The Still Small Voice

The Power of Discernment: Avoiding the Trammel Net


Chapter Six, Part Eleven


Avoiding the Trammel Net

Listening is linked to opportunity and to action. God speaks not only because He has something to say but because He has something to say but because there are things He wants us to do. You are probably as tired as I am, however, of getting caught in a trammel net[15] as a result of leaping to respond to the expectations that other people place on us.

When a friend of mine moved to a new region, she was beset by invitations to do this and to attend the other. She felt the Lord impressing on her that she must not allow herself to become ‘trammeled’ into doing things just because they sounded sensible, and because she was gifted in those areas.

The Lord Jesus must have walked straight past many people who were in genuine need. It is flattering to be asked to do things (especially if they pay well!) but wisdom lies in prayerfully assessing the invitations that come our way.

It is not that we are called to be prima donnas who refuse to lend a helping hand, but neither can we afford to pay too little attention to God’s highest call on our lives.

Growth in any aspect of life depends on a right structuring of priorities. If we can identify the central goals in our life, we have far more chance of allowing them to direct and govern our lives. Otherwise we will be in danger of ‘aiming at nothing and hitting it every time.’

Leaders especially need to take care to follow the Spirit’s prompting, rather than allowing people’s demands to dominate their schedule. So much depends on their stewardship of time, and on their sensitivity in not imposing unfair expectations on those for whom they have pastoral responsibility.

It is very important for us to choose carefully who we spend our time with. To help us understand the different character-types we rub up against, Gordon MacDonald identifies the following:

VIPs (Very Important People).

Wise ones, whose wisdom sharpens our lives, and to whom we look for accountability.

VTPs (Very Trainable People).

These are people who are just waiting for someone to light the blue touch paper. We should invest heavily in their lives.

VNPs (Very Nice People).

These people make up the majority of church congregations. They would not dream of doing wrong, but they may still be quite some way from the cutting edge.

VDPs (Very Draining People) complete the list.

These people are such past masters at draining our time and energies that we can easily end up spending huge quantities of time almost helping these people, instead of taking proactive steps to befriend and disciple people we really can help, and be helped by.

The Lord does not want VDPs to impose their will on us and determine our schedule. This is not to write the VDPs off. By God’s grace all and any can change, but we may need to re-examine our calendar in the light of this understanding. If VDPs are ‘leeching’ our life away, we may need to take more time out to pursue contact with the VIPs who keep watch over us.

At all costs we must not permit the incessant demands of the VDPs to prevent us from reaching out to the strategic VTPs. These people are usually so sensitive to our time pressures that they hold back from approaching us, in case they prove a burden to us. This is a great tragedy. They might have benefited greatly had they had the courage to pursue their desire to reach out to us. If they will not come to us, it is up to us to go out of our way to nurture and encourage them.

For Reflection and Prayer

The following exercise will help you to prioritize your lifestyle in the light of the Lord’s leading.

  • Draw three columns on a sheet of paper. In the first, write down your broad purposes – the themes that God is stressing in your life. If you can, prioritize them in terms of the importance you believe they should have.
  • In the second column, write down the activities you are currently involved in, as well as some of the things you have been invited to do, or one day hope you may do. It will be quite a mish-mash, but jot down as many as you can think of. Prioritize these, too, in order of the importance you accord them.
  • Finally, in column three, list all the activities according to how much time you are devoting to each activity.

The results are easy to collate. Notice in particular things that take up a considerable portion of your time and energies but which are not amongst your stated priorities.

Does the way you are spending your time reflect these priorities? If not, what is stopping you from accessing your calling more fully? Is it health, work or family commitments? Or are you simply insufficiently determined to over come the obstacles?

15 This three-layered net forms a pocket that traps the fish as they attempt to swim out.