A plenitude of grace is a cure for pride. Those who are empty, and those especially who have little or nothing to do, may indulge a fond conceit of their abilities, because they are untried; but those who are called to the stern work of ministering among the sons of men, will often mourn their weakness, and in the sense of that weakness and unworthiness, they will go before God and confess that they are less than the least of all saints. I prescribe to any of you who seek humility, try hard work; if you would know your nothingness, attempt some great thing for Jesus. If you would feel how utterly powerless you are apart from the living God, attempt especially the great work of proclaiming the unsearchable riches of Christ. You will come back from the proclamation thankful that you were permitted to attempt it, but crying, ‘Who hath believed our report? and to whom is the arm the Lord revealed?’ and you will know, as you never knew before, what a weak unworthy thing you are.” (Emphasis added.)
“Proclaiming the unsearchable riches of Christ,” as Spurgeon says, is hard work, incredibly hard, and great work that can only be done in the strength of the Savior and in the power of the cross.
On a fleshly level and apart from Christ, hard work results in pride and in the exaltation of self. We think we are worthy when, in fact, we are unworthy. We all want to be commended for the things we do well, especially the hard things. The harder they are, the more recognition we feel we deserve. We like to be acknowledged and applauded and even praised.
“[But] the Disciples even understood how their own egos needed to be crucified at the cross,” Begg explained. And if the disciples, who walked side by side with Jesus knew that, then how much more should we know that, accept it, and apply it?
Begg put it like this: “Flattery is like perfume. Sniff it; don’t ever swallow it!”
So when you think about praying for your pastor, certainly pray for him as he delivers God’s Word each Sunday. Pray for him as he prepares his sermons, as he visits, as he counsels, as he leads, as he loves, as he grieves, and as he rejoices. But pray the hard prayers for him too. Pray for him to escape the snares of self, daily, by anchoring his heart in Christ – our hope in life and death.